State of Emergency Declared in Skid Row
They came on foot, bicycle and wheelchair, drawn to the trio of singers improvising a classic call-and-response gospel chant as dusk fell in the evening quiet of a skid row street corner.
For 10 years, the Rev. Stephen Cue Jn-Marie, armed with a Bible, microphone, amplifier and folding chairs, has presided over this Friday night open-air service for homeless people, downtown welfare hotel residents and supporters from as far away as Orange County who join his “church without walls,” The Row.
At an anniversary celebration Saturday, 50 supporters and ministers joined Jn-Marie at another skid row corner, 5th and San Pedro streets, to call for a state of emergency that would bring California and federal housing and other resources into skid row’s intractable homeless community.
“This is something that should have been done a long time ago,” said the Rev. Walter Contreras, western U.S. vice president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and an activist with Los Angeles’ Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, whose members were well-represented at the event.
Pointing to a billboard from which a mentally ill homeless man fell to his death after police used a Taser on him in 2014, Jn-Marie noted that the corner was the site of several notorious killings. Assisted by other clergy, Jn-Marie performed an African-influenced libation ceremony, pouring oil and water on the street “to wash away the blood that is crying from the ground to God.”
Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, an anti-poverty activist group on skid row, pointed at the glass towers of downtown in the near distance. “It’s ironic you see cranes and high-rises everywhere, and at the same time, so rise the tents in the street,” White said. “There is enough resources for everyone.”
Author Gayle Holland