About Skid Row

  1. What are the physical boundaries of Skid Row, Los Angeles?
  2. Why does Skid Row exist in Los Angeles?
  3. What is the history of Skid Row?
  4. Why isn’t it easy to move services for people experiencing homelessness out of Skid Row?

1. What are the physical boundaries of Skid Row, Los Angeles?

There may be several definitions of the boundaries of Skid Row, but the one we see to be most accurate and widely accepted is 3rd and 7th Streets, to the North and South, and Alameda and Main, to the East and West, respectively.

2. Why does Skid Row exist in Los Angeles?

There are many reasons why an area like Skid Row exists in America. Cities in every part of the world — both in developed and developing countries — are always centers for poverty.

America, with its open door to immigrants — and Los Angeles in particular as an entry point for many immigrants — is especially vulnerable to the realities of poverty. Many people who come to America view it as a place where they can start over with nothing — and frequently end up here with little to no resources.

Another reason that Skid Row exists is that the U.S. government system and American culture promotes opportunities for people to succeed or fail on their own — while providing a safety net for people who do not succeed. Many of these social services are located downtown. When people are experiencing tough times, they gravitate to an area where these services can be found — which can create a community of people in this area who are service-dependent.

To add a spiritual dimension, Jesus tells his disciples (Matthew 26:11) that the poor will always be with them — every culture will have poor people because of the nature of this world.

3. What is the history of Skid Row?

This 54-block area in downtown Los Angeles became Skid Row in the late 1800s — which was when Union Rescue Mission first opened its doors. This particular area was an ideal congregating spot for hobos, aimless rail riders, transient workers, and people running away from past lives because it was the last stop on the train for the whole country. Daily rate hotels and various entertainments (mostly bars and brothels) catered to the culture of rail riders who were transient by nature.

As development began and industrial markets grew — particularly the flower and fashion districts adjacent to Skid Row — the need to improve the area arose. Various groups consistently initiated efforts to improve the community.

In 1975, a Redevelopment Plan was adopted, which included a “Policy of Containment.” This policy concentrated social service agencies and people experiencing homelessness in one section of the city, where many of them naturally congregated. The goal of the policy was to stabilize and centralize the area to make services more accessible, not to crowd the area with people experiencing homelessness or fence them in.

Since 1975, there have been improvements in Skid Row in terms of services for people experiencing homelessness. Two parks in the area have been rehabilitated, nonprofit-owned SROs have moved into the area, and many service facilities have been renovated and/or relocated.

In addition to infrastructure redevelopment, service providers are recognizing a need to rehabilitate people — rather than just providing meals and beds. Several shelters — including Union Rescue Mission — provide 24-hour services (rather than overnight only), rehabilitation programs, and a safe place for people during the day.

4. Why isn’t it easy to move services for people experiencing homelessness out of Skid Row?

The process of relocation is not as simple as buying property in a nicer neighborhood. An attempt to buy property intended for homeless services, even within a few blocks west or north of URM, is likely to be met with discord in the new community.

NIMBYism (the Not In My Back Yard mentality) often delays or prevents the integration of homeless services in many communities.

When there are concerns about how our facilities affect residents in the community, they are addressed through community education and communications with these residents.