Los Angeles’ Skid Row is home to approximately 1,400 people, and of this homeless, transient population, a large portion come from South and Central LA.
Officer Deon Joseph of the LAPD has been assigned to Skid Row for 14 years. He said many of the area's residents come from Compton, Watts, Leimert Park and other "historically black communities." Joseph explained that in the '80s when the crack epidemic hit surrounding urban areas, it hit black neighborhoods especially hard.
"I saw hard-working guys turn into night-crawlers," Joseph said.
Besides being addicted, a lot of them were in and out of jail, "burned a lot of bridges" and ended up with nowhere to go but Skid Row – because that is where the housing and rehab centers are, said Joseph. He added that there's also a crime element in the area that often recruits from South L.A. neighborhoods. The Downtown Gangsters, a longstanding Skid Row group, is a combination of mostly black gangs who sell drugs and make profits from the homeless on Skid Row.
It may be one of the few instances of the rival Bloods and Crips working together.
"It's not about red or blue downtown anymore," said Joseph. "It's about making money."
The large South L.A. population on Skid Row is also a product of disenfranchisement, he said. People with limited resources and few options flock to the area for its housing, social services and free food – and some end up staying longer than they intended.
"General" Jeff Page, a Skid Row activist and one-time resident, went to Crenshaw High School and moved to the streets of Skid Row for a month in 2006 before moving into area housing.
Page didn't have to live on the streets; he said he chose to because he wanted to make a difference by giving up normalcy for the "uncomfortable" lifestyle of Skid Row.
He said that after having lived there, the reality of the living conditions truly sunk in.
“Nobody reacted quickly,” Page said, referring to people taking action to make the downtown area better. “The longer I stayed there, the more I saw how horrible Skid Row was.”
Page became an advocate for improving Skid Row, and now runs Issues and Solutions, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of those who live on the streets.
Page said that a lot of South L.A. residents end up on the streets because of a lack of education.
“When you cut the education budget, the kids won’t get an education,” he said. “They sell drugs to survive.”
In recent years, Jeff attributes the increase of older individuals living in the area to the housing crash – people who lost their homes were forced to use Skid Row's facilities as a last resort.
Reverend Andy Bales, the CEO of Union Rescue Mission for seven years, believes that people from South Central end up on Skid Row for several reasons.
“[They end up there because of] a lack of opportunity, lack of jobs,” Bales explained. “Probably some injustice too.”
One common theme he sees with people on Skid Row in general, however, is a lack of family.
“When I have done surveys, the biggest common denominator is the lack of a family,” Bales said.
Greg Goodin, 29, said it was family issues that led him to move to Skid Row. A Compton native, Goodin tried college but said it wasn’t for him. He moved back in with his father, but they didn’t see “eye to eye." Then he tried living with girlfriends, but that didn’t work out either.
He ended up living with some friends in a mission on Skid Row. He was there from 2008 until 2010 and now runs a business called Row Vision, which is creating a social networking application for Skid Row residents.
And yes, people on Skid Row have access to social media.
“You’d be surprised at how many people have phones,” Goodin said with a laugh.
Knowing what it was like to live on Skid Row, Goodin dedicated himself to bettering the lives of those who still live there. He doesn't miss sleeping there, but he continues to work in the area because he feels a responsibility to the community.
“I still have a connection with people in the community,” Goodin said. “The people I’ve bonded with here, I’m going to keep that forever.”
Additional reporting by Hayley Fox.