Gateways Apartments looks like all the other new apartment buildings. You wouldn't know you were in the skid row neighborhood. This is a housing complex built by the Single Room Occupancy Housing Corporation, one of the two major non-profit corporations providing housing for the recently homeless. The other is the Skid Row Housing Trust, which built the Star Apartments. There were 500 applicants on the waiting list. The 108 were selected as the most needy by the Coordinated Entry List.
Skid Row, like every other place, has a history to untangle. The banner on the building says S.R.O. Housing Corporation--30th Anniversary. S.R.O. Housing Corporation was founded in 1984 by the Community Redevelopment Agency. I was surprised to learn this. The C.R.A. is not remembered kindly by me or by a lot of other people. They were the ones who destroyed the Victorian houses on Bunker Hill, simultaneously destroying low rent housing and architectural masterpieces. In some parts of town, old-timers still think C.R.A. stands for Chicano Removal Agency. They went around declaring charming old neighborhoods to be slums and recklessly demolishing old buildings.
Apparently they had also done something good.
They slowed down a little after the destruction of Bunker Hill in the late 60's, because it was taking longer than they expected to get new projects going, but they didn't give up. In 1972 they came up with an 20 year plan. They said downtown L.A. had a "dowdy" image. They were going to build a 9 acre park with a lake. Central City East was their name for skid row. They planned a university, peripheral parking facilities, housing and new civic buildings. But first, the had to get rid of the people who were already there. They urged "speedy treatment of Skid Row habitués to pave the way for rebuilding the key Central City East area." Did they think they'd send them all to a rehab facility in Malibu, after which they would all lead normal suburban lives? These and other nefarious plans were fought in court, with the Catholic Worker, the Legal Aid Foundation and the Community Design Center leading the fight.
By 1977, there was a new plan for Skid Row. The officials had come to believe that 60% or 70% of the residents were not alcoholics, but were elderly, disabled or just plain poor. They conintued to use the same statistic until 1983, when they called the mentally ill the largest single group within the Skid Row population. They planned to create a non-profit organization to build housing and a park for the non-alcoholic residents. At that time, they thought the Volunteers of America might be the organization to run the housing. The first plan was for an 135 unit building bounded by 6th, 7th, San Julian and Wall streets. The C.R.A. formed the Skid Row Development Corporation in 1978 with Martha Brown Hicks at its head. The goals were to do some hotel rehabilitation, establish two parks, and provide street lighting and public rest rooms. This was not undertaken entirely out of kindness. It was the beginning of the policy of containment, to prevent the "derelicts" from wandering through the rest of downtown. The C.R.A. Citizen Report said "the presence of skid row residents, as they stimulate fear, discourages attempts to revitalize daytime ad night time activity on the streets of downtown L.A."
They could not predict the impact Reaganomics would have on Skid Row. The increasing population of mentally ill homeless people has been attributed to both defunding of mental hospitals and the patients rights movement. I don't think it was only closing the hospitals that caused the problem. There was defunding of every kind of program to help any kind of person who wasn't perfectly able to care for him/herself. Many cities saw a big rise in the number of people living on the streets. The warm climate of Southern California was a magnet for the homeless of the nation, and skid row was where they ended up after they were moved from other parts of town.
In 1984, James M. Wood, head of the C.R.A. started the Single Room Occupancy Housing Trust with Andy Raubeson of Portland in charge. They opened their first renovated hotel in 1986. In 1989, a 5 year moratorium on demolition of skid row hotels was declared. It was reported that 2,000 units had been lost to demolition in the years 1969-1986. There had been many more earlier in the 1950's, but no one was keeping count in those days of ruthless destruction. Many of the adobes of Old Sonora Town, where Chinatown is now, were destroyed with no thought for their historic value. Wood frame houses of any era were also considered fair game in those days.
At present, they operate two hotels for emergency housing, two for transitional housing, and 24 for permanent supportive housing. Each one of these places has its own history. The Harold at 323 E. Fifth Street, was their second project and opened in 1987. It has 58 units. Forty three of the units are for individuals with special needs and receive rental subsidies.
You can make a movie there. The neon sign works.