Today is Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Booths, an eight-day extravaganza when Jews build godly forts in their yards and dine under the heavens. Last year, I went to a celebration with Latino Christians at Sinai Temple for Sukkot and also wrote about a porn star’s not-so-religious observance.
This year’s Sukkot subject is more sobering. It’s about the 5,000 men and women who go to sleep every night on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. It’s the first-piece by new Jewish Journal contributor Anat Rubin, who owned the story when she was at the Daily Journal and now serves as policy director for the homeless social-service agency LAMP Community.
Rubin’s article, advocacy mixed with reportage, argues that we all need to be better neighbors to the poor among us, that progress does not mean pushing aside junkies for yuppies. Here’s a snippet:
When he woke up from a six-month coma, Al Sabo found his life unraveled. His wife had attempted suicide, and his three children were in foster care. He had lost his job as the managing editor of a trade publication. He couldn’t walk.
After several months of rehabilitation, Sabo ended up on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. He was almost 60 years old, white, and had spent his life avoiding places like Skid Row.
On his first night without shelter, he lay on the cold concrete in the dark, terrified of what a group of young, predominantly black drug addicts might do to him if he fell asleep. As it turned out, what they did was help him survive.
“They watched over me. It was totally amazing,” he said. “They went out and hustled up food for me. They took care of me. It gave me a whole different perspective of who people here really are, and a new understanding of the problems they’re facing.”
Sabo slept on the street for two months. He learned how to create a makeshift shelter with cardboard and tarp. He learned that, in the most precarious of situations, people with very little are willing to give a lot.
Every night on Skid Row, 5,000 people pile onto shelter cots or erect their flimsy huts in the concrete desert of the city. Another 9,000 go to bed in the area’s residency hotels, hoping to still have a roof over their heads the next day. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, year-round they share their sukkot with each other and remind us that we have failed to do the same for them.
When Sabo’s disability check came, he was able to afford a room at the Frontier Hotel. The Frontier is less than one block away from where I live, in a loft on Main Street. But Sabo and I are separated by much more than the physical space between us.
I am part of the new downtown, a much-touted “revitalization” of L.A.‘s urban core. When I tell people in other parts of the city where I live, they say things like, “I hear they’re really cleaning up the area.”
Sabo is part of the old downtown. He’s poor, disabled and doesn’t have anywhere else to go. When others talk about “cleaning up the area,” they are talking about getting rid of people like him.