I learned more “life” working on Skid Row than I had anywhere else.
Let’s be honest, we tend to hang out with a majority of people who more or less look like us or live in the same places and have the same life experiences.
Though I do that too, however most of the time, I find myself spinning on a heel out of any conversation I’m in and roaming to those on the opposite side of the room and striking up conversations (if you’ve ever been out with me and I’ve done this, sorry not sorry).
Not too surprising, then, that I found myself working in one of the most concentrated and densely populated homeless communities in the United States—a place most people avoid when they visit Downtown Los Angeles. My job was to work with volunteers (more incredible stories on them later) and essentially be the bridge between Skid Row and the world outside Skid Row.
People were excited, unaware, terrified, warm, etc. when they came to volunteer but after they hung out with my department, we were all on the same page.
Skid Row isn’t, at least in mainstream thought, somewhere you’d like to find yourself – yet I loved finding myself there every morning after the train-bus-walk commute into work. Seeing the smiles of my friends I got to know on the walk in (some had lived on the street their whole lives, some were out of their minds, and some were riding out this season of their life).
There’s something about watching someone’s face turn from stern look to a smile that I love – hence you’ll find me staring into people’s faces, grinning, until they see me. Or not. Then I move on to the next smile victim.
Listening was the most important part of my job.
Remember what I said about everyone hanging out with people that are more or less like themselves? Well, to a lot of people on Skid Row I was just the weird white girl that dressed funny (it’s amazing how an outfit can be an ice breaker), until we talked. I had to remember that my job wasn’t just working with volunteers because, when someone walked in my office, whether they were new to Skid Row or had lived there for years, listening was the priority.
Turns out, we had a lot in common. We encouraged each other, recommended books (I’ll expand on that later), laughed, talked about our colorful and sometimes painful pasts, and came out understanding each other more than we thought we ever could.
Life lessons I never imagined I’d ever learn came out of simply being willing to hear the stories and lives of those around me. I consider myself to have a massive pile of gifts for each story I heard and each new insight on life I collected.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if our daily lives reflected the same ability to engage one another? To find commonalities among those we think are so different from ourselves or that we somehow predetermine we won’t get along with?
There’s no one like my friends on Skid Row. The people I met there brought so much joy to my life. We still talk and text and visit occasionally, and I don’t like to think about my life without engaging my teachers of life.
*I chose not to include photos because, if you’ve never been to Skid Row, I didn’t want any photos to predetermine your mindset of what Skid Row “is.”