Trip Start Jan 01, 2010
57Trip End May 14, 2010
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We dropped the Wahlgrens off, gave our hugs and prayers, then hit the sand! When we arrived at Newport Beach (that is, after rejecting the notion of a $15 parking lot and driving a mile down the road to park on the road for free), it was rather cloudy. It had been cloudy all morning, in fact, so we didn't really pack for a day on the beach. We didn't expect to be long. But when about 11:00 rolled by, the sun burned through the clouds and made for one of the nicest beach days you could ask for. It seems the locals knew this, too, because the beach population more than tripled as soon as the sun broke.
Being unprepared, we couldn't stay as long as was then possible. No food, no water, no bathing suit. But we took some pictures, I explored what the surf washed up, but we were soon on our way again.
We still had more errands to do that day, however. We made plans to meet up with Annalise in Pasadena again, which was another fantastic visit. After that, we headed south into the heart of downtown.
You see, all throughout this year, we had been collecting the little soaps and shampoos and lotions that hotels provide on the sink. Living in a new hotel room everyday fostered quite a large collection that we housed in a box in our van. Our goal was, after the year was complete, to deliver them to a homeless shelter or some such venue that could distribute them.
Kelsey had done some research and found the Jonah Project, right on Skid Row. Skid Row is the term for a not-so-hidden 50-block sector in the shadow of the Los Angeles downtown skyline. It has the largest concentration of homeless in the entire country. Over 10,000 souls without a home make the most they can here.
We just turned one block to enter Skid Row, and we soon found ourselves in a completely different world. We parked our van on the outskirts, and walked into the heart of it, with our box of hotel samples in arm. Every stereotype of homelessness, plus dozens of sights not even imagined, lined the streets of Skid Row. We couldn't walk long before being approached and asked what we were carrying. "You handin' stuff out?" Sure enough, we paused and handed out little bottles of assorted care products. We quickly drew a crowd. You know what was the most requested item? Lotion. Just some skin moisturizer. But really--when your skin faces the elements 24 hours a day, you can bet even a little bottle of lotion would be most welcome. We knelt down to interact with Wolfie, a skinny woman with a big appetite for her food and even bigger appetite for the samples we were handing out. She rummaged through our box for a good five or ten minutes, taking out her favorites. As she poured over our box, I had to keep returning her fallen egg rolls to their original place on her lap. Meanwhile, other passers-by stopped and asked if there was any lotion in there. I found myself taking out some bottles when Wolfie wasn't looking so I could hand some things out to others myself.
By the time we left Wolfie's patch of concrete, our box was significantly lighter.
We had trouble finding Jonah project. We knew we were getting there after hours, but we were told someone would answer the door and let us in. We asked a few locals if they could help us find the right door. We were directed in a number of different directions. We once thought we found it--the doors were open, and a Bible study was being conducted inside. However, it ended up being a Church of the Nazarene.
After searching for a few more minutes, we gave up on the Jonah Project, but we needed to put these hotel samples in the hands of a ministry who could use them in conjunction with the gospel. Our simply handing them out was only softening hands, not hearts.
It was starting to get dark, and thus starting to get potentially dangerous (but not for the reasons you might think--more on that later). So we just made the decision to re-visit the Church of the Nazarene. We met with Brother Maurice, who gracious accepted our now-slightly-diminished gift. We spoke for a little while, and then we all prayed for each other's ministries. Kelsey and I had great respect for this little church right on the corner of two of the most down-trodden streets in the country. "I believe if Jesus were to build a church," Bro. Maurice explained, "it would be right here." Among the least of the least of these. His prayer was that the church would find a partner elsewhere in the city--even in the suburbs--that could join forces in ministry. Not just some "mother-church" that gave money, but a true partner. Like he said, that chuch could benefit and learn a lot from the little Skid Row church itself.
But all too many people assume that it's a dangerous environment. To which I say, first, should it matter? But second, I echo what Bro. Maurice said about those with whom he interacts on a daily basis. "These people here are just as nice as anybody else you could meet in the city." Kelsey added, "And even nicer."
Homelessness does not necessarily equate with violence and unpredictability. They just don't have a home. And because of their lifestyle, bonds are actually closer between homeless people than between suburban white-fence neighbors. Kelsey and I did not feel unsafe during our visit there. But as night settles, it would still be wise to take caution. Because even though the residents there aren't volatile and dangerous, the drug dealers who swoop in under the cover of darkness are. And it's not unheard of to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But that's not the picture with which I want to conclude this description of Skid Row. It's not the best nor the most accurate taste.
Skid Row is a melting pot of folks who have either been subject to some unfortunate circumstances, or faced the consequences of two or three bad decisions. Without a safety net. You and I, ourselves, are no more than a couple unfortunate events away from this place. These people aren't necessarily lazy. Telling them to "get a job" doesn't fix the problem.
Even more appalling, by the way, is its location. It is literally a turn away from some multi-million corporations, just a short walk or drive away from the concrete stars of today's most influential and wealthy public figures. The comfortable population of the city knows exactly where to drive as to avoid even seeing Skid Row. They literally ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist. It's a forgotten piece of real estate that is cut out of the socio-economic map of Los Angeles.
The same city that boasts the high-rolling status of Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard also houses the polar opposite expanses of Skid Row. It is a shame that it's not even considered a burden? That people just choose to envision Los Angeles as the City of Angels? Of stars and materialistic affluence? Jesus would, of course, want to live in LA so as to get the most face-time on television and mainstream media!
Well, true... Jesus might want to live in LA. But he wouldn't be looking and smelling like Brad Pitt. More like Skid Row. And he might want a tiny bottle of lotion.