A couple years ago, I was contacted by an Italian filmmaker shooting a documentary about slums and poverty in various parts of the globe, and she wanted to talk about poverty in Los Angeles. I happened to be free the next morning, so I obliged and so she came over to my office with her crew. After the interview, she wanted to visit a Los Angeles “slum” and asked for suggestions of places to visit. Eventually, she asked – and pleaded – that I accompany them. Slum isn’t a word we use much to describe poor neighborhoods in the U.S., but the closet thing I could think of – both in terms of relevance and proximity to the office – was Skid Row, a 50-block area on the east side of downtown full of extreme poverty and homelessness.
We walked the mile distance over to Skid Row, with the camera rolling and Marta interviewing me the whole time (now, that was a strange experience). When we arrived to the heart of Skid Row and passed one of the missions where people were packed into an outdoor patio during the day, I directed the film crew in that direction. Marta, blurted out with surprise, “spaventoso!” Yes, it is frightening, even for someone who has seen dire poverty in developing nations. Perhaps because it’s so unexpected and yet so overwhelming.
Skid Row has long lived in the shadows of Los Angeles, that area we like to pretend isn’t there. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez did a riveting series of articles several years ago on the area, called “Life on the Streets.”
Less well-known, but just as illustrative for understanding the challenges facing this area of the city is a 5-part series of videos on www.GOOD.is. The introductory video is embedded below, and the rest of the series, “On Skid Row” is available on the GOOD website.
As this video concludes:
“The measure of any society is how it treats its weakest element…how we do anything is how we do everything…we’re not doing so well on Skid Row.”
Vodpod videos no longer available.