I once got lost in Skid Row. It’s unbelievably scary how especially in Downtown LA the surroundings change within a couple of blocks. If I had known this or just been smarter with navigation, I wouldn’t have ended up panting in the streets, terrified. My friend and I crossed a couple streets from Little Tokyo, merely following where my phone’s GPS directed us to the nearest bus stop to return home. Suddenly, the piercing odor of urine-soiled streets and the sight of plastic green tents open all over the sidewalk hit us. The homeless stared at us and I couldn’t blame them – a girl on a red scooter with a friend who soon began running in the streets wasn’t something that you’d see every day. We didn’t know that the GPS had sent us to 5th street, right in the middle of the infamous neighborhood for having the highest homeless population in LA. Skid Row didn’t even cross our minds; we just knew we had to leave right away. Honestly, I knew that I didn’t have to be overly afraid since we were thankfully there in the day, but I also knew that some people there suffered from awful mental conditions that made them unreliable. None of these thoughts entered my mind at that moment though. Just the possibility of someone grabbing or even attacking us was enough to frighten me. I held onto my friend’s arm tight and couldn’t even pause to realize that we had gone past where the bus stop was. When we turned back to head in the proper direction, I had to let go of my friend’s arm. We were on the streets before but now we had to go on the narrow sidewalk where both of us couldn’t fit. Men catcalled us as we rushed through, asking us where we were going and even when my friend and I finally made it to the bus stop, we couldn’t stop trembling. How was it that earlier in the day my friend and I popped into sample sales that sold $600 sweaters, organic soaps and leather wallets while only a couple blocks away bleak streets housed people with no money, home, or food? The opposite worlds were so close to each other, yet encasing them were invisible boundaries that no one crossed because the rich and the poor each had its own place.
On the bus ride home I was still in shock. Soon I felt worse: dumb that I had unknowingly put my friend and myself in a potentially dangerous situation just to visit the Arts District although I truly didn’t know what was going to happen, and guilty. So deeply guilty. My friend and I sipped organic teas while we gazed at the street murals and jewelry before we came face to face five minutes away with some people who slept on the ground, spiritless. Throughout my entire life until now I had not fully understood the real anguish that permeates through those streets and any similar to that of Skid Row. I’ve only heard about them and if I encountered a homeless person I’d just dodge them. I felt ignorant and ashamed. When the dramatic thoughts of “I’m going to get killed” disappeared as I arrived home, I sat quietly, disturbed by my realizations. Nothing really separated me from the people who lived on the streets because at the core we’re all people. I could just as easily fall into one of their positions one day. We were only born in a mixture of different circumstances and had different paths in our lives that led us to either a roof above our heads or a tent in the street. By saying this, I’m not dismissing the existence of human agency. I’m aware that working hard to achieve dreams is a real thing. I also recognize that making poor, damaging decisions is just as real, too. But I’m not going to say that there are strict, clear lines that separate the two. Getting lost at Skid Row had reminded me of what I truly believe in – that is, I think that to truly understand the human condition, you can’t clearly categorize people’s lives because not everything is merely what it seems to be.