“You’re a fucking demon. Get out of here! Go!” she screamed violently, as she grasped the wheels to push her forward chasing after him. He suddenly slowed down and turned his wheel to the right towards her. He grabbed a fistful of her brown, tangled hair that was half clipped up. His other hand pulled down the plastic bags hanging from the handles — bags filled with ChapSticks, cigarette boxes, an empty beer bottle, a torn Daily Bread book and other worn out newspaper clippings. The man in the brown baseball cap grabbed both her arms and pulled her off her seat. Her grey blanket slipped off her lap, on to the floor, as she hit the hard concrete cement. Her wheel chair flipped to the side.
Welcome to the Skid Row of Los Angeles, California. Skid Row is located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles — east of the Financial District and the Historic Downtown Center. Third Street binds the north, Alameda Street binds the East, Seventh Street binds the South, and Main Street binds the west. These four streets hold the heart of Skid Row, Los Angeles. Alcohol, drugs and broken hearts are what bind the homeless to Skid Row.
A few of us scurried over to help Jenny. “Why you do that to me? I didn’t do nothing to you. Wait! I told him wait and he flipped me because we hit the curb,” she screeched to us. Pause. “No, I gotta go!” Tears streamed down her face as her sobs drowned the streets. “I can’t get up. I can’t get up! My knees gone. My knees gone! No! Get me up, I want to go! I got to go! My blanket, my blanket. Help me up, before he gets my blanket. I don’t trust him!” She pointed to the man in the brown baseball cap. He is about 150 meters down the street from us rolling in his wheel chair.
“It’s okay, you’re okay,” we tell her.
But we all know that she is not okay. She seemed to be losing hair; her eyes are blood shot red. Her breath and clothes reeked of alcohol. Her little belongings, wheel chair, and clothes shared the stench of the local garbage disposal and her lips were split open. Blood streamed down her chin. But these words are what she needed to hear. Jenny moaned and sobbed loudly.
We helped her back on to her chair, wrapping the blanket around her lap. We picked up her items and she let out a spontaneous giggle as she held up a faded booklet, “Don’t you know what this is? It’s the guidepost.”
As fast as the flip of a light switch, her giggle is replaced by sorrowful cries. “Strip me of everything! Take my health! I had everything but nothing! I will still give the praise to the glory of God. I don’t care! I will carry the praise of Glory no matter what. Who can be against me if God is before me?” She sat there continuing to whimper and cry.
Jenny stopped crying and repeated, “If God is before me, who can be against me?” She took a deep breath in and then out, in and then out, as if to start over clean and new.
Imagine a lonely prostitute, a one-minded heroin addict, an abandoned grandparent, a drunken alcoholic, and an unwanted mentally disabled person, who are all neighbors in the same city, maybe even on the same street. At night, the chilly 53°F winds are their walls, and often times if they are lucky, the closest dumpster is the provider for their next meal. Los Angeles’ Skid Row is “home” to these people.
God did not make Geary Daschke ugly.
Heroin had made Geary ugly. The scars of punctures decorated both his arms. His forearms were covered in what seemed to be the fantasy bites of a vampire. These were certainly not the only scars left behind. Wrinkles were plastered on his face, as did the cracks on the sidewalk. The distance between his eyebrows and his grey hairline seemed to run a mile long. Twenty years of heroin addiction can do that to you.
All it took was the adolescent mind of a 19-year-old boy, a needle, the peer pressure of a couple of friends, and heroin. Geary woke up at age forty, and the first thing on his mind was this deadly drug. Heroin was his breakfast, lunch and dinner. Geary lost his wife, home, health, dreams and family to his addiction. Before he slept on the concrete floor at night, he planned out when his next intake and how much money he needed to keep him sane. He worked for this drug. Heroin controlled him.
Skid Row was not always the way it is today. In the 1870s, the area was agricultural until the railroads came in. The combination and transition from the rural to industrial provided short-term, seasonal train workers. Many hotel businesses began to flourish to serve the workers. Birth of the railroad station brought various immigrants from all over the states due to economic reasons. Many of these workers were single, male immigrants. Bars, whore houses and other “shady” businesses thrived from the start of what is now known as the infamous Skid Row.
The 1930s Great Depression decorated the city with jobless farmers and workers from all around the country. Los Angeles was a shelter for many young men and military personnel during WWII and the Vietnam conflict. Their experience in the city attracted many drug addicts, alcoholics and blemished Vietnam veterans to come back and live in L.A. Unlike other communities, Skid Row not only endowed service facilities and providers, but it also accepted anyone and everyone. Many unfortunate people faced rejection at numerous other communities. This era shifted the population of L.A. from elderly white people to alcoholic, young, non-whites and drug-dependents. On any given day, a drive through this area would reflect a population of 55 percent African-Americans, 28 percent Hispanic Americans, 14 perecent Caucasians, 3 percent Asian Americans/others.
Today, the Los Angeles Mission serves a diverse population. The L.A. Mission is a non-profit, privately supported, Christian-based organization established to serve the immediate and long-term needs of homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and children. The numbers of homeless women and children are growing rapidly. Today, 13 percent of the population they currently serve are women. Single males, females, and children arrive in Skid Row without a penny in their pockets in search of food, shelter, and warmth.
Ultimately, people on skid row are in search of hope.
“A lot of prayer and through my faith in God, he lifted the heroin addiction from me. I no longer crave it. I no longer care. My addiction was 100 dollars a day for 20 years,” Geary said. “A 100 dollars a day did not get me loaded, it got me well so I can function. That’s all that it did.”
Geary and I were surrounded by brown benches. The room seemed to have been set up for chapel, as we chatted indoors at the L.A. Missions. Geary shared with me his story of how he overcame his addiction with heroin. After twenty years, his miracle was God. Geary found God.
He is off to bigger and better things. Geary is starting his life over. “I am in college right now as we speak, taking up a course in web design and I’m about to finish that. Then I will be going to my next college to complete my I.C.3 license for working on computers.”
“Just because I was in my heroin addiction, it doesn’t make me stupid. It just makes me … I was stuck, that’s it.”
That is the problem. Many people in Skid Row L.A. are stuck. Many are lost and they have no hope.
Or perhaps they do not know where to begin in search for hope. Today, homeless people struggle more than ever with their addiction with alcohol and drugs.
They struggle to find their next meal and a place to stay. These people struggle to find love and hope. Places like Los Angeles Mission: The Crossroads of Hope can change the hardship for many of these lives.
Today, there is still hope for people like Jenny.
“Would you like something to eat?” I asked.
“String cheese, I want string cheese,” Jenny whined.
She started to apologize.
“Please, please don’t leave me alone. It’s no excuse but I’m sorry for cursing, I’m human. I just want to have a relationship with Him.”
“GET BENEATH ME,” she screamed at the bag! She startled us with her random outburst.
“God before me, who can be against me. I already know my words. You want a Godly task, you got one,” she giggled and smiled as she repeated these words.
“Am I all bloody?” asked Jenny. “No, you’re not. You’re beautiful,” I told her, as I hand her a napkin to clean her split-open lip.
“I know I’m precious in God’s eyes. God doesn’t make ugly,” she replied.