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Mayor's Speech on Skid Row Highlights the Politics of Homelessness

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, April 01, 2008, at 04:31PM

Mayor Villaraigosa visited Skid Row this morning to hold a press conference, but his remarks were interrupted by protesters from the Catholic Worker kitchen. The conflict provides a great illustration of the tension between those who would represent Skid Row and those who live there.

As the event wound down, the disruption finally appeared to get at Villaraigosa. Briefly acknowledging the protesters, he said: "The folks behind me, almost none of them live on Skid Row."

As it turned out, Villaraigosa was right. The protesters were volunteers at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker soup kitchen. Two of them live at a Catholic Worker home in Boyle Heights, another lives in West Covina. In addition to the "Hippie Kitchen," as the Skid Row site is known, the group runs a medical and dental clinic.

... After the press conference, a few longtime Skid Row residents condemned the dissenters, saying Villaraigosa and the city have made positive strides to reduce crime and clean up one of Los Angeles' dirtiest pockets.

"You can't speak for me. I live here," Emanuel Compito, wearing a suit and a large cross, said loud enough for everyone to hear. "They're only here from 9 to 5. They're gonna go home to their nice comfortable conditions."

Compito, known around Skid Row as O.G. Man, is the founder of the Skid Row 3 on 3 basketball league. He also runs an art class for children on Skid Row, and has worked hard to get more trash cans on the street. When he speaks about Skid Row, I tend to listen.

Other reading: Walter Melton blogs his take on the event. Also, check out our story on Winning the Real Estate War from 2006.

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