On the outskirts of California’s most populous city lies a heart-wrenching sight – block after block of squalid, grinding poverty, where tents and makeshift shelters line the streets as far as the eye can see.
The English writer and social critic Charles Dickens would have had enough material for many more novels depicting life of the poor, had he been around to see LA’s most impoverished neighborhood.
Just blocks away from LA’s fashionable restaurants, coffee shops and cultural venues, barely visible from the top of the city’s shimmering skyscrapers, is something of a warzone, a veritable no-man’s land where entry is not conducive to healthy living. In fact, it can be downright deadly.
Welcome to LA’s Skid Row, where reportedly one in three residents are homeless. It has been called one of the “most densely-populated areas of people experiencing homelessness.”
On Christmas Day, ‘citizen journalist’ Nick Stern decided to take a drive around this neighborhood to see how some of California’s least fortunate citizens were spending the holidays. Stern posted his video, just under three minutes long, on Live Leak. It makes for painful viewing.
Even for those who have heard stories about LA’s ‘tent cities,’ nothing can really prepare the viewer for this ride down misery lane. Turning onto San Julian Street from 7th Street, one is immediately greeted with a landscape that more resembles something out of an apocalyptic film than anything remotely from California.
The sidewalks have been made impassable, completely taken over by tents and other makeshift forms of shelter; people roam in the street, pushing shopping carts or carrying plastic bags that possibly contain their worldly possessions. In one area, clothes are seen hanging over the top of a barbed-wire fence surrounding a building unlikely to contain anything worth stealing. The very notion of garbage disposal and pick-up appears to be non-existent; piles of rubbish are visible everywhere. In Stern’s short video no police patrol cars are seen; the law of the jungle seems to be the only thing standing in the way of full-blown anarchy.
Turning onto 6th Street from San Julian leads one to the headquarters of the ‘Midnight Mission,’ founded in 1914, which appears to be doing a roaring trade. Although its website shows a bright, hopeful place where people can take advantage of free computers and food, the image provided by Stern’s video as well as a Google Maps tour suggests a more desperate situation. Indeed, judging by the number of men, woman and children huddled outside this shelter, it would seem this one organization’s ability to service the needs of the homeless has been stretched to breaking point.
The situation is so bleak that earlier this month the San Francisco Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SFSPCA) was forced to employ a robot to alert authorities when homeless people set up encampments on the sidewalk and parking lot surrounding its building.
“We weren’t able to use the sidewalks at all when there’s needles and tents and bikes, so from a walking standpoint I find the robot much easier to navigate than an encampment,” SFSPCA president Jennifer Scarlett told the International Business Times.
However, the problem of poverty and the growth of tent cities is not a phenomenon centered on Los Angeles alone. In fact, even in Silicon Valley – home to dozens of Forbes 100 companies, like Apple, Alphabet (Google), Hewlett Packard and Oracle – homelessness exists as a ubiquitous reminder that the US economy is falling far short of the ‘American Dream.’
In a recent study put out by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, four of the top 10 cities for homelessness rates were in California (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose).
New York City took the top spot.
This dramatic surge in homelessness, which serves as a large footnote to an overheated stock market, has prompted many local governments along the entire West Coast to declare states of emergency, usually reserved for natural disasters.
“A homeless crisis of unprecedented proportions is rocking the West Coast, and its victims are being left behind by the very things that mark the region’s success: soaring housing costs, rock-bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy that waits for no one,” the Washington Post reported.
This presents a rather sad testimony to a country that is said to have the world’s biggest economy. It also shows that President Trump has his work cut out for him if he truly wants to make ‘America Great Again.’