San Julian Park lies in the heart of Skid Row, a community of about 4,500 homeless men, women and children living within walking distance of the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles. This neighborhood has been a congregating spot for those on the fringes of society since the late 1800s, as it was the last stop on the railroad. The reasons for homelessness are varied, but many people end up on Skid Row due to job loss, drug abuse, mental illness and escaping abusive relationships.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that as of January 2017, Los Angeles County was home to 55,188 homeless residents. Many religious charities, non-profit SROs (single room occupancy housing) and social services are located in Skid Row, but the problem of homelessness and housing insecurity continues to exist.
Letitia White, 44, was born and raised on Skid Row. “I’ve lived in other places,” she said. “But I always end up back here.” For many residents of Skid Row, their world is contained within the four-square-miles bordered by 3rd Street to the north, Main Street to the west, 7th Street to the south and Alameda Street to the east. They cannot leave their belongings for fear of theft or removal by city cleaning crews. There is fear of being stigmatized and harassed by law enforcement.
To stay safe on Skid Row, many people form their own families, looking out for one another. According to James Tyiska, who lives in an SRO overlooking San Julian Park, “The person who picks you up will also knock you out.” It is a rough, uncertain existence, but those relationships are crucial for survival.