Wednesday, November 03, 2004

An Article About the Kids on Skid Rowe

One of my closest friends out here in LA, Works with a church called Central City Outreach. It is in the heart of Skid Rowe. I thought I would pass on the letter she wrote me and the article that she is refering to. I like this article because it gives you a deeper sense of the things that are happening to families that are homeless and on the streets. Her Church is the church that is trying to get transitional and permanent housing built for families in Skid Rowe. They, also, have a After School Program for the kids living there....

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you an article that was published on the Front page of the LA Times Sept 7, 2004.

The children this article speaks of are the children in our after school program. We worked hard on providing families and information for this article and we were excited that it is was placed on the front page. Please take a moment to read about the plight of the Hotel Children that we serve. God is so good to allow us this privilege to work with such special children whom daily face very difficult situations.
I want to thank you for you continual prayers and support.


Crime is just one of the problems facing young tenants along L.A.'s skid row. 'A lot of people want to mess with you,' says one teenage girl.

By Carla Rivera
Times Staff Writer

September 7, 2004

In a cramped room of the Ford Hotel the Arburtha children one by one rouse themselves for another day of school.

At 5:45 a.m., 16-year-old Jamaica is escorted through the dawn darkness by her mother, Grace, past the barred and gated lobby to a bus stop a block away.

Later, sister Ankara, 14, sleepy-eyed brother Franklin, 13, and sister Egypt, 11, take the small elevator from the family's fifth-floor quarters. Once on the sidewalk, they pass people in bed rolls, corner drug dealers, prostitutes and mentally unbalanced denizens of one of the nation's most densely populated enclaves of the homeless.

The Arburtha youngsters are among more than 800 children who live in Los Angeles skid row hotels and missions, according to recent studies. Families with four or five children frequently occupy a single room, with a hot plate or microwave for cooking and shared community bathrooms.

Before she moved to the Ford on East 7th Street, Jamaica said, "I had never seen people who were crazy." Now the tall, athletic girl said she often saw people who took off their clothes on the street — and had even witnessed a murder.

"A lot of people want to mess with you," she said.

About 400 to 500 children inhabit the half a dozen hotels clustered in the heart of skid row, an area with an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 homeless people, according to a study by USC researchers. Surveys counted more than 140 children living in the Ford Hotel, 112 in the Frontier Hotel on 5th Street and about 70 at the Huntington Hotel on Main.

The USC team found that children living in the hotels and shelters were frequently ill-fed and were more likely than other children to suffer chronic illnesses, asthma, depression, behavioral problems and learning disabilities.

"The entire community, the city and the county need to take responsibility and ownership to help address this crisis," said Grace Dyrness, associate director of USC's Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Crime data paint a troubling portrait at the hotels. At the Ford alone in the last 19 months, police took 111 crime reports and made 21 arrests for offenses such as drug sales, domestic violence, shoplifting, robbery and murder. They removed four bodies. The city attorney's office recently started a task force to track convicted sex offenders in the hotels.

The plight of the hotel children "concerns us tremendously," said Mitchell Netburn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the city-county agency that coordinates homeless issues. "While it is better than being on the street, the conditions in these hotels are marginal at best."

The Ford, a gloomy-looking six-story tan structure with 295 rooms and nearly 500 residents, is in a commercial zone dotted with garment and printing shops, seafood processors and wholesale produce markets.

The sidewalks around the Ford routinely fill with transients looking for day work, people pushing shopping carts, tattered men curled up in bedding pitched dangerously close to curbs and mothers moving quickly, holding tight to their children.

Inside the Ford, the narrow hallways echo with laughter, angry shouts and crying babies. The blue walls and painted green concrete floors are reminiscent of an aging hospital or prison. In the lobby, a desk clerk behind a barred window receives residents and visitors.

A bank of video screens monitors cameras trained on the building's hallways and exterior. Guests are closely screened and must provide photo identification and a $20 deposit to visit a resident, measures taken to increase security. A locked, gated door in the lobby controls access to rooms.

The Arburthas have lived at the Ford two years. Grace Arburtha pays about $340 monthly for two connecting rooms the size of large walk-in closets. She and her five children — Jamaica, Ankara, Franklin, Egypt and 3-year-old Joel — sleep on two sets of bunk beds. She purchased a tiny refrigerator and has a microwave oven. When funds run low, they sometimes go to a mission or soup kitchen to eat.

The family was living a fairly comfortable life in Pomona when the children's father was sent to prison for robbery, Arburtha said. Her job as a caretaker to an elderly woman did not pay enough to keep up rent payments on the house, and after about a year they moved and stayed with friends.

Feeling they had overstayed their welcome, they moved again and lived on the street in Pomona briefly before migrating to downtown Los Angeles' Union Rescue Mission. But boys older than 10 must sleep in different quarters from the rest of the family at the mission, and the others did not want to be separated from Franklin. Arburtha heard of the Ford and checked in.

After quitting the caretaker job, she worked periodically cleaning houses but said the needs of the children were too demanding and so she applied for welfare. She receives about $800 in benefits monthly but has not been able to find low-rent housing for a family of six. She is eligible for subsidized Section 8 housing but may have to wait a year or more for the aid.

The $340 she pays now is a bargain even on skid row, where hotels frequently charge rents of $600 or $700, according to the USC study. Arburtha also pays $60 a month for bus passes for her children to get to school.

"Sometimes the kids complain, but they've got friends here now and they get used to it," she said. "I never get used to it."

Arburtha, 46, a petite woman with a weary demeanor, spends much of her day tending to the hyperactive Joel. Frequently, the beds are piled with clothes, blankets, pillows, books and other belongings and the door is left open to ward off claustrophobia.

Over the years, she has lost track of her elderly father and a sister. She has a 21-year-old daughter who struck out on her own after the family became homeless. She lives with a boyfriend in Pomona but can help out only occasionally with a few dollars or groceries.

On a small table is a photo album that shows a close family during better times, at the dinner table of their Inglewood home or playing in the yard. The children's paternal grandparents live in a big home in Louisiana. Arburtha said the couple had been in touch recently and she hoped they might help get her family out of the Ford.

The hotel, built in 1925, has been a target of the city's slum task force in the past. In 1999 it was declared a public nuisance, and owners were ordered to clear trash and properly dispose of needles and condoms, upgrade security and evict lawless tenants.

It was also in that year that a mother threw her 9-year-old daughter from a sixth-floor window and then jumped herself. Neither survived.

More recently, June 6, Doris Helen Moore, 30, was stabbed to death on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Many residents, including three of the Arburtha children, witnessed the slaying. Moore had lived in the Ford with her four children for several months, said Los Angeles Police Det. Robert Solorza. Another hotel resident, 48 year-old Donovan Holland, was charged with the murder.

"A lot of grown-ups could have helped her, but they were just standing there like they were frozen," said Jamaica, remembering that day. "It made me even more afraid." She and her sisters attended the funeral.

By 2002, the hotel was being run by a nonprofit organization and operated primarily as transitional housing for homeless families. Authorities determined that conditions had improved and lifted the public nuisance designation. In 2003, the hotel changed hands again and is now owned by Ford Hotel LLC, a company headquartered in Arcadia.

Zelenne Cardenas, director of the United Coalition East Prevention Project, a neighborhood activist group, said problems remain.

"What goes on at the Ford and other hotels would never be tolerated anywhere else," she said.

Harold Greenberg, an attorney who represents the Ford's owners, said his clients were addressing concerns, including working with the police and city attorney's office to evict problem tenants.

Greenberg said he recently examined the building and, as a result, inoperable toilets and showers and pushed-out window screens were being fixed.

Overall, he said, the building is properly secured and maintained, with four maintenance people during the day and two during the evening, an armed security guard in the evening and internal and external security cameras.

He also said that many children in the building appear to be unsupervised and that the tenants themselves must take some responsibility for conditions.

The Ford's managing partner, Kumar Koneru, said he was especially mindful of addressing the needs of children. He added that a ground-floor space had been set aside for a learning center with donated computers.

"The hotel has more employees to stay on top of the building and get more involved with children and so forth. We have gotten better, not worse," he said.

Indeed, compared to what happens outside, the Ford seems a sanctuary for the Arburtha children.

"The girls that live in this building have to be careful, because guys try to snatch you and put you into a car," Ankara said.

"We mostly stay inside and do homework," Jamaica added.

On the streets, "there are rats roaming everywhere," Franklin said.

Inside, the kids said, they are wary of the restroom facilities down the hall. Men are known to lurk about, the girls said, and so they try to go in pairs.

Some people in the hotel complain about children who use the hallways as their playground, Arburtha said. "But what are they going to do? There is no place else for them to play."

The one pocket-size park in the area, at 6th and San Julian streets, is primarily occupied by adults. Schools provide most opportunities for recreation.

Many of the younger children, like Egypt, attend the nearby Ninth Street Elementary School. But because of overcrowding, Jamaica takes a bus to a Westside high school, while Franklin and Ankara attend Carver Middle School several miles south of skid row.

Although the Ford is a place where people usually stick to themselves, it can sometimes take on the air of a community, with the rhythms of Tejano music pouring out of some rooms.

On the second floor, Angelica Palafox, Hilario Madrigal and their four daughters sometimes while away the afternoon hours watching television on the two small sets that Madrigal retrieved from the trash.

An unemployed janitor, he has lived with his family in the Ford for nearly four years, paying about $300 monthly in rent for a small room with two bunk beds that faces 7th Street.

The small patches of floor space not taken up with the beds are occupied by several cardboard boxes filled with pastries donated by charities, as well as chiles and citrus fruit bought at Grand Central Market that Palafox uses to make exotic salsas.

Cockroaches roam the shelf by the sink and the walls, and a light fixture dangles from its electrical wiring. To protest what they alleged were poor living conditions, the family withheld a portion of their rent and then were served with an eviction notice. In a recent court proceeding, they were awarded $2,000 in relocation money and were supposed to move by the end of August. Deciding they needed more time to look for a new place, they waived the relocation funds and were instead given rent-free months until January to move.

Madrigal said he didn't feel good about his daughters living on skid row. Before she joined a church-based residential youth program, his 16-year-old oldest girl had been forced to sleep on the floor.

Both parents want to be out of the Ford soon. Madrigal's brother is buying a new house in Glendale and he hopes there is room, at least temporarily, for the family. Leaving the Ford is also a dream for his daughters, who on a day a visitor came by were playing a game on a computer that Madrigal scavenged, building an imaginary house.

Tim Peters is intimately familiar with the adversity faced by children on skid row. As director of a student mission program, he lived in the Huntington Hotel at 8th and Main for two years ministering to poor and homeless families around the city.

He then joined the nonprofit Central City Community Outreach and helped develop a program that provides after-school recreation, tutoring, Bible study and snacks three nights a week for about 40 children who live in the skid row hotels.

When it is time for children to be taken home from the nearby center, they sometimes cry and refuse to get off the bus, Peters said.

Parents are sometimes reluctant to ask for help for fear their children might be taken away, according to the USC study. But county officials said they couldn't remove children just because their surroundings were less than ideal.

"It's always challenging for a family under stress if they are homeless or in a seedy hotel, but these situations are not enough for us to come and take a child away," said Joi Russell, division chief for the Department of Children and Family Services' child protection hotline.

On a recent afternoon, dozens of kids at the Ford streamed into a room off the lobby to meet volunteers from School on Wheels, who help them with homework and provide school supplies. The program visits the Ford and Huntington, the Union Rescue Mission and the Midnight Mission twice a week, often encountering emotionally fragile youngsters who are ashamed of being homeless and fret over the uncertainty in their lives.

"Some have untreated vision, hearing and malnutrition problems," said the program's founder and director, Agnes Stevens. "I think more of these children would be classified as having special needs. But some also stand out for being seemingly well-adjusted, calm, getting good grades. The opposite poles are sometimes in the same family."

Indeed, many hotel children are resilient. Many of the Arburtha children are doing well in school. Ankara says she wants to be a neurologist.

She recently enrolled in the Big Sister program and has been taken to art galleries, museums and the theater.

"It's tough now," she said, "but I definitely see a future."

Monday, November 01, 2004

Halloween Weekend

John, doing his Halloween thing.... Posted by Hello

The Dancer and the Nerd...Can you guess who's who?..;-) Posted by Hello

The Trick-or-Treaters Posted by Hello

Us out on the town...trick-or-treating Posted by Hello

This last weekend was quite eventful. On Friday, Roxy, Roxy's dad, my roommate, and John all went out for coffee in Koreatown. It was this neat little Boba/coffee shop.
On Saturday, I slept in til 9, organized some things in our apartment, prayed, and visited a girlfriend of mine in the building. A couple of friends came down to visit as well. There were about 6 kids down there and my roommate had them all playing UNO and focused. I am still amazed at her ability to get young kids focused and playing nicely. While she played UNO, I hung out with the adults. We sat on the bed and discussed our weekly events.
That night, Jackie (a girl that lives downstairs from me) came over to the apartment and we made homemade Pizza and Brownies. There were many who thought we were going to buy it, however, no-- we really made homemade pizza. She helped make the crust, make the sauce, put on the toppings, and the cheese. I think it was the best pizza, I've had the opportunity of making thus far. Everyone who ate some, including Jackie's brother Jack, thought the Pizza was good. Even the brownies were good. I didn't have much of those though--I let Jackie take most of those home. Every time, Jackie and I, make them from scratch....good old Betty Crocker Cookbook. She read all the directions and I helped her make the food! It was a lot of fun. While we ate the food, I taught her how to play UNO. Her brother hung out for a while and chilled with us!
On Sunday, Halloween, my church had a mini-festival. My boyfriend, some friends, and I hung out and watched some of the youth play the games they had. It was nice to just rest. I hadn't had a lot of that in the last week. When I got home, I sat down and collaged some of the things that were on my mind. Erwin, the pastor at Mosaic, on Sunday talked about the reality of Spirits in our world. We often try, as humans, to believe that Angels, Demons, and Spiritual experiences can't happen and that they don't exist. But, what the Bible doesn't ALREADY tell us--I think the New Age Movement portrays quite well. There are some crazy things, whether good or bad, happening in the this world and it isn't happening with human hands. I spent a good hour and a half thinking about the Unseen Spirit World in our world and how it effects people. It made me really think about the Battle between Demons and Angels that are going on for our lives. And it has helped to understand why prayer is so important. It is pray that helps us fight this battle--a battle that cannot be fought physically. There are so many verses that talk about: Angels that are protecting us and so many verse about demons that are trying to destroy and confuse us. God asks us to put on the Armor of God, so that we can withstand them (Esphesians 6). We joke, dress up, and have fun on Halloween. And though, I don't find anything wrong with this, I find, sometimes, we forget that there really are Powers at work in our World that are not here for our good. They seek to confuse us and they seek to destroy us. And it is probably mindful that we be in prayer against them.
On Sunday evening, my roommate and I got dressed up and went out Trick-or-Treating with some friends and their kids. I had never experienced Trick-or-Treating in quite the same fashion. It actually allowed me to get a better look at the neighborhood I live in. Because there are not many homes in our area, the kids couldn't go trick-or-treating at door-to-door. So what did we do...went business to business. We went to some apartment in our building, but for the most part, people weren't home and you really can't get into the other buildings! My teammate, John, loves to provide alternatives to candy, so when kids come to Him and his wife's door- He lets them role dice. Each number that could possibly be rolled has a set of prizes they could pick from. So depending on the number you got, depended on the type of prize you got. He had a variety of prizes: from stickers and pencils to basketballs! His place is the hot spot for a lot of people in the building!!!
For the rest of our Trick-or-Treating endeavors, we went up and down 6th street walking into local businesses like the KFC, the Chinese restaurant, the Movie Rental places, and the 99 cents stores asking for Candy. The picture place was actually letting each family take a Halloween photo for free! It was really neat. Although, I have to admit: the kids didn't get nearly as good of candy as I got growing up. Primarily, they got hard candies. But, I guess, if you are giving out large amount of candy (40,000 kids), you have to stay within your budget!
The most interesting and yet scary thing that I found was that even the Botanicas were giving things out and they were the most sought after things yet. Botanicas are spiritual shops. It is the place you go to get candles that have magical powers or voodoo dolls to cast spells on people. They have a variety of different mystic beliefs and religions that they cater to. They were giving out necklaces that were meant for good luck. My friends were really excited about these and we spent an hour trying to get them. The whole time my stomach was in knots and I kept praying that if they had some negative spiritual power that somehow, they wouldn't get their hands on one. In the end, one of my friend's sister was the only one that got one. I was really happy about this. I really wished she hadn't got one either, but I am glad that the others never got one at all.