A few years ago I was on assignment with my partner that took us to Skid Row Los Angeles. It was Easter and two budding journalists were set to find an angle, find a story that we would like to turn in as our final piece for one of our Journalism Core Courses at California State University Northridge. What was to come was something I could not ever forget. Something that solidified my aspirations from a very young age: to be the “Asian Oprah Winfrey of Today”.
I had a good childhood. I was incredibly shy. I remember not wanting to move up to the first grade from kindergarten because I had grown accustomed to my surroundings and friends and especially teachers. I had grown to trust them, and it seemed that the school year was already over which meant, I would have to set aside another investment to do it all over again in the next grade up.
At some point, I think my parents were worried. During Christmas concerts at school I was always put in the front, but never wanted to look directly ahead in fear that I would meet the eyes of people I knew: my parents and the parents of my friends. I buried myself in books. It was my go to. I could always count on those stories to take me into someone else’s life. Not because mine was so awful, because it was easier to do so.
Fast forward years and after making my “case” to my parents, I move out for the first time and decide it would be a great idea to put myself through school and work full time without any help from them (I was and still am quite stubborn). It was tough. In fact, I don’t remember much about those years in terms of the beginning and ends of actual years. I remember thinking “why isn’t there enough time in a day for me?” It was reading and studying and writing and doing projects at any free time I might have had: in between work, classes, during my lunch breaks. I remember having to work from 7am until 7pm because I had to make ends meet and still maintain working 40 hours.
My last semester of college was particularly tough. I woke up every day at 3am to head to the school radio station where I had to interview people on the east coast by phone and edit those clips to be usable for the evening update show. Sleep was not in my vocabulary. Then I would have to rush to work by 11am to put in a few hours only to leave in the middle of the day to attend classes and be back in order to close shop. Needless to say, I became somewhat of an expert at utilizing 15 min breaks whether it be during my lunch or the drive in between places at studying for exams, and lets not forget the staying up only to do it all over again the next day.
I remember often thinking: What am I doing? Will I ever graduate? I came into this later than most of my friends and was it really something I love and wanted to do?
Then, this project happened. Somehow my partner and I ended up roaming the streets of Los Angeles looking for a story, a compelling one and was truthfully seemed like a lost cause because we had no idea where to start looking.
We managed to end up in Skid Row and were hit with a scene that only can be captured by film to believe. There were groups and groups of people walking in and out of soup kitchens carrying a cart of all of their belongings as to not have them stolen, so they could have a meal for the day. But the streets ironically quiet, eerie almost. As it turned out, it was Easter and that meant many local outreach organizations and local churches were there to bring some hot meals for the people who were struggling and homeless.
We met a few people, but the ones that stood out the most were those who had a story, a story like many of us are familiar with. Some on the streets due to bad luck or taken from their families. Nonetheless, ones with stories.
I would like to share their stories here of Tawn and Terri. Two of the most compelling, honest and brave human beings I had come across. We spent the majority of the day just talking to them, listening more so and finding out that we as human beings are all alike: we want to be treated with respect and kindness.
And through this experience I re-found my love for the arts of journalism: in the capabilities of telling a story through words, pictures and media. It’s what I strive for, in being able to tell someone’s story in a compelling and honest way so the audience might be touched by their journey we call life. It was a human connection.
The City of Angels: Realities of the Streets
By Elisa Rosenthal and Katie Oh
The issues within the homeless society in Los Angeles vary; with approximately 82,000 people living on the streets on any given night, this poverty stricken class of people comprise of many types; all with different priorities and everyday needs.
An estimated 254,000 men, women and children sleep on the streets at some point in the year and roughly 10,000 unaccompanied youth are homeless, 4,800 in the Hollywood area specifically.
Poverty is one attribute many homeless people share; many will never overcome this ill-fated lifestyle and struggle to find peace on the streets. Issues such as chronic homelessness, defined as long-term or repeated homelessness, will continue to affect thousands of adults who may never live above the poverty line.
“I left Texas after my sister was murdered,” said homeless drifter, Terry Wilkinson. “ Then the man who molested me stole $3,000 from me so I left, I hitchhiked my way to California.”
Terry Wilkinson, 57, of San Antonio Texas, ran away from an abusive household at the age of 16 and has survived as a struggling artist who walks from the Venice Beach boardwalk to sleep in an abandoned parking lot in Santa Monica. Wilkinson continues to be pushed to different places by the police and does not want to be treated like the majority of the homeless community in Venice being moved to and from different towns. Wilkinson, who suffers emotional damage, is clean from drugs and alcohol and believes he is just a man who has had a wave of bad luck.
Approximately 250,000 families in Los Angeles are homeless and share the same characteristics: headed by a single mother with multiple children who come from little to no money with limited education and who have a background of high domestic violence. In a majority of cases domestic violence leave mothers no choice but to give their children up to social services or to move their families in and out of shelters, granted the shelters have the vacancy.
“I’d like to think that my children were kidnapped.” Said Tawn, 47, a homeless mother of three who sleeps along on the streets of skid row. Tawn is an example of the aftermath of domestic violence; her children were taken away from her in 2003 after an explosive argument with her boyfriend at the time. She still continues to search for her children.
“A lot of shelters don’t except teenagers,” said a pregnant single mother of two, Lorraine Sanchez, currently finishing her stay at The St. Vincent’s Cardinal Manning Center in downtown Los Angeles. After a domestic dispute with her former husband of 11 years, Sanchez must revolve her family throughout shelters and government ran motels.
“I depend on my girls so much,” Sanchez said. “ We don’t have to belittle ourselves just because we are in a shelter.”
An estimated 50,000 youth sleep on the streets in the United States and the extent of youth homelessness is primarily unknown. The existing assistance to the homeless community in Los Angeles is largely designed for adults. Many local non-profit organizations lack the space and the time to promote stability in young people who require many more needs for survival. Many non-profit programs cannot offer the structure and discipline that the youth need to survive in the adult world.
The Society of St. Vincent De Paul of Los Angeles has provided programs for the homeless and poor for more than 100 years. The St. Vincent’s Cardinal Manning Center provides emergency and transitional housing and allows families much like Sanchez and her daughters to have a place to cook, do laundry and have a warm meal for 28 days until they are forced to relocate to another shelter.
“ We take turns, do chores and try and get life together,” said Sanchez on her welfare lifestyle. “ I’ve learned to survive, all we need is someone to understand and help us.”