It’s true that Skid Row has a serious drug problem, William tells me, peering out of the two-man tent he shares with his wife. He calls his block, a dense thicket of tarps and tents, “the middle of cocaine alley.” It’s also his only housing option.
Shirley squints into the late-afternoon sun as her husband talks, her ponytail occasionally nodding along in agreement with his droopy white beard. “Where are they gonna put us?” William continues, grabbing the arm of Shirley’s camping chair for emphasis. “They’re not gonna give us a job. They’re not gonna give us a place to stay.” The couple has been married for a decade, but, for the last two years, they’ve lived on the streets of Skid Row, a few square miles of downtown Los Angeles—a stone’s throw from City Hall and the Staples Center—where thousands of homeless people live on the streets.
William says that police use Skid Row’s drug problems as a cudgel—even against people like himself, who are not involved with such substances—with no attempt to help the addicted or discern the non-users on the street. “Thank God I’m not addicted to drugs. Money ’round here just isn’t enough. But the police don’t care. They stereotype all the homeless as being drug addicts,” William sighs. “They know that there’s drugs out here, so they’re gonna use it as a crutch so they can control the population.” (A Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson writes in a statement that “‘respect for all people’ is a core value of the Los Angeles Police Department and our officers are held accountable for any inappropriate behavior or violations of Department policies.”)