Yet another superb piece of story telling, fact finding and... understanding. Today Steve Lopez talks to ten of the many down and out in wheel chairs homeless on the Row. Each has a different story and, yet, each story is too often... the same story; stories from families Tolstoy never met.
Below is one man's life:
No. 4: John Yost, 79
He's a few beds away from Kenyon. His wife, an alcoholic, is out on the street. Yost's legs gave out on him 10 years ago, after he and his wife moved to San Bernardino from Lebanon, Pa. Nothing has gone their way since. One thing I should know about people in wheelchairs, he warns, is that not everybody who's got one needs it.
"They steal them," he says, from people who do. Then they use them as carts or try to sell them.
I look around for the mayor, who's talking to a young mother with three children. One boy is in a stroller he's too big for, crying his eyes out. The woman tells Villaraigosa she voted for him.
A few minutes later, Midnight Mission publicist Orlando Ward tells Villaraigosa that conditions on skid row are the worst he's seen in his seven years of working there. He sees mothers shooting up, and whereas one relatively docile gang used to control the drug trade, several gangs now compete, with bloodshed common. Ward knows of a guy on the street who sells dope he keeps hidden in his baby's diaper.
Villaraigosa's been doling out hugs at the mission, but Ward tells him to watch out. Disease is rampant, with a particularly nasty staph infection bouncing through prisons and shelters.
Several points. The Mayor has come down to see what Lopez is writing about, and that is important to report. But Lopez doesn't allow that to become the story, or even to allow him to intrude upon the story. The focus remains on those on the streets, and those on the front lines helping them.
Lopez also addresses the fact that some those in chairs are only trying to sell then. With more time, he would have seen how there are also the drug dealers who use them as covers for their drug dealing and drug addicts who use the chairs to beg for money, and then get up and push their chairs home.
Then there are those are not homeless and live in SRO's who have become obese, develop diabetes and then use motorized wheel chairs to more easily move around. Then that lack of any exercise adds to their weight problem and further worsens their disease.
All complications within an already too complicated narrative. But those people are in the minority of those you see in wheel chairs on the streets of Skid Row.
So the story rightfully focuses on those who find themselves - on top of drug, alcohol and mental problems - also having to deal with spending the rest of their lives in wheelchairs. Lastly, the article raises the specter of another calamity descending upon Skid Row - a deadly staph infection that has not gotten the attention it needs. But more on that later.
I have nothing else to say. Just read Lopez's article and if you have missed the first ones - they are all still on the LAT's website.