“Homelessness is a big business in [Los Angeles]... even bigger than religion,” said a Skid Row man earlier this week, who refused to be identified.
While waiting with about 50 others for a bus that would take them to a shelter for the night, he agreed to speak briefly to the Sentinel about what Thanksgiving is like where he lives.
“There is a benefit [to them coming] but it’s not for me, it’s for them.” he said matter-of-factly.
“But I don’t get angry. If you come down here (however often) to give me something to eat, I’m going to take it...”
Beginning on Thanksgiving and stretching out until Christmas, there will be at least five dinners within the two block area of downtown Los Angeles that contains the city’s homeless. And the eating is good, said the man who explained he has both a degree in commerce and a drug problem. In fact, there is a constant supply of food even before the holidays.
“I can eat everyday down here if I want,” he said.
Holidays are special however, bringing out Hollywood’s finest, plus city council people and even the mayor.
“Every church comes...They take their picture, they get their TV [exposure] for about ten to twenty minutes. That’s how they raise their money. Then they go home.”
Los Angeles Times Columnist Pat Morris had an interesting take on the situation during Thanksgivings past.
“...Skid Row’s missions and shelters don’t see a news crew for months on end, he wrote.
“And then comes Thanksgiving, when their poor patrons can get their retinas burned out from camera-light candlepower as paparazzi trail the celebrity swarm “giving back” and dispensing hot food to the down and out. A few years ago, a slightly panicky staffer at one mission called over the walkie-talkie: ‘I think we’ve got too many celebrities in the cooking area.’ In Hollywood? Is there any such thing? If you watch the news accounts carefully, you’ll see the beneficiaries of all this charity appear none too keen on being made into human props...”
After the last slice of turkey and ladle’s worth of gravy is served though, it’s back to the routine, said the Skid Row man, an endless cycle of shelter tickets and ineffective rehabilitation stints.
“They put you all in one area,” he explained. “That’s how they control you. They don’t want you to recover from your drug problem. Instead they put you on rotation. You could go to rehab to recover for six months. You relapse, two months later go to another one. That’s how they get their money.
“If you recover, they won’t get their money. They make sure this is the only place you could be. They make it easy for you to stay here. If you get your SSI check, smoke it up, shoot it up, gamble it. Most older people go play horses. They younger ones mostly shoot heroin or do cocaine.
“You could smoke all your money and know you still have a bed. You got food. So why go to work. People get comfortable with too much food... why should I go buy food if I know I’m going to get it. I could eat [on Skid Row] five days a week if I want to...”
“We need jobs,” said another man who was also waiting for the bus. Not wanting to elaborate, he moved quickly down the sidewalk closer to where the bus would stop.
For their part, officials who run the missions downtown say holidays can prove to be especially difficult for people with no secure home and family and that’s why they try to make it special.
“Thanksgiving Day on Skid Row bears no resemblance to the holidays most Americans experience,” said personnel at the Fred Jordan Mission on Towne Avenue.
“ Instead of a dining room table piled high with turkey and dressing and all the trimmings, most inner city families will have no food at all. In fact, without caring friends like you, Thanksgiving Day for most people on Skid Row would be just one more cold, lonely day.
However, the Mission’s Street Banquet shares America’s bounty with poor, homeless families by serving a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings to thousands of hungry Americans...”