Monday, November 25, 2013

7th Annual HomeWalk

   “Over the past 6 years, HomeWalk has mobilized 38,000 participants, raised $3 million and moved 13,000 individuals into permanent housing. All proceeds from the event go back into the community, supporting effective strategies to end the ongoing crisis.
   The policies and solutions United Way advocates, such as permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing, have an 85% success rate when it comes to keeping people off the streets with a 43% cost savings for taxpayers.
   HomeWalk is an opportunity for all Angelenos to come together to raise funds and awareness while building a brighter future for our community. Join us today by registering, donating or volunteering! Together, we can end homelessness once and for all.” -The HomeWalk People at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles

   Hi there. I live on the outskirts of what is known as “Skid Row” in Los Angeles, California. I’ve lived in this area for the last 12 years or so, and I’m perfectly happy here, although it’s not the most scenic place in the world. 
   The downtown Los Angeles skyline looms close by though, dominated by the US Bank Building, what used to be called the Library Tower (because of the Los Angeles Central Library right across the street), and what George W. Bush called the Liberty Tower (because... well, no one knows why he said that). It’s the tallest building in the United States west of the Mississippi River, and along with it’s attendant structures close by, makes for a truly beautiful sight, especially on a clear night.
   I see it all of the time.
   I could take a few steps down my hallway to a window  close by and look at it right now if I so desired, but I’ve seen it before and won’t. Not right now at least.
   The name “Skid Row” dates all of the way back to the 17th century (January 1, 1601, to December 31, 1700, in the Gregorian calendar), and refers to a road used by loggers, made of logs, and used to move other logs by skidding, or pulling them over the logs on the roads through various woods, bogs, and muddy places. It’s also called a Corduroy Road, I don’t know why, and were used by logging camps all over the Pacific Northwest.
   How the name “Skid Row” became synonymous with “ a shabby urban area with cheap taverns, dive bars, and dilapidated hotels frequented by lowlifes, alcoholics, and itinerants (Random House Dictionary)” is hotly debated. I debated it just the other day, and it was quite warm.  It is generally believed to have originated in either Seattle or Vancouver. I don’t know why (the term "Skid Road" was in use in Seattle by 1865 when the city's Pioneer Square neighborhood began to expand from its commercial core, centering near the end of what is now Yesler Way, becoming the demarcation line between the affluent members of the city and the mill (logs) workers, lowlifes, alcoholics, and itinerant portion of the population). 
   “Skid Row” in Los Angeles (defined in a lawsuit as the area east of Main Street, south of Third Street, west of Alameda Street, and north of Seventh Street) is often associated with the influx of  seasonal laborers who worked in the nearby citrus groves at the end of the 19th century (January 1, 1801 through December 31, 1900), and the residential hotels that were built to service them. The famous Union Station (seen in films such as “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Way We Were,” and the classic “Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid”) lies to the north of Skid Row, and was, and is, a major transportation hub (trains), which facilitated the influx of these workers. By the 1930s the area was home to a large number of people without a home, who may or may not have been alcoholics, or addicts, or mentally ill. What we know for sure was they didn’t have a whole lot of money, or other available resources. This was during the Republican Great Depression, and at times of national economic distress large pools of poor people are manufactured, who need to live somewhere, and Los Angeles has very nice weather. Accordingly social-service providers that attended to these people were founded, making the area more hospitable to the local population. Today these organizations include the Weingart Center Association (WCA), Volunteers of America (VOA), Homeless Health Care of Los Angeles (HHCLA), the Midnight Mission (M&Ms), Union Rescue Mission (URM), the Los Angeles Mission (LAM), the Fred Jordan Mission (FJM), and the Downtown Women's Center (DWC) The Salvation Army used to operate Safe Harbor for women, Harbor Light for men, and an Adult Rehabilitation Center in Skid Row for many years, but after the Great Republican Recession of 2008, it couldn’t make these facilities pay for themselves, and so bugged out. Many other service providers, such as the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), the Century Regional Detention Facility for women (CRDF), and Los Angeles Central Library (LACL), provide temporary housing to lots of homeless people free of charge (as for the library, day services only... and no meals), and the Single Room Occupancy (SRO) and Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT) non-profit entities that have taken over the residential hotels that were once occupied by the seasonal workers, now provide permanent supportive housing to the homeless, which have recently grown in number in large part due to the recession. I am associated with SRHT. As a matter of fact I’m one of their Ambassadors. 
   Unfortunately I enjoy no diplomatic immunity.
   Skid Row has it’s very own police force curtesy of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), located at 6th Street and Wall, euphemistically known as Central Community Police Division (CCPD). Please click onto their website and say hello. They’re very lonely and will be glad to hear from you.
   You can’t walk a block around here without seeing two, three, or more of their cruisers cruising around looking for homeless people to harass. Local authorities have a long history of adverse relations with the city’s homeless population dating back to at least the 1940s. Ironically the large police presence in Skid Row makes the area one of the safest in the city, with little or no gang violence to be found, providing another incentive to live here, whether you are homeless or not.
   “Skid Row” is also the name of an American heavy metal band from New Jersey.
   Skid Row in Los Angeles (sometimes referred to as “The Nickel” as 5th Street runs east and west right through the middle of the area) has the largest concentration of homeless in the country. 
   “Of the estimated 91,000 homeless people living in Los Angeles County, it is estimated that 2,521 homeless persons can be found within the 0.4 square miles of the Skid Row area. Those numbers equate to roughly 3% of the county’s entire homeless population residing within an area that comprises only .0001% of the county’s total land area.” -Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
   The above estimate was made in 2008. Current estimates of the number of homeless residing within Skid Row vary between several hundred on any given night (those who actually live on the streets), to several thousand depending on who you ask. SRHT estimates the current homeless population residing within Los Angeles County at approximately 58,000. 
   New York City boasts having the largest number of homeless within it’s boarders, at  64,060 as of last January, making it the homeless capital of the nation, and possibly the world. All of us here in Los Angeles vow to work as hard as possible to catch up and overtake our rivals to the east.
   I mean really, who would want to be homeless in New York City? Cell phone reception is bad, people are rude, they have crappy pizza, and it freaking snows in the winter! 
   Anyway, last month, over a period of three nights, volunteers led by Downtown Pathway Home and Lamp Community, in partnership with the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative, Community Solutions, and the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA), successfully surveyed a total of 532 individuals within the Skid Row area. Of those surveyed, 329 individuals, 62%, were chronically homeless, which means they’ve been homeless a year or more, and may suffer from health, mental health, and substance abuse problems. 199 of those surveyed, 37%, were vulnerable based upon health conditions and other indicators with high mortality. 83 respondents, 16%, were Veterans, 35 (42%) of which are vulnerable with a high risk of dying on the streets.
   On average, these vulnerable individuals have spent 6 years living on the streets. Due to health problems, they are frequent users of health services including inpatient care or utilizers of hospital emergency rooms. In total, those surveyed reported 771 inpatient hospitalizations in the past year. Assuming an average cost of $2,566 per day, these visits total an estimated cost of $2 million a year.
   Nationally, there appears to be a modest decline in the overall homeless population, according to estimates by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD) released last Thursday (based on a one-night count conducted in January in 3,000 cities and counties across the nation), declining 6% since 2010, to 610,042. That’s a very good thing (despite the ongoing rivalry between L.A. and New York). Sharper reductions of 16% for people homeless more than a year, and 24% and for homeless veterans, were recorded as well. That’s also a good thing. A very good thing. 
   Our government’s response to this good news... federal cutbacks, including a 5% reduction in federal funds for homeless programs beginning last Friday, removing an estimated 100,000 homeless and formerly homeless people from programs designed to help these people (according to DHUD). 
   Certain factions of Congress wish to cut back on food stamps, unemployment benefits, and social security itself (for no apparent reason as social security does not add to the federal deficit at all, and is solvent just as it is for many years to come, and any eventual shortfalls can be overcome quite easily by initiating certain measures, such as eliminating the cap on income subject to the social security tax)... might as well screw the poor and homeless as well.
   Here’s the bad news (besides anything Congress does) Some states actually saw large increases in their number of homeless. California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas account for more than half of the country's homeless population, and of those, three of them experienced the largest increases. Homelessness rose by 11.3% in New York, by 8.7% in Massachusetts, and by 4.5% here in California over 2012. Other states had increases that were far larger, such as a 33.1%  increase in South Carolina, and 26% increase in Maine. Overall, 20 states saw their numbers of homeless go up compared to last year. Since 2007, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Washington, DC have seen increases of more than 20 percent.
   That sucks.
   Accordingly, the services organizations listed above (often relying in part on government subsidies) must utilize innovative techniques to continue providing service, and seek funds from other sources such as private individuals, organizations, and the public at large.
   The United Way of Greater Los Angeles (UWGLA) for instance, hosts an annual HomeWalk. This consists of getting a whole bunch of people together who contribute a small donation for the privilege of participating in a 5K walk (or run, if you are so inclined) to highlight the plight of the homeless, and raise cash to keep funding programs for the homeless. They’ve done this seven times now, and last Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend their latest.
   5K. That stands for five kilometers, kilometer being a metric measurement, which is a internationally agreed upon decimal system of measurement that was originally based on the mètre des Archives and the kilogramme des Archives introduced by France in 1799, which of course makes it socialist... just like their health care system. 5K translates into almost exactly 3.10686 good old capitalist American miles, and that’s what over 12,000 anti-homelessness men, women, children, and assorted animals endeavored to traverse Saturday, on a crisp, sunny, November morning.
   It began for me at 7:00AM at the Abby Hotel, located just behind the Midnight Mission at the corner of 6th Street and San Pedro. A bus was there which took 20 or so of us SRHTers to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which at one time hosted the 1932 summer Olympics (and in 1984 as well). The newly arrived Los Angles Dodgers played there when they first moved from Brooklyn, as well as the Oakland Raiders when they became the Los Angeles Raiders in 1982 (winning the Superbowl the next year). Now the Coliseum sits empty most of the time... it’s an eyesore really, and should be torn down as soon as possible to make way for a new SRHT hotel. Or two of them.
   Be that as it may, upon arrival we secretly integrated with the thousands of potential runners/walkers who were already there and made our way to the SRHT Booth, where I met Daniel Rizik-Baer (yeah, I know... sounds like a socialist), a very nice and intelligent young man who is the Community Relations Manager for the Trust. 
   He manages relations with the community. Very important.
   Daniel ushered me to the registration person, where I signed in and was given two T-Shirts, one  generic to the walk (I happen to be wearing it as I write this. Very comfortable), and one specific to the Trust, that has the words “Team Skid Row Housing Trust” printed on the front. I put that on, and attached what is called in run/walk parlance a “bib” with my number, 7743, to the front of my new T-shirt. Now I was ready. 
   The event was to begin at 9:00AM sharp, and we had about an hour to wait. Lots of people were milling about. Nearby venders sold various food items. A stage was situated about 100 yards to the right of us, where various people spoke to the crowd through state of the art public address systems.
   I was standing around, minding my own business, when I noticed Daniel in front of me a few feet away holding a camera. He raised it to take my picture (this happens to me all of the time) and I smiled. When finished I noticed that someone had stood next to me who had gotten their picture taken as well. It was Mike Alvidrez, the Executive Director of SRHT, the Big Cheese, or Big Wheel, or Bigwig, the Head Honcho, the Kahuna and Kingpin, the  Panjandrum, the Pooh-bah, the Mightiest of the Mighties, the HMFWIC, the Top Dog, the Captain, the Guvnor, the El Jefe, the Numero Uno, the Steel Magnolia, and the One of Which We Do Not Speak, of Skid Row Housing Trust. 
   Mike is a very nice young man of about my age. I have great hopes for his future. 
   He may have given me the Devil’s Sign (two fingers raised behind my unsuspecting head) as we had our picture taken, the publicity starved bastard.
   I tried counting all of those in attendance but they wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to accomplish this. 
   “One, two, three... ah, one, two, three, four, ah, one, two, three, four... ah...” On and on.
   I walked around to look at some of the other booths nearby to see who sponsored them. 
   Enterprise Rent a Car was there. The Youth Policy Institute. PwC, which stands for Price Waterhouse Coopers, a professional services company. THINK Together, which spends it’s time teaching, helping, inspiring, and nurturing kids. Mercy Housing, which apparently provides affordable, and low income housing services... very good. The Downtown Woman’s Center, that deals with women downtown. The LAMP Community, the Skid Row non-profit that works with homeless people suffering from mental illness. KPMG, another professional services company. Team Kobe, who must have been associated somehow with the Honorary Chair of HomeWalk, Kobe Bryant, who at one time played basketball, if memory serves. Parsons Corporation, an engineering firm. There was a booth for “First Aid.” I don’t know what they do. 
   The Conrad Hilton Foundation is a big sponsor of HomeWalk, which is appropriate for an entity devoted to "relieve the suffering, the distressed, and the destitute.” 
   The Weingart Foundation was in attendance. I used to live in their building, also on the corner of 6th Street and San Pedro. 
   East West Bank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America took some time off from making people homeless by foreclosing on their homes, to participate. 
   All of these groups had their people wearing T-shirts with their corporate logos on them, some identifying, or linking said companies  and organizations with HomeWalk.
   I didn’t see anybody wearing a  “Republicans Against Homelessness” T-shirt. Not one at all. 
   Steve M. Hilton, the CEO of the Conrad Hilton Foundation, spoke for a little while up at the stage before introducing Kobe. His niece Paris was no where to be found.
   Kobe Bryant was there with his lovely wife Vanessa, and their children. He spoke a few words, and then it was announced that the runners and walkers should get ready to run and walk at their respective starting points. 
   I could have run this course easily, in my sleep even... backwards. But my fellow SRHTers were walking and I didn’t want to show off. 
   The event began ten minutes early, at 8:50. I guess somebody was in a hurry.
   The runners started first. Kobe, standing on a scaffolding which straddled the starting gates, if you will, proclaimed, “Go,” and they took off.
   A few minutes later he did the same for the walkers, and we were on our way.
   I passed right underneath Kobe, who was up there smiling and waving.
   You know why he was smiling? Because he wasn’t about to run or walk 3.10686 good old American miles, that’s why. 
   We began walking north on Figueroa Street, past 38th.. I quickly trotted up to where the runners were now passing Hoover, just to make sure everyone was well hydrated and okay, then trotted back again... backwards
   We passed Felix Chevrolet, where Felix the Cat will sell you a car if you need one.
   A nice young lady handed me a flier that acted as a layoff notice. It told me that the number one reason for homelessness is the loss of a job. 
   It also asked me if I knew that 1.6 million (16%) of L.A. County residents live below the poverty line.
   And that over 500,000 people (10%) in L.A. County are unemployed.
   And that almost a third (32%) of renters are facing severe rent burden in L.A. County. allocating more than half of their income to rent.
   And for that reason, it takes only one crisis (loss of a job, illness, accident) to push a family into homelessness.
  Kind of depressing, isn’t it?
   A different nice young lady gave me a bottle of water to drink, which cheered me up.
   We made a left on Adams Blvd, turning west. There’s a nice big Catholic Church on the corner, St Vincent de Paul, which was the second Catholic Church in Los Angeles to be consecrated. 
   The big finale of the 1999 film "End of Days" starring our former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger battling Satan, was filmed inside.
   The producers of that film got Satan to work for scale. 
   I saw some people wearing Edison International T-shirts. I thought to myself they had a lot of nerve showing up, being associated with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power by being an energy company, which took 9 hours to restore power to my home the week before. 
   9 hours! My grandmother could have fixed it faster.
   Next we made another left turning south on Hoover Street. A little ways down I passed the 3K marker. We soon made another left turning east onto W Jefferson Blvd, back to Figueroa, where there was an honest to God cheerleading squad waiting for us (these girls looked to be about middle school age, and too young to be underpaid professionals... reference here). We passed the campus of the University of Southern California to the right, making a full circle back towards the Coliseum. With another right on Exposition Blvd, we passed the beautiful Exposition Rose Garden, and the Natural History Museum where the stuffed animals inside really do come alive at night, not like those movies where they use CGI (Computer Generated Images).
   Making a quick left onto Bill Robertson Lane I passed two statues of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops locked in mortal combat. 
   It was unexpected and frightened me.
   I soon passed the 5K marker, which should have been where the finish line was located, but oh no, we were all required to walk at least another half kilometer (546.81 yards) to that line, and should have been given extra credit (and another T-shirt).
   I passed the California Science Center to my left, and the Samuel Oschin Pavillion where the retired space shuttle Endeavor is exhibited after Los Angeles stole it from NASA.
   As I finally approached the official finish line I could hear, then saw, a stationary marching band playing the War song “Low Rider.” Interesting.
   I was then forced to walk through a gauntlet of beautiful, talented, and underpaid (formerly lesbian, commie, pro-choice Girl Scouts) Laker Girls. They had make up on and everything. 
   There was nothing I could do about it. Everybody had to walk through them.
   And that was it! All in all the course was rather easy to run/walk. There wasn’t any obstacles or anything. No moats or windmills to contend with.
   I made my way back to the SRHT booth, and was given a nice protein bar in the hopes of stabilizing my protein levels.
   But nothing was happening there, and I had another event to attend, so I left and caught the 40 bus back to Skid Row.
   I had mistakenly believed that the Los Angeles Mission was having it’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner that day, in which they serve a nice Thanksgiving Dinner to everybody who is willing to wait in line for awhile to be served (this is one aspect of living near Skid Row that is unique to the area. No one will ever starve here. The missions provide meals daily to the homeless, the Hippie Kitchen provides beans and salad three mornings a week, and if that weren’t enough, many nice people come down of their own volition and give away food. I can get free donuts every morning except Sunday if they weren’t little wheels of death, from members of a nearby Korean Church). This is where all of the movie and television stars come to get their picture taken while serving food to the homeless, as in the picture above of the lovely and talented Jennifer Love Hewitt (who’s made many friends here), our former mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Kim Kardashian, in what is known locally as a Villaraigosa Sandwich. 
   It was not happing that day though. It will be on the 27th, this Wednesday, and I look forward to attending. Come on down. Maybe you can be a sandwich too!
   The Union Rescue Mission (second to last picture above) was serving their Thanksgiving dinner that day though, and I went there (just north of the intersection of 6th Street and San Pedro, across from the Weingart Building) and got in line, where I spent the next hour and a half talking to some very interesting individuals about the possibility of the homeless going on strike.
   When I got inside I was served a huge Thanksgiving meal with turkey and everything. I was given so much food I could only eat half, and took the rest home with me.
   I guess it was a bad day to start my diet.
   When I got home I checked my E-mail, as I often do, and found this message from the HomeWalk people at the United Way:
   “Today was truly inspirational.  This year marked the 7th anniversary of United Way of Greater Los Angeles' HomeWalk to end homelessness and we are so grateful that you spent your morning with us.  Your participation made this the most successful HomeWalk in history. We had a record-breaking 12,000 participants and raised over $860,000! Every single dollar will go towards housing individuals in need.  This is a proud moment.
   HomeWalk is so much more than a 5K, it is truly a movement.  Today's success reaffirms our potential as individuals and as a community to come together to permanently break the cycle of poverty for all in Los Angeles County.
    There were so many memorable moments, but we'd like to recap a few highlights: hearing passionate leaders talk about the possibility of a city without homelessness, experiencing the homelessness journey on the route, and meeting a few of our formerly homeless, but now thriving, friends.
   HomeWalk is now over, but our work continues.  It is not too late to keep fundraising to achieve our goal of ending homelessness once and for all. Every $100+ fundraised or donated before December 31st will still be matched by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.  Please visit to make a donation or forward this email to friends and family who could not attend today so, they too, may join our community.   
   Because of individuals like you who believe it is unacceptable for anyone to live without a home, HomeWalk 2013 was the most successful in history. 

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving,” 
Elise Buik             Kobe Bryant
   And that’s about it... except for this closing rant.
   Homelessness is an endemic problem in this country, and a national disgrace. Often the homeless are villainized for being poor, or suffering from addiction, or old, or young, or female. Well there are lots of females in the United States. I know some of them personally, and it’s not their fault that their female, they couldn’t help it. It was not a choice for them. Same with the young and old, same with those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Addiction is a disease. You don’t wake up one morning saying to yourself I think it would be a good idea to be an addict and live in misery for the rest of my life. The same with being a republican I guess... it’s a disease. It’s not your fault, seek treatment please! End the horror.
   But the state of the homeless is tied directly to the general state of the national economy (which actually does trickle down to the state and local levels), which the poor have little influence over because they are poor and can’t afford lobbyists. If the federal government is the steward of the economy, then it’s done a piss poor job of stewarding. Greed and money in politics has allowed economic interests to flourish to the detriment of the majority of the country. If you have to place blame on somebody for being poor and homeless then place it on those who are actually responsible for the growth of their numbers... the federal, state, and local governments who value profit before humanity. 
   It’s time to place the blame and the responsibility on those who are actually to blame and who are actually responsible, those who would place that blame on anybody except themselves, like children caught with their hands in a cookie jar. 

   Latter that evening I consumed the rest of my Thanksgiving meal while watching the film “Gaslight,” starring the lovely and talented Ingrid Bergman.
   Very good.

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