I had the great opportunity to go with college students to Hollywood, CA for a week of serving in the LA community and doing some sight-seeing. Most of my social media posts this week focused on the sight-seeing simply because it was easy to post those. If all you had seen were those posts, you'd think I'd just been on a fun vacation trip. In reality, we spent about 6 hours per day for 4 days serving and touring different non-profit agencies in Los Angeles. We bookended the trip with some of the touristy sites.
Monday - Day 1
Our first stop of the week is in downtown LA, in a part of town known as "Skid Row." I had heard of the 80s band by that name and vaguely knew that it was the poor part of town. I did not expect to see what I saw.
We set out to serve a meal at the food kitchen of Union Rescue Mission. We were running a few minutes early, so we drove up and down the streets of Skid Row. I thought we had entered a Third-World country. Up and down the sidewalks are tents. Some are camping tents, some are tarps in the shape of a tent. The garbage was spread out all around as if it had been searched through multiple times. One corner must have been the bike shop because broken bicycles and parts were piled high. It seemed like miles of tents, a tent city. It had been raining that week, and it was overcast that morning, which added to the dreariness of the sight. (The photo to the right doesn't do it justice, please check the video below.) Skid Row is about 50 square blocks or 0.4 square miles.
We entered the Union Rescue Mission and stopped at the Security desk to get directions to the kitchen. Just as overwhelming as the tents was the sheer numbers of people. The tents were big enough to house multiple people. There were people up and down the sidewalks, and as we entered URM, there were lots of people waiting for services. Later on our tour, we were told there were 800 beds at URM, and they put out extra cots as needed for emergency shelter, which brought their total to around 1300 people staying there. In all of LA there are about 47,000 people experiencing homelessness (though other numbers put it much higher than that, I guess it depends on how/who you count), about 2,500 of those live in the skid row area.
That day, was a special day because In-n-Out Burger had donated the meal: cheeseburger (freshly cooked on sight) and potato chips. Along with that we served salads, fruit, pastries, and Gatorade to drink. The guests saw it as a real treat.
What I learned
After seeing Skid Row and then experiencing URM, I was very encouraged that people's lives were being transformed. It is hard if not impossible to see progress made on Skid Row. There are a multitude of reasons that people end up on the streets and experience homelessness, and they all require different treatments. I was saddened that a part of our United States looks like a Third-World country, but I was encouraged by the stories of triumph we heard from people at URM. On this first day, I mainly learned that these are people like me who are experiencing homelessness. Often times we put them all in a category or class: homeless. In reality, many of us are much closer to experiencing homelessness than we realize. There's not a one-size-fits-all solution. There may not be solutions on a large-scale. But we can take care of people and give them the opportunity to be transformed. As I return to my town, I hope to get connected to local organizations and help them navigate the multitude of issues facing people who are experiencing homelessness. My first step will be to listen and learn.
Watch this video to see what a street looks like in Skid Row.
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.