Skid Row Cleanup

Skid Row Cleanup is helmed by dedicated individual, Steven. Software engineer by day and volunteer every week, Steven has committed his Saturday mornings to cleaning Skid Row for four years. Once a week he drives from his home in Placentia thirty miles from DTLA to meet with volunteers at the southwest corner of 5th and Crocker at 10am. Skid Row Cleanup sometimes has thirty-plus volunteers, some weekends there are two.

Steven continues to help sweep up Skid Row because he believes the act of cleaning achieves several things: 1) Cleaning up offers routine to an otherwise hazy, timeless existence on Skid Row. 2) Cleaning shows a little pride in one's home. 3) Cleaning is an ordinary outer transformation, a transformation that can translate to inner transformation.

Steven's unique insight to what it's like on Skid Row came from a personal experience in job loss, "In 1998 I was unemployed for five weeks and the funny thing is I had all the time of the world, but I just stayed at home with dishes piling up. I wasn't taking care of myself, things got out of control really fast. So when I was busy I was taking better care of myself than when I had nothing to do. Some responsibility came into my life and I had this spiritual restoration. Skid Row is a very extreme example. Time is a haze. It's a very slow existence and they wait for any food or action to come their way; illegal merchandise, a new way to get away from the cops, new ways to score drugs. Even when they have all the time in the world it's no guarantee they can sleep. There's always fighting, always something going on in the night. They sleep just a few hours at a time. You sleep in a tent and you have a beef with someone and you don't know if they're going to come threaten you or attack you while you sleep."

The idea of transformation is definitely there. The truth is, no one can truly take full responsibility for the individuals living on Skid Row other than the individuals themselves. But at the same time, if we can offer a small investment towards the well-being of others, it can only help. We can offer an example by cleaning, promote routine, and let the residents of Skid Row know there are people in their community who care. Skid Row is one form of rock bottom, as difficult as it may be to recover, but transformation is still possible.

For future volunteers, here's what to expect:

  • Meet up at 10am at 5th and Crocker in DTLA. I recommend walking to the group with a friend, or having someone drop you off and pick you up if you're going in alone.
  • You may have to sign a simple one-page waiver to participate.
  • You will be given the ground rules and general safety rules - for example stick together with the group, wear gloves and a face mask which are both provided by Skid Row Cleanup along with all cleaning supplies.

As Steven explains, "It's like an emergency room, There will always be new people. There can be progress but there is no completion. The lack of permanency makes it hard to recover from drug addiction or prostitution. What we're trying to do is build dedicated members who are committed to being on the ground to help and show a track record of improving. I know people who have had drug addictions and after going to my church for years, they don't do drugs anymore because they have a community to fill that void. They have moved past the addiction toward a spiritual restoration and they can then offer the same help they received to new people on Skid Row. There's a huge difference between the manifestation of something inside that has been restored versus destructive things. The cleaning up is a simple way of starting a transformation."

Skid Row Cleanup is affiliated with a local church, The Row Church. Sometimes Skid Row Cleanup partners with other volunteer groups like Trash Free Earth

Where is the heart of the city? Come on out and join the clean up. Stay safe and bring your friends, neighbors and co-workers.

This article is also on the @happeninginDTLA blog Downtown Diaries