Living on the streets is a death sentence. So why isn’t the city housing women, who make up the fastest-growing population on Skid Row?

June 1 2021

Living on the streets is a death sentence. So why isn’t the city housing women, who make up the fastest-growing population on Skid Row?

Monique Noel, LA CAN Development and Women’s Rights Organizer

We’ve spent months trying to make sure unhoused Black people in Skid Row—particularly women—were not left out of the chance to get into safe hotel rooms which would provide meals and some degree of privacy for folk who have had their lives destroyed by racist policies and practices that run rife in LA’s city and county institutions. 

But we find yet again that the Skid Row population has to wait and go through lengthy vetting processes to evaluate if they are eligible for resources that will soon expire

Allowing folk who need it the most to stay in a hotel room will cost the city nothing, because Biden’s administration—as everybody now knows—has offered to foot the bill. But going out and making a genuine connection with individuals to help them move into these rooms is apparently too taxing for paid city and LAHSA staff, because the cases they’re dealing with are complex. 

They are complex because this is a population that has been traumatized. Every time these individuals attempt to get help for themselves, a door is closed. 

Talk about cancel culture—try being canceled for your whole life. 

Imagine being born canceled. 

Many Black people don’t have to imagine. When we attempt to get jobs, walk into a store, walk out on the streets, go for a run, or even live without a home, it’s like everyone has already been told something about you. The stereotypes, labels, and assumptions make you “those people”—aggressive, violent, difficult, unresponsive. Criminal. 

Try being canceled from opportunities your whole life, and you might not walk around smiling all the time.

Back to Skid Row. From the start of the pandemic, it was clear no plan had been put in place for folk here. They had to shelter in their tents, and had no water because Skid Row has no water infrastructure set up for the humans living on the streets. No bathrooms, because apparently there are too many “criminals” on Skid Row who don’t use bathrooms unless it’s for criminal activity.  Where do people poop and pee you might ask? On the streets, because of course all people need a bathroom. And yes that’s a crime, just like being poor.

And then there are the shelters. Shelters are heavily surveilled, have curfews and lights out rules, and allow for limited movement with no privacy. They are void of dignity and humanity, with open-air showers and bathrooms without doors. 

Shelters are nothing less than a nexus for criminalization, replacing one core feature of structural racism (abandonment and neglect) with another. Shelter operators actively place Black people into carceral settings, even if they are operated by Liberal non-profits—most of which are led by white people, by the way. 

For many in Skid Row, the thought of staying in these shelters triggers horrific memories of abuse, rejection, violence, unsanitary conditions, stressful reshuffling and constant movement that an anxiety ridden body and mind just cannot cope with. They are not the solution to houselessness because at the end of the day, they don’t provide homes. They induce stress.

Skid Row was offered a measly few hundred Project Roomkey rooms for a population of thousands. This left so many feeling left behind. Why wasn’t every unhoused person in Skid Row offered a room? 

Mayor Garcetti? Director of Skid Row Strategy Kirkpatrick Tyler? LAHSA? 

I asked Kirkpatrick,  “Are there any more PRK rooms for unhoused women in Skid Row?” Because houselessness is still an emergency, there is still a pandemic, and people are STILL on the streets, and still dying. And yet public officials seem to keep skipping over them. 

Kirkpatrick told me affirmatively, no more rooms for Skid Row, and proceeded to offer shelters instead. 

Now you might be confused, because I certainly was. Isn’t there a blank check out there for this very purpose? Well, who told me to ask that?! I apparently upset KP. My insolence, arrogance…the nerve of a Black woman to question authority. How dare I? 

Honestly, I really just wanna know if houseless folk—women in particular in Skid Row—will ever be treated like valued humans and offered dignified housing, instead of warehouse housing. It seems the view from the Mayor’s office is, these homeless people should be grateful for any offer that removes them from the streets. 

Not so KP. Not so. There are memories, scars, and a constant replaying of how the city has mistreated, denied and created dangerous situation after dangerous situation. Here’s an immediate option—spend guaranteed federal resources to place people in humane arrangements like hotels and motels.

Stop treating Black people in Skid Row like chattel, cattle, rabid dogs, criminals, babies—just treat them like adults that are worthy of respect. Folk in Skid Row just want housing, and their own space. Just like you would.

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