Class Journal #2 Fuller Visit's Skid Row

June 29, 2004
Class Journal #2

We arrived in Skid Row, LA’s Homeless “Containment” district this morning at about 9:00 am to find at least 10 people sleeping on the sidewalk.  One person had a tent fixed to the fence and created somewhat of a small shelter about 7 feet long and 3 inches wide, with crates underneath the tent keeping certain parts of the tents from touching the ground.  I looked at those who were awake and curiously looking at us, the 13 students from upper-class Pasadena, clean, toting backpacks and smiling down in one of the saddest parts of LA; I smiled, said hello and intentionally looked at those who were attentive, many smiled and said good morning, no of the ask for money or approached us in any threatening ways, it was human to human interaction.  People really live this way, as many as 10,000 a night in Skid row sleep on the streets and/or are homeless.  There are only 20,000 residents in this district, and with 50% on the streets every night skid row earns some scary reputations all across the country.  I learned within the first 15 minuets of being there that people, real live people, live in Skid Row, Skid Row is only terrible because these people it has become a dumping ground for LA, in order to hide its homelessness.  With laws that actually make homeless illegal, police pick up homeless people from around to “financial district” and drop the off in the containment area.  A place where no one wants to be, but unfortunately for those who don’t want to be there and have little resources, they have little power in getting out.

The most impactful time we experienced today came from being with Tim and Grady at the Central City Community Church of the Nazarene.  We learned about some of the poor politics of Downtown Los Angeles and the many struggles with finding housing for the homeless in the area.  Many slum lords own hotels in the area and allow the poor of Skid Row to live for cheaper rent, in terrible conditions, many rooms do not have their own bathrooms and are often located next to prostitutes and drug dealers.  One of the hardest things to deal with is finding sufficient housing for families.  The hotels in the area that even allow families to stay in their facilities charge $800-1200 a month which most families in middle class can barely afford let alone those who are homeless and have no jobs.  Many of the landlords play a game with the residents called “the 28 day shuffle”  that is they uproot the poor from their places of residence every 28 days and move them to different rooms or kick them out in order to keep them from sustaining any kind of “renters rights” that the city allows occupants after 30 days stay in any apartment complex.  I was glad to hear and learn from the stories that Tim and Grady told us, because it opened my eyes to the multi-layered problems that homeless people face within the system.  Tim stated succinctly that, “We can judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable.”

I felt that out of the three places we went today, CCCN, Exposition Park Nazarene and Faith in Christ Ministries that CCCN was the most important for me to see because they challenged me most directly with the importance of relating to those in the city as real people, as individuals with stories, hurts, pains, hopes and dreams.  They interact with those of Skid Row on a one-to-one basis, they don’t have lines of people waiting for free giveaways each morning, in fact they don’t have lines at all.  They answer the problem of “there are so many people that need help and so few laborers to do it by doing just the opposite that one may expect.  Instead of doing like many churches and rescues missions, they do not line people up like cattle and throw food and clothing their way, rather they seek to relate to people one at a time.  They desire to really learn and know those who they are serving.  One way to say it may be, that they are not ministering to but they are ministering with those around them.  In other words, they see themselves as part of on going story in skid row, they see themselves as learning and being impacted by those who live their just as much as they seek to help them.  This is why Grady said that there are only 40-50 kids in their program at a time, because that is all they can handle, that is the maximum amount of kids that they can get to really and truly know.

It seems that his type of city ministry, the relation type, works best, because out of all the programs and ministries we have experienced thus far CCCN is the one that has the most amount of people remaining apart of the ministry in leadership roles, they have many kids in their high school internship programs, their worship band is filled with residence of Skid Row and there are many other examples of them empowering those they are serving to be apart of helping others, and ultimately fulfilling God’s call in their own lives.  This empowering has also lead to many success stories of those who have been able to get back on their feet and become integrated back into mainstream society.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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