Leading a presentation in a college classroom, Linda Valverde organizer for the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), asked students to describe Skid Row using one word. Students overwhelmingly characterized the community with words such as “prostitution, drug use, mental illness, and homelessness.” Linda said, “Well, I’m here to say: demystify the myth, because I am a community member of seven years in Skid Row, I live AND work in Skid Row.”

Although many characterize the Skid Row community with negative attributes, Linda and many others not only live in Skid Row but are also working to change conditions for themselves and their neighbors. Homelessness has never been a political priority over the last 30 years. There is a myth that people choose to be homeless (see Linda’s story). The myth that there are 100’s of beds available in the missions, but more importantly how folks actually get into shelters, the long, long waiting lists, programs being discontinued because of the economic crisis which is now leading to more housing crisis.

It is Monday morning. Eight Skid Row residents are gathered around the table at City Hall; to oppose the allocation of up to $20,000,000 in Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds to the Amerland Company for the Roslyn Hotel rehabilitation project at 112 W. 5th Street. Among them is Linda. They outnumber the City Hall official, and a lobbyist for the developer who is trying to take over the Roselyn Hotel petitioning for federal money. This developer, Ruben Islas also received over 100 million dollars in public financing for two projects in the City of Los Angeles; the Alexandria Hotel and the Frontier Hotel now known as the “Roslyn Lofts” The history:

  1. The LA City Attorney filed criminal charges against Amerland Group for fire code violations at both of their properties in April 2008. The violations were corrected with Amerland pleading no contest to criminal charges.
  2. A federal lawsuit was filed against Amerland Group/Logan Property Management by ten current and former Alexandria Hotel tenants in December 2007 due to race and disability discrimination and other illegal business practices. The suit was settled in February 2009 resulting in a $1,000,000 combined payment among defendants that compensated about 100 wrongfully displaced tenant and 10 named plaintiffs. The City and CRA/La (also named in the suit) paid $450,00 in cash toward the settlement, spent almost $400,000 dollars in outside legal fees, as well as incurred the legal expenses of the City Attorney’s office.

One by one they share their testimonies recounting the inhumane conditions they endure where they live: bug infestations, no running water, and cut-off electricity. The Skid Row community members are on a mission: they have come not as “experts” in public policy, but as “experts” in the problems of poverty who want their voices heard before government officials.

Ms. Barbara an older woman speaks out about her experiences as an Alexandria resident. She warns the city official that “the main problem” at the Roselyn is the landlord’s attitude. Ms. Barbara explains to the city official that “they can be nice to you, but they will come with a knife to your back,” metaphorically speaking. Barbara refers to the eviction threats she has received. She witnesses unidentifiable bugs that crawl everywhere, making some residents break out in hives. She highlights the harassment residents endure from the security guards who patrol the property.

Al, another a long time resident of the Roslyn Hotel, reiterates many of the problems Ms. Barbara has highlighted. He describes the residents who signed the petition he led in the building. Many of them he says, live on our below the poverty level. He collected ninety-six signatures from his neighbors who opposed the Roselyn take over. Although residents might be labeled poor, leaders like Al inspire neighbors to sign a petition, demonstrating that they care about issues that affect them.

These are examples that the students in Linda’s class, did not get a chance to see. Al, Ms. Barbara and Linda are examples of Skid Row residents who are on the frontline, fighting on behalf of the disenfranchised.  They understand the pressure residents feel knowing they might end up in the streets. Anyone present in the room at City Hall filled with Skid Row residents would have witnessed their passion and energy. The mission is far from over, but hope remains. Community members like Linda, Al, and Ms. Barbara are driving it forward.

Story by: drea

Published by: LACAN