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THE STORIES OF SKID ROW los angeles


WHAT IS SKID ROW?

Apart from the common struggles of homelessness and life on L.A.’s Skid Row, Theresa, Greg, Paul, and several others are bonded by their shared experience and service as the Trust’s Resident Ambassadors. In 2011, the Trust established a new program to train current residents in storytelling and public speaking with a three-fold mission: 1) To build self-esteem among the residents; 2) To appoint advocates who can support other residents and address their issues with the Trust’s staff; and 3) To help currently homeless people find their way to the Trust. Greg states that his service as a Resident Ambassador makes him feel respected and appreciated. Theresa likens the Resident Ambassadors to advocates. Paul shares that homeless people need guidance. A helping hand can go very far in giving hope to someone who feels hopeless and lives on the street. I ask the Ambassadors to share more about the government programs that support them, including General Relief and Social Security. Paul explains that everyone is given $221 in cash, in addition to a voucher card they can use to buy food at select federal government sponsored stores. Theresa talks about her own struggles with the system and the importance of having medical, health, and legal services available in her building. Theresa suffers from epilepsy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and recently needed legal services to champion her right to keep her Social Security benefits. The stories of the Trust’s inaugural Resident Ambassadors have spread far beyond the confines of the Trust’s offices and residential properties. On November 9, 2011 the Trust hosted the Story Teller’s Celebration and Resident Ambassador (2011) Graduation at The Last Bookstore in Downtown L.A. Twelve Trust residents (including Theresa, Paul, and Greg) each spoke about their lives – both before and after finding the Trust. For Trust staff, the night’s event, and Resident Ambassador’s program in general, is a way to give a voice to otherwise silenced and ignored members of society. You can read more in Formerly homeless, they know of where they speak, a recent L.A. Times article profile about the event. Although it’s only been a few months that I’ve interacted with Trust staff and residents, their powerful stories of challenge and triumph have already deeply influenced my own hopes for improving society, one life at a time.


N

SKID ROW


“home is my pink bathrobe and my fuzzy rug.”


Theresa Theresa has been a resident of the Skid Row Housing Trust’s Abbey Apartments for four years. A former prostitute and drug addict, Theresa lived on the streets for over 25 years prior to finding comfort and compassion at the Abbey. Today Theresa is a prolific poet and a Resident Ambassador. She is proud to be clean, healthy, and in a very supportive relationship. Theresa credits the Trust’s permanent supportive housing model for saving her life. “To the old parable, home is where the heart is. It is where my home is today because I lived on the streets for 25 years as a prostitute and a drug addict and I am now in my fifth year of recovery. I’ve never been happier in my life. I have a good solid relationship with a very good person and Skid Row Housing Trust has helped changed my life.” Theresa talks about the changes she has noticed in Skid Row. She comments that the streets are not only cleaner, but that more people are getting off the street. She talks about the Trust’s registration process and appreciates the trusting relationship she has developed with her case manager, neighbors, and friends at The Abbey. Theresa participates in many of The Abbey’s programs, including the creative writing workshop and religious fellowship. Her service as a Resident Ambassador provides a very important and rewarding opportunity to share her story, especially with young women. “I went to their office and registered for an opening and about 60 days later they called me and I got an interview. They ask you what your focus is, what are you trying to do, if you are looking to help yourself. For some people four walls are fine for them because they are still going to do what they are doing but I needed the four walls because I wanted to change my life and the four walls have changed my life because today I am sober and clean.” “When I moved in to Skid Row Housing Trust, the first day I moved in I was on the elevator and someone I had know 20 years ago was on the elevator – he was a resident too. We hadn’t seen each other for 20 years.” “My poetry consists of feelings. My feelings from the past and the feelings that I have today. Whatever I’m going through – whatever I’m dealing with that day.”


20%

or more of the people on the street are families

blacks and latinos are disproportionately represented in the homeless population

average waiting time for housing availability

3 MONTHS!

amount addicted to drugs and alcoho

80%

THE INACCESIBLE

HOUSE

THERESA’S JOURNEY HOME

No Housing day 20 Theresa must interview with different housing providers. She is put on a waiting list for openings.

No ID. day 6 Theresa must seek help from organizations to help obtain information on her idenity and social security.

No Mail day 13

With no address cannot receive d or sign up for m services


o ol

amount of homeless in LA each year

% 254,000

lbox

s, theresa documents many social

80,000 DISTRUST 23,000 those on the street reject help because of

L.A. homeless with only

shelter beds each night

Vacancey day 62 Still no openings. Thersa is lucky to move into a new Trust property opening up called The Abbey.

Violence day 46 Domestic violence with a neighbor forces her to be placed on another waiting list for housing.


“give somebody a chance, give somebody some dignity�


Paul Paul is an artist who has resided at the Trust’s Olympia Hotel for about a year. Paul was homeless for over 20 years prior to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He divided his time between his native Seattle and Oakland before moving to Los Angeles. “I was on the streets, sometimes I lived behind buildings, sometimes I slept on the bus. Most of the time I slept on my truck. There was a pool at the park where I could get up early in the morning and take a shower and go to work. I did that for about five years, but I lived for like that (off and on) for about 20 years, not always understanding why I was always homeless and out of a job.” “Home for me is just someplace that’s safe and someplace that’s warm and some place that has the smells of home like food and Christmas Trees.” Paul talks about his favorite elements of living at the Olympia. He credits the Trust for improving his life and helping his discover other parts of his artistic talents. Paul also shares his personal connection and friendship with Tasha, a homeless woman he tried to assist. Despite his and the Trust’s efforts, Tasha died on Skid Row. He concludes his interview by sharing his general thoughts about the Trust’s work and the value of permanent supportive housing. Beyond a physical home, Paul says that love and care are fundamental elements for eradicating homelessness.

Vic Vic grew up in the suburbs of Mexico, went to Catholic school, got himself a job at the telephone company. Then he lost the job and the slide began. “Everything was good and then it all shattered,” he said — and he became one of the people passers-by walk by on skid row. “Take time to give somebody a chance, give somebody some dignity. Say hello. Say good morning,” Rodriguez said. And as he spoke, support from the room — “Mmm-hmmm,” “That’s right” — washed over his words in warm waves. Vic Rodriguez, who has lived in the trust’s Dewey Hotel for eight years, said, “I cannot explain the freedom and independence I started to feel again” once he had a permanent home. Rodriguez, 52, now lives in the Dewey Hotel Apartments, operated by the Skid Row Housing Trust, which develops and manages affordable housing in an effort to provide homes for the homeless.


“I've always wanted to be an artist. I can actually paint now.”

“Angels grabbed me by the back of the neck”

“Sometimes I need to talk to someone and there is someone to talk to.”

A place of quaint warmth and beauty, and at the same time a harsh, cold and vicious jungle.

“A safe haven away from the street.”


PARSONS TAKES A WALK DOWN SKID ROW


2012


Ralph / Tokoyo Ralph and his son, Tokoyo struggled with homelessness for five years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home and robbed them of everything. With the help of the Union Rescue Mission, located in Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, this father-son family was given the chance to start over. For Ralph, Tokoyo is what has always driven him to find a better life where he can give everything he needs to his son. Though they have been homeless for some time, Ralph never gave up hope for his son. One of the biggest challenges for Ralph was finding supportive housing for single parents. “My hope for myself is to become a better parent - a good parent - and also a providing parent. Getting into our own house, and getting into our own bed, cooking our own food, not being afarid of being homeless again. These are the things i hope to be able to do”

Rob Rob once operated top secret computer systems for the US military. He now camps down for the night in a doorway, his hair matted, his fingernails grimy, alert for trouble. “You’re down here because you’re either a drug addict, you’re incompetent, you’ve lost your job or you had some legal issues,” says Mr Campbell, who served for two years in the US Air Force. Veterans coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are one of the reasons why we see a huge number of veterans who are homeless. Drug use while serving in the military leads to servicemen and women receiving a dishonourable discharge, a status that cuts them off from benefits once they are back home. For Rob Campbell, the process of rebuilding his life is painfully slow. He feels like his world is spiralling downwards. How can a scruffy homeless guy present himself and be taken seriously at a job interview with a computer company, he asks. “You simply have to tell yourself that no matter how bad things are and how bad you feel and how bad you look, it’s temporary and you just have to work your self out [of] it,”


“hope for myself is to become a better parent�


San Fransisco Los Angeles

trajectories / hubs of the

HOMELESS Theresa Paul Vick Ralph/Tokoyo Rob

(Mexico)


Detroit

New York D.C.

(Afghanistan)

south florida


A COLLABORATIVE STUDY BY PARSONS THE NEW SCHOOL FOR DESIGN further information at:

http://seekingshelter.wordpress.com

The Stories of Skid Row  

A project on the stories of the homeless in Los Angeles.

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