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How L.A.'s Skid Row Residents Have Come Together to Fight for their Housing Rights

Residents fought the loss of low-income housing, combatted discriminatory housing practices, and even launched a community garden program.

Skid Row artis Zachary C. Thompson-Hardy I, says there are two communities within the neighborhood. The first, that everyone sees, and the second, the hidden community which he is part of.
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The following was originally published on Equal Voice News

LOS ANGELES — “I’m the people’s general,” says TC, explaining the nickname he’s been given on Fifth Street. He earned it by keeping the homeless residents of Los Angeles’ Skid Row informed and educated about neighborhood issues, in part through the literature table he maintains next to the blue tarps of his tent. Under the table are the donated clothes he collects, which anyone can take.

“I’m a soldier in the war on poverty,” the two-year resident of Skid Row declares. “I love the people – most of ‘em, at least….Down here it can be hard. But sometimes it can be beautiful, too, because people are beautiful, no matter how down and out they may be.”

Despite TC’s nickname, Skid Row isn’t the scene of a military conflict. But this part of downtown L.A. remains contested terrain these days, as swanky boutiques and cafes have cropped up and touch a world without stable housing for thousands of people. Residential apartments for low-income residents still stand. For decades, Skid Row existed as a neighborhood in which trains arrived from other cities. Workers who needed to remain close to the city center called it home.

Starting around 1999, public policies that spurred development in Skid Row started. Buildings that were dubbed underused were transformed in the 50-block area. Well-heeled residents have moved in. In 2014, Skid Row’s streets have a vibrancy of sorts – one in which families, the homeless, the hip, the elderly and even well-treated dogs coexist in an ever-changing place.

Deborah Burton, who lives in subsidized housing, describes people in the area – which has lofts selling for up to $1 million but few public places for homeless and low-income residents – as “The haves and the have-nots.”The Haves and the Have-Nots

On Sixth Street, people who might be viewed as the “have-nots” gather every day at Gladys Park, sharing a couple of drinking fountains, a few patches of grass and several trees. “People here accept you for who you are,” Linda Harris says.

She has lived on Skid Row for about a decade. She helped bring the users of Gladys Park together a few years ago to get

the city to replace filthy water fountains and then found the resources to build tables for dominoes and board games. Young men now face off in 3-on-3 basketball under new hoops.

She is a survivor of cancer, which has left bumps all over her skin. No one gives her a second look, other than to say hello. “They don’t turn up their nose at you. Down here, everyone is equal,” she says.

That changes once Harris steps foot outside the park. “We’re not allowed in the upskirts of downtown,” she says. “Some of us aren’t permitted because of the way we look. People have a label on us. They talk about ‘those homeless people.’ They never say ‘the people.’ They see me as a person who eats out of a trash can.”

Harris, though, lives in an apartment. Burton feels the same scorn at Coles on Sixth Street. The restaurant was once affordable for her. These days, the more affluent people who have moved downtown sit at the restaurant’s sidewalk tables, while across the street, police tell the homeless that the city’s “sit-lie” ordinance prohibits them from sitting on the pavement.

“I tried going into Coles one day to eat, and the maître d’ asked me if I had any money before I even crossed the threshold,” Burton says.

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