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General Jeff's Neighborhood Guide to LA's Skid Row

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The unofficial mayor of Skid Row shares secrets of the neighborhood, where there is a "true sense of community"

The People's Guide offers tours of Los Angeles neighborhoods led by loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Our guide to Skid Row is none other than General Jeff Page, who is known to many as the unofficial mayor of the neighborhood. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.

How long have you lived in Skid Row?

I first moved to Skid Row by choice in August, 2006 and have lived here ever since. In Skid Row, I have lived on the streets, in missions and in SRO low-income housing. When I say "by choice" I mean that I have never been in a drug program or court-ordered release stipulation which forced me to live here.

What do you like best about the neighborhood?

There is a true sense of community here, albeit multiple communities integrated with one another—a community of survivors on the streets and missions, and a community of neighbors who live in residential housing dwellings and they both want Skid Row to be respected as a true neighborhood.

What do you like least about the neighborhood?

The lack of a Skid Row-specific neighborhood council. Without a Skid Row-specific governing body (of which there are 96 NC's already active across Los Angeles), the true issues and concerns that the people who live here have cannot be addressed. Instead, our collective voice is drowned out by numerous "established voices" who dominate each and every conversation about a community they don't even live in. Compared to any "healthy" community in Los Angeles, no decisions are made without community input—meaning residents as in the people who live there and will be most impacted by each and every decision. The question then becomes, Do people outside of Skid Row know how residents in Skid Row feel about Skid Row? What their concerns are? Their solutions to fix the numerous problems? A healthy and necessary discussion starts right there.

How has Skid Row changed since you moved there?

It's frustrating for me to say that it basically hasn't changed in the 9-plus years I've lived here. So many people living on the street, so many mentally ill and/or homeless folks—some live here long-term, others come and go. Los Angeles Police Department and the major non-profits both have a stranglehold on our community. No funding for "positive programming," which means every day there's nothing positive to do, so quite obviously negative things will happen. And soon thereafter, handcuffs. Or a ride in the back of either an ambulance or a hearse.

A simple change would be to provide positive things for people to do. Personally, I believe physical exercise is such an important component of rehabilitation because by moving around, exercising and/or playing sports gets one's blood flowing and sends oxygen to the brain. A person has a better chance to make better decisions with a healthier mindset. And the nutrients in food also play and important factor. Not sure why these vital components are so vastly overlooked here in Skid Row.

Tell us something we don't know about Skid Row.

The creation of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council would give such a tremendous boost to the mental psyches of each and every resident in Skid Row....This one element would automatically give more responsibility and credibility to our community's collective voice and also with that, pressure to not fail...This simple mindset alteration once proven to be successful would help to establish a brand new outlet where a growing number of people in our community could avoid complacency, avoid falling into "negative energy-filled quicksand" and instead contribute positively to both our community and the greater society of Angelenos who care about improving Los Angeles for all.

Are there any important local customs?

Skid Row is on the bottom of the totem pole of life here in America and is commonly known as the homeless capital of America. Whether someone has been here three hours or three decades, the subconscious thought processes are one in the same—to survive.

While homeless folks would consider certain food handouts that happen on a consistent basis a "tradition" for them, we will not list those. (Such as the Korean husband and wife who everyday at 6 a.m. pass out free coffee and pastries on Sixth and Towne.) Instead, we mention the only event that can be considered a custom or tradition (in a positive manner) is Skid Row Karaoke, which happens every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Church of the Nazarene on the northwest corner of Sixth and San Pedro Street. It has happened faithfully long before I moved here (at least 10 years). All attendees pitch in each week for coffee and pizza. Song selections range from Elton John to Lynrd Skynyrd and James Brown to Motown—there are over 10,000 songs to choose from.

Some folks put on their Sunday best while the majority of folks simply come as they are. The singing quality ranges from "Hey, they could be on American Idol" to "At least they were braver than I to get up there and try." The highlight is at 9 p.m. on the dot, when they clear the chairs to make an impromptu dance floor and the DJ, Pastor Tony, plays Will Smith's "Wild, Wild West" and everyone does the popular electric slide dance. Some people in the community only come at 9 p.m., do the electric slide, and then leave back out to the streets. Nevertheless, loads of fun for everyone! And for a couple hours, it's a brief escape from reality and an opportunity to feel "normal."

What are the hidden gems in Skid Row?

Gladys Park: Because it is known as the headquarters of the Skid Row Residents' Positive Movement. Since 2007, the award-winning Skid Row three-on-three Streetball League (2010 winners of Downtown News' Downtowners of Distinction Award) have called Gladys Park their home court. Los Angeles Poverty Department's Festival for All Skid Row Artists (an event where anyone with artistic talent can display their skills—includes singing, spoken word, live music from rap to classical, painting, sculpting various arts and crafts and more) happens each year in GP. Had the sixth annual event in October of last year. LAPD is also known as "the other LAPD."

GP is also home to the Skid Row Chess Club and overall is a place where people go to "feel normal." Us residents are proud of our efforts to transform this park without any help from the LAPD [the police department] or non-profits in Skid Row. While we struggle on a daily basis to keep the positive energy going (hard to do without funding), we are happy with what we have accomplished thus far.

The Skid Row City Limit mural. This mural has become the iconic symbol of Skid Row. I always say, just as people from all over the world go to see the Hollywood sign, they will also come to see this mural, which is another resident-led effort.

Successful businesses in Skid Row: Yxta (on 6th and Central), a Mexican restaurant with full bar and great food! The Escondite (on San Pedro and Boyd) near Little Tokyo. The owners have coined the area "Skidrokyo." Full bar, great food, dog-friendly patio, sports on TV and live music—free, good and LOUD!

[And] 7th Exotic Wheels (Seventh and Central). A successful exotic rim and tire shop for upscale cars. Don't blink if you see a Bentley pull in for service—YES, in Skid Row! Part of what makes these businesses successful is that they are comfortable in knowing that they are in Skid Row, have support and respect from our residents and are helping us to make it cool to be in Skid Row!!! This is the future mindset that we're building towards!!

Where do people go in Skid Row to relax and hang out?

The parks and the sidewalks. Obviously, the two Skid Row parks—Gladys Park and San Julian Park—are the only places where people can "go" in our community in the daytime to get some fresh air and interact with neighbors. Also, when the missions let out early in the morning, the people in the tents fold up in the morning and others residing in SROs, apartments or lofts come outside, there is always a high concentration of people on the sidewalks. (It has been this way for the history of Skid Row.) People talk, play music and hang out—which makes it easier for the riff-raff to blend in and also harder for the LAPD to know who's who.

You give tours of Skid Row to groups and students, like a recent class from USC. What is one thing you hope people take away from those tours about the neighborhood that you call home?

The desired outcome when we give one of our Skid Row Tours is for each and every tour participant to come away with the understanding that there are different perspectives about Skid Row, and the resident's collective voice has not truly been heard—yet! Which ultimately means, in essence, there are two Skid Rows: The negative one people have heard about for decades, and the positive one—the one we are in the process of building now!

And if anyone asks, "Why is it taking so long?" Tell 'em it's because the residents don't have funding, our own non-profits nor property that we own and/or control. For instance, if we had a Skid Row Cultural Center that residents controlled, managed and/or programmed, this would serve as our "official" headquarters for all the positive energy that comes here. Currently, the positive energy is scattered without a designated time or place to convene. Each new person that comes to Skid Row has no idea where the positive areas are, and thus they ultimately have NO CHANCE of avoiding "a negative experience."