My day on skid row and downtown LA.


Today, 15th Feb 2012, as part of the Fuller Seminary Intensive here in LA, we spent the day in downtown LA “exegeting the built environment”, which is seminary talk for checking out the place. I won’t bore you with all that we did, but I want to blog about two places that we visited.

The first place was a ministry started by a Catholic Priest called Homeboys and Homegirls. It’s for gang members who want to get out of the gang life. LA has had a significant gang problem for a long time. The organization has a phenomenal set up, where they train people, employ them and journey them through the process of rebuilding their lives post gang membership. They run a hugely popular bakery, diner and other profitable businesses. A significant part of what they do, is they have three rooms with tattoo laser removal machines.  The doctors volunteer their time to remove gang tattoos – which is a very important part of a person’s journey back to normal life.

As we toured through the facility I was amazed at the attitude and the smiles of every person I met. The place was buzzing with people and they have 300 ex gang members going through the program at any one time. Just inspiring people to be around.

We were given the tour by an ex gang member who said his life has so radically changed as a result of being a part of Homeboys. (he is in the blue checked shirt in the photo). He gave the statistic that the Pastor who started the ministry, has buried 172 gang members from the local area who have been killed in gang violence over the last 20 years and it’s that statistics that continues to drive him to take people out of the gang scene.

The following photo is their strawberry wall garden, showing how they are maximizing every little bit of space they have.

We then caught a train to the central CDB district of LA and walked into Skid Row. This is an area with the greatest concentration of homeless people in the United States with about 4500 homeless people. From my observation, they all seemed to be afro American or Hispanics. In fact at one point, one of the guys walking by, stopped and said “what are you guys here for, a group of “gringos” all in one place – something must be going down.” Here are some photos of the walk down the Skid Row street. The photos are a bit fuzzy as we had to try and not look like tourists as it was kind of a dangerous place to be and we didn’t want to attract attention.  Overall though, walking down into this area had me shaking my head at the situation these men, women and children, find themselves in. I found myself continually saying to myself, this should not be happening in America.

This next photo is a famous mission called The Midnight Mission.

We then arrived at Central City Community Outreach. We were taken on a tour by the director Sophia

What an amazing program. They focus on children and families that are homeless. She mentioned a statistic that was alarming. She said that within the Skid Row precinct, there were over 1000 registered child sex offenders and so the risk to homeless children was very significant. She went through how they build community and the programs they use to building a sense of family within homeless families. She told us many sad stories of situations that children find themselves in but then told us inspiring stories of how they rebuild children’s sense of self esteem and sense of self worth. Time does not permit me to explain all they do, but suffice to say I was deeply impressed by Central City Community Outreach. What was sad was that Sophia was telling me that they get no Government funding as they are a Christian organization and they have to run on the smell of an oily rag.

Overall, today was heart wrenching and inspiring all at the same time.



Categories: Current Affairs, Travel

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8 replies

  1. Hi Peter, we too suffer a high rate of homelessness in Australia. I experienced it myself in 2009, where I lived out the back of my car for 6 weeks. During that time I met a number of people who were homeless, though they were working.

    One guy was sleeping in his car. The lease ran out on the house they rented, they couldn’t find another house and were evicted. They put their stuff into storage, his wife found accommodation for her and the kids at a woman’s refuge, but he wasn’t allowed to stay (even visit).

    In 2010 I did a chaplaincy course, and did my intern hours in a homeless men’s shelter and again heard many stories where normal people just found themselves homeless through no fault of their own. I have since continued to be involved in homeless ministry and often go to Hope Street Woolloomooloo with my wife, who is also doing her chaplaincy intern-ship there.

    We often think of homelessness as being the result of addictions and mental illness. While there is certainly a high percentage rate of this within the homeless community, its not the complete story. I’m glad to hear you were moved to compassion. Perhaps the Lord is moving you to think about how you can minister to the homeless in the Nowra area?

  2. Hey Peter, I am up in Canowindra which is a small town near Orange NSW. I am studying at Cornerstone and the topic I am studying at the moment is Contemporary Social Issues, I am researching for an assignment and I have picked “Looking after the poor in local communities” I am interested in how Sophia has started developing communities and building a sense of family back into the homeless community.
    I am not sure what the link to her blog is but I might search for it.

    The reason I found your blog was I am trying to discover what it means to be poor? Especially in Australia where we have enough money to live on, even if people are on centrelink payments, so I am trying to work out what the problem looks like in Australia before I can present a solution to my community.

    How do you or others in Nowra handle such a topic?

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