It’s almost as if this part of town — not far from Los Angeles’ business district a few streets north, and Little Tokyo a few blocks east — has been completely forgotten. Even as a photographer living in the city for 25 years, I had been reluctant to visit. But after spending a few days in the area known to Angelenos as Skid Row, I realized that some of the men and women living there are eager to have their stories seen and heard.

Skid Row Los Angeles

San Pedro Street, between Fifth and Sixth Street, is one of the busiest areas of Skid Row and home to the nonprofit Union Rescue Mission.

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

A block-long encampment running down San Pedro St houses a multitude of homeless people. Most of these people use tents makeshift plastic coverings and blankets to protect them from the often harsh summer L.A. weather.

People use tents, makeshift plastic coverings and blankets as shelter in a block-long encampment that runs down San Pedro Street. 

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

William J. Perkins III, also known as GSTA, has been living on the streets since May 2015. He describes how he ended up homeless, "I never was homeless. Me and my wife moved from Philadelphia cause they had treatment for her out here here in Los Angeles. She had lung cancer. Stage 4. So the medical expenses were a little cheaper. So when we came here, they gave me temporary housing in a drug infested zone over there by St. Julian. We stayed 3 months”. His wife passed away last year and he plans to move out of the area, but he reflects on his current predicament, "You never really thought that in America, the most powerful country, we'll be doing that. I fought for this country. Look where I live at. They don't take our lives seriously when we put our life on the line for this country"

William J. Perkins III, also known as GSTA, says he has been living on the streets since May 2015. “I never was homeless,” he says. “Me and my wife moved from Philadelphia ’cause they had treatment for her out here here in Los Angeles. She had lung cancer. Stage Four. So the medical expenses were a little cheaper. So when we came here, they gave me temporary housing in a drug-infested zone over there by San Julian Street. We stayed three months.” His wife passed away last year and he plans to move out of the area. “You never really thought that in America, the most powerful country, we’ll be doing that. I fought for this country. Look where I live at. They don’t take our lives seriously when we put our life on the line for this country.”

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

Roy Evensen, also known as "Cowboy" is 66 years old and was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He's been living in Skid Row for 6 years. After being an army sniper during the Vietnam war and a soldier during the 70's, he had difficulties adjusting to normal every day life. He says, "I got out of the Army just about 1980. I had enough. I couldn't take it no more. I had a  feeling my number was gonna come up if I go to Iraq or whatever. Things were going up and down for me. I couldn't adjust right. If I hear something or dropping something, I hid in the pavement, looking around you know. We didn't have PSTD. They called it combat fatigue, the willy nillys, or whatever. The doctors would give Valium. I didn't want to get hooked up on that stuff. So I started drinking beer and it made me more relaxed"

Roy Evensen, also known as “Cowboy,” is 66 and was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He’s been living on Skid Row for six years. After time as an Army sniper during the Vietnam War and a soldier in the 70s, he told me he had difficulties adjusting to civilian life. “I got out of the Army just about 1980. Things were going up and down for me. I couldn’t adjust right. If I hear something or dropped something, I hit the pavement, looking around, you know. We didn’t have PSTD. They called it combat fatigue, the willy nillys, or whatever. The doctors would give Valium. I didn’t want to get hooked up on that stuff. So I started drinking beer and it made me more relaxed.”

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

Stephanie Williams, in her 40's, has been living in skid row for a year. She has set up a place where people can come and learn sewing as well as take part in art-related activities. She ended up on the streets after being a victim of police brutality who she says broke her leg in a wrongful case of trespassing. She describes the reasons why she's living in Skid Row, "This is by choice. I'm not struggling. I'm not needy. I'm just here to spread the word. Let the people know what the police are doing. They're hurting us. I'm gonna retire here. I'm gonna be the little old lady on 5th and San Pedro. Still sowing. Helping out. Giving back"

Stephanie Williams, in her 40s, says she has been living here by choice for a year. She has set up a place where people can learn sewing and do other arts and crafts. She was a victim of police brutality; she says cops broke her leg in a wrongful case of trespassing. “I’m not struggling. I’m not needy. I’m just here to spread the word,” she said. “Let the people know what the police are doing. They’re hurting us. I’m gonna retire here. I’m gonna be the little old lady on Fifth and San Pedro. Still sewing. Helping out. Giving back.”

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

Black, 47 years old, currently lives on 5th street. When asked about his situation as a homeless person, he explains "These are good people. Of course, you gotta try to help yourself. Sometimes, you get lost out here. But as an individual, you gotta be able to help yourself still. I still wanna keep healthy. I still wanna try to do things and do better. But mentally, anybody can be mentally strained. A lot of people are not capable or competent of helping themselves. It could be periodic. One moment, I can be talking to you like this. And next thing you know, I can be going thru something totally different which I can't help myself. It's just the mental aspect. But you try to keep fighting, you try to get better". He also admits that the biggest problem in the area is drugs, not just the ones that are sold illegally, but also the ones given to them by pharmaceutical companies.

This man, 47, goes by the name Black. “These are good people,” he says of his neighbors. “Of course, you gotta try to help yourself. Sometimes, you get lost out here. But as an individual, you gotta be able to help yourself still. I still wanna keep healthy. I still wanna try to do things and do better. But mentally, anybody can be mentally strained. A lot of people are not capable or competent of helping themselves. It could be periodic. One moment, I can be talking to you like this. And next thing you know, I can be going through something totally different which I can’t help myself. It’s just the mental aspect. But you try to keep fighting, you try to get better.”

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

It's not uncommon to see people moving around from one spot to another. Homeless individuals can claim a spot in a certain spot but it can be short lived. They will move for different reasons but primarily the main issue is that the area becomes too dangerous due to crime and rampant drug use. In addition, they can also be forced out of the streets by the local police.

People often move from one spot to another. An area might become too dangerous because of crime or drug use, several explained, or the police might force them to relocate.

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

 

Monty, 48 years old, lives in Towne Ave. which sits just a few blocks away from the much cleaner and protected area of Little Tokyo. His make-shift encampment is a completely covered in papers, some books and endless self-written notes. He explains, "I work my ass off. I'm smarter than most motherfuckers on this block. You see my paperwork, I memorize half of this shit. I can look up a movie and tell you what casting director did that. That's what I do. That's what these are. Casting directors, producers, directors, writers, facebook, twitter, myspace, craigslist, youtube". His goal is to go save money so he can go back  home to Indiana and apply for university theater degree.

Monty, 48, lives on Towne Avenue. His encampment is covered in papers, books and self-written notes. He explained, “I work my ass off. I’m smarter than most motherfuckers on this block. You see my paperwork, I memorize half of this shit. I can look up a movie and tell you what casting director did that. That’s what I do. That’s what these are. Casting directors, producers, directors, writers, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, CraigsList, YouTube.” His goal, he said, is to save money to go back home to Indiana and apply for a university theater degree.

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

The intersection of Crocker St. and 6th street features a mural painted by artists RETNA and El Mac, in collaboration with photographer Estevan Oriol. This specific mural,which was finished in 2010 sits in the heart of Skid Row, reminding the locals that there may be hope for their current situation. It's a small but constant reminder to the homeless community struggling with addiction, economic woes and mental problems.

The intersection of Crocker and Sixth features a mural painted in 2010 by artists RETNA and El Mac, in collaboration with photographer Estevan Oriol. This mural sits in the heart of Skid Row, adding a little color to the community.

Photo: Theonepointeight for The Intercept

Read The Intercept’s companion story, “The Crime of Living Without a Home in Los Angeles.”