Gentrifying Skid Row

[captionpix imgsrc=”” captiontext=”Photo courtesy of Wikipeida Creative Commons”]

In 2013, the homeless population in the United States sat at 610,042, a nine percent decrease over six years since 2007, where 671,888 people were under the same condition.[ref]“Homelessness in the United States: Trends and demographics” December 4, 2014,[/ref] This nationwide improvement is in stark contrast to the overwhelming twelve percent increase of homelessness in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles’ Homeless Service Authority. Los Angeles is currently in the midst of experiencing a monumental gain in development, prosperity, and has cut its unemployment rate in half in the past five years.[ref]“Los Angeles Confronts a Spike in Homelessness Amid Prosperity,” June 12, 2015,[/ref]

At the same time of the report’s release that conveyed the apparently intractable and increasing homelessness, the Los Angeles City Council has passed preliminary measures to make it easier for law enforcement to seize homeless people’s belongings, and clear their tents and sidewalk homes from public spaces.[ref]“L.A. City Council vote makes it easier to clear homeless camps,” June 17, 2015,[/ref] Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row, home to an estimated 6,000 homeless individuals, is the latest target for gentrification, the renovating of urban areas by an affluent population to fit its middle-class tastes. This practice has historically resulted in the rising cost of housing in the area. The gentrification of skid row, one of the most dense populated areas for the homeless, risks displacing even more of the people without much recourse.[ref]“The gentrification of Skid Row – a story that will decide the future of Los Angeles,” March 5, 2015,[/ref] With a growing homeless population and rising housing costs, an increase in policing the poor seems out of touch and a wrong way to approach the problem. The vendetta is such – in an urban city growing ever more dense and gentrified, the city of Los Angeles has a responsibility to maintain an environment that allows businesses to flourish while humanely handling the homelessness epidemic.

The Los Angeles City Council’s ordinance to reduce the amount of time homeless people have to move their possessions is seen by its proponents as a necessary step in maintaining a safe and clean environment for the public. Councilors Curren Price and Joe Buscaino claim the measure upholds the homeless population’s rights, while maintaining safe, clean parks and streets. Buscaino continued by stating that while they are sensitive to the needs and rights of the homeless, “public spaces are public,”[ref]L.A. City Council vote makes it easier to clear homeless camps,” June 17, 2015,[/ref] stressing the point that the locations authorized to be cleared are meant for public use, not makeshift storage and housing. The new measure, which cuts the time from 72-hours to 24-hours for homeless people to move their belongings from sidewalks, is supported by some coalitions that seek to end homelessness. Jeffrey Briggs, a lawyer involved in a Hollywood-based coalition on homelessness, argues that clearing sidewalks is an important part to getting the people housed, and keeps the homeless from taking over public areas from others. Creating a safe and clean environment for consumers has improved businesses in new areas, which has added to Los Angeles’ growing prosperity.

Out of the fifteen member council, only one, Gil Cedillo, voted against the measure. Councilor Cedillo holds that the measure criminalizes homelessness, arguing that the city “[spends] $100 million on homelessness,” but “eighty-five percent of our response is law enforcement.”[ref]L.A. City Council vote makes it easier to clear homeless camps,” June 17, 2015,[/ref] Councilor Cedillo is joined by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and UCLA law professor Gary Blasi. While Garcetti understands and agrees with efforts to “enable the city to ensure that public areas are clean and safe,” he and Blasi see the detrimental effects it can have on the population. Blasi claims the ordinance is a policy of “force and intimidation,” one where citations turn into warrants, and warrants into arrests. [ref]“Garcetti shifts stance, won’t enforce tough new homeless measures,” June 30, 2015,[/ref] Los Angeles’ increase of homelessness is coupled with recent reports of the city becoming one of the most expensive areas to live in,[ref]The U.S. Cities Where It Takes the Longest to Be Able to Afford to Buy a Home,” March 16, 2015,[/ref] partly due to its booming gentrification. Community activists have pointed to the rapid expansion of gentrification as a primary reason for the rise in housing costs. Downtown Los Angeles, particularly Skid Row, has become the new target to gentrification.

Alice Callaghan, an advocate for the homeless in Skid Row, argues that sidewalks have served as indefinite makeshift housing. Stories, like fifty-seven year old Gloria Davis who is facing eviction from her low-cost apartment after having her rent increased nearly forty percent from $418 to $675, exposes how the prosperity for some in Los Angeles is pushing out the working poor. Shelters provided for the poor often times go empty due to reasons such as mental illness, a desire for freedom, or housing restrictions, like  strict no-drug and no-alcohol policies, which sets up eligibility standards that drive the homeless away.[ref]“Shelter Beds Stay Empty as Homeless Resist Confinement,” December 27, 2000,[/ref] The recent measure passed by the city council is a clear example of this practice with no recourse for the thousands that live on the streets.

Instead of law enforcement, the best policy focuses on regulation that designates, or zones, areas for construction of affordable housing.[ref]“Gentrification and affordable housing can coexist in Los Angeles,” January 24, 2014,[/ref] This practice involves investing public assets into private industry for building high-density, but affordable housing and allows for individuals with more modest means to live within the area that they work. Affordable housing allows residents to stay in their community and provides more disposable income to put back into community stores and shops. By retaining the people of the community, it also allows for a more diverse environment and workforce. Gentrification and affordable housing can coexist. Providing affordable housing helps prevent individuals like Gloria Davis from losing her house and ending up on the street. Enacting policies that criminalize the poor and discard what little possessions they have only made the problem worse.

Take Action:

Midnight Mission has been providing housing and food for the Los Angeles homeless to help men, women, and children overcome the loss of everything and rebuild a self-sufficient life. You can donate, volunteer or learn more about the plight of Los Angeles’ homeless, a story shared by all the world’s homeless population.



Brian Chernick is a Policy Corner (PC) writer devoted to challenging ideas and seeking outlets for expression, collaboration and debate on political topics through civil and mutually beneficial discourse. He graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, with a B.A in Psychology, Pre-Law and a Minor in Philosophy. As a PC writer, he seeks to steer Public Policy by using reason and intellect backed by thorough research. Network Neutrality, Immigration, the Environment, Technology and civil rights are some issues that fuel his passion. Brian also currently hosts News Beat on KCHUNG Radio and is the former co-host of Clear Oversight. To find out more about him, visit