Skid Row is a district in downtown of Los Angeles (LA), California; a 3-minute drive from the city centre. California is the wealthiest state in USA. The state of California has the largest number of billionaires in US, 186 billionaires, second comes New York with 135 billionaires. The story of Skid Row is the story of another America, the story of the homeless people of America and the other face of the super-rich capitalist country. Skid Row is surrounded by localities with high rise buildings, the contrast visible to anyone. The streets of Skid Row give shelter to more than 6000 homeless people who struggle for basic survival. They live in make shift tents, tarpaulins, chicken houses, sheds, some in rejected vehicles, etc. The area has few public toilets and no basic amenities. The city garbage collectors, street cleaners never visit the area. The living condition of the people are very poor. They collect food, clothing, items for daily use from the garbage containers of the adjoining localities. The local administration however locked the garbage containers with the plea that it causes nuisance, an inhumane act of the administration. The life expectancy of people in this area is 48 years, 20 years less than USA average.
The story of Skid Row starts with the history of California when it became a part of USA. The attraction of gold and opportunities for jobs made people from east moving to west. The railroad that connected LA had the terminal at Skid Row. The dreams of many were shattered and they ended up with no jobs and homes, they all settled in streets of Skid Row. The homeless were treated as untouchables by the wealthy neighborhood. In 1970s the city planners started drawing lines to contain the growing population of the area, to demolish all old buildings and build new high rising areas. The planners thought of bulldozing the area, but the Skid Row community resisted the plan. The argument of the community was that demolition of one Skid Row will create a number of small such areas throughout LA. That made sense to the authorities. They instead demarcated the area as a containment zone, so that the surrounding area can have sky scrapers. They built public toilets and benches in Skid Row area and the reason for this was ‘‘to keep the undesirable population elements in Skid Row’’, thus criminalizing the helplessness of these people by calling them undesirable population. They installed harsh glowing prison lights between Skid Row and neighboring area, so that the residents will be restricted and locks were provided in garbage bins of surrounding areas so that the homeless won’t scavenge food from the garbage bins. A brutal act, leave aside providing food to the hungry, even restricting them from collecting left over from garbage bins. An undeclared ghetto for the Homeless. What kind of inhumane treatment to the poor? In 1990s when funds for mental patients dried up, hospitals and sanatoriums would dump these mental patients in this area, knowing well that they will be contained. The police frequently visit the area. The fear of eviction always haunts them. The policy of containment and drawing boundaries for the jobless, homeless people; a city within a city reflects the callous attitude. The real problem of employment, affordable housing, high rentals, mental illness, drug addiction was never addressed. The pandemic and economic crisis leading to high rise of prices of essential commodities made things worse.
The story of Skid Row is the story of many cities of USA. The official statistics show that 580,466 people were experiencing homelessness in US in 2020 and out of them 406,326 were individuals and 174,139 were individuals with families. The states with highest homeless populations are California (161,548), New York (91271) and Florida (27,487); the three rich states of USA. However, the problem of homeless population is there in every state of US and is increasing rapidly as per the New York Times report.
The New York times briefing says—‘‘Shelters across US are reporting a surge in people looking for help with wait lists doubling or tripling in recent months… and inflation is compounding the problem: Rent has increased at its fastest rate since 1986, putting houses and apartments out of reach for Americans….The crisis means more people do not know where they will sleep tonight… More Americans now say they worry a great deal about homelessness compared with the years before the pandemic…. Seven million low-income renters cannot get affordable homes, according to National Low Income Housing Coalition.’’
What is the demography of the homeless in US? The number of minorities like the African Americans and Natives are proportionately very high compared to whites and Asians. Are these residents skilled? A blog survey shows they are skilled in various jobs like painting, plumbing, mechanical maintenance, etc. and are willing to work. The pathetic picture is that of highly educated young professionals who cannot afford a rented house in cities and live in their vehicles in these areas, may be for a temporary period. What is the age group of them? The concern is that the number of seniors who have retired from service is increasing in these communities. They paid their taxes and contributions to social security throughout their work life and had no saving, thought that the social security check will be sufficient. They cannot meet their ends now, with meagre social security allowance that they get. What about the veterans those who fought for US in different wars? Veterans account for 11% of homeless people in US. An estimate states, almost 40000 to 60000 veterans are without shelter in US in any given night. The disturbing fact is 50% of them are above 51 years. The unemployed, single and families, senior retired citizens, veterans, even some fresh young professionals; they all are living in streets.
The myths created about the homeless need to be dispelled. The false notion given is that they are drug addicts. There is no survey to show the percentage of homeless who are addicts. The problem of drug addiction is a major one in US and the same is increasing every day. Literature suggests drug addiction is ‘‘both a cause and result of homelessness’’. The trauma of living on roads leads to drug addiction in some cases. The other myth created is that they are sufficient shelter homes for homeless. The reports say that the shelter homes that existed have reduced their bed strength in recent times. One report says, the waiting list for shelter homes on a given night can be 1000 names long. One more myth propagated is that the homeless don’t want to work. The true picture is that they are skilled and willing to work, but there is no job. The problem gets compounded as they don’t possess an address or access to internet.
The cause of homelessness is the economy. They are unemployed as the job market is shrinking, and more so after the pandemic. The social security or the retirement benefits that senior citizens and veterans get is meagre. The rent of houses has increased in city areas. Rental for a studio apartment is in between $1000 to $3000 which is more than the minimum wage. The authorities have never given due attention to affordable housing. The result is homelessness which has increased in recent times and will increase in future.
The military expenditure of US annually is $780 billion dollar which is equivalent to sum of military spending of the next eleven countries of the world. Why the richest country in the country in the world, spending huge amount in military can’t solve the problem of homelessness or provide basic necessities of life? The problem lies in the economy, that is the capitalist imperialist economy whose main concern is maximum profit, and the state and finance capital are all subservient to monopoly capitalism. The result is exploitation of toiling masses, leading to low wages, lack of purchasing power, unemployment, price rise or inflation and so on
Homelessness will persist as the crisis of capitalism will be more acute in future. This is the real picture of capitalism—Skid Row, the residence of homeless and Beverly Hill, Bay Area, the residence of billionaires. Skid Row exists throughout the capitalist world. The two faces of decadent, ugly, inhumane Capitalism. The problems of homelessness exist in all capitalist countries, more in undeveloped countries but the rich capitalist countries like US are not immune from it.