Skid Row (and Poverty) needs a Reality Show

I see staff from @authentictv Authentic Entertainment every day at the local 7 – 11 where I sing for my coffee. At the coffee bar I explained that they worked down the street from the greatest reality show just waiting to happen – the Welfare office. A bald hipster sent a smile to me about of his scarf and skinny jeans eclectic outfit while he indulgently educated me that covering the homeless and poor in a series could be disastrous due to the difficulty of covering tragedy without it being too hard to watch.

No, happy hipster, you are absolutely wrong. Sure, you could make a sob story with slow violins playing Nathaniel Ayers music as you pan down Crocker street in Los Angles and have graffiti announcing the latest marijuana flavors for sale illuminated by blue and red flashing lights. That is one way to go if you are into pathos and a single perspective of homelessness and poverty.

There is more to the Homeless Situation in Los Angeles than what slumbers on the sidewalks of city streets.

Homelessness is born out of poverty and social disconnection. Your story – the part that would make it relatable to the average American and bring poor people out of the shadows and into the light – lies with the social workers and “regular folk” who work with this population. I have been working in Homeless Services form a local, a non-profit, and now a government perspective for over 10 years. In all that time I have never found someone who engages with this population who isn’t secretly harboring a personal life measurable on a scale of slightly off kilter (1) to a totally hot mess (10). You all have been with me and this blog for 8 years now. Awesome as I am ( and I am awesome ) – that is 4 residences, 3 boyfriends, 2 jobs, death of 1 parent and the birth of my second child from a relationship that made a Domestic Violence Instruction manual look like my Day Planner.

There are 4 basic types of Poverty Professionals and most of them are females.

  1. Fresh from college with starry eyed optimism and living with Mom & Dad so the low pay wasn’t a factor.
  2. Soccer Mom’s who are married to a steady income and want to change the world.

  3. Survivors of poverty. These are graduates from the shelter programs who went on to work there, Former welfare mom’s (me!) who joined the system to improve it /former drug addicts leading support groups etc.

  4. Professionals:the support and office staff needed to run a company and could be interchanged with any administrative staff in any company. They get to say they are saving the world without ever meeting the population their company serves.

In my head and my diary and on this blog, I hold the stories of thousands of people who are experiencing an American Nightmare. They are not living Beverly Hills 90210 – they are living Skid Row 90021. Everything you would expect in that sad sack documentary is something I have experienced. What the average people don’t know are the other stories.

Here are 30 random lessons I learned :

  1. How to make a payment plan with a Crack Dealer
  • How to convince hookers not to perform “for credit”

  • 3 How to turn a spatula into a door stop

  • How to cook drugs on a spoon

  • What to do when you take a client into the Psych Hospital for evaluation and the nurse thinks YOU are the patient – despite the 50 year old woman twirling in her purple tutu next to you

  • When to punch and knock out a Veteran having a PTSD flashback

  • How to make a Suicide Contract to keep someone alive until the Department of Mental Health re-opens on Monday.

  • How to talk to naked people

  • What to do when you open a shelter door and find a dead body

  • How to clean up the remaining juices of that dead body and the sadness of losing your favorite platform flip flops in the process

  • When to lock your visiting 10 year old daughter in your office with a television and video game system, and have a knife wielding sociopath guard the outside of the door

  • How to be pen pals with said sociopath 10 years later

  • What to do when someone bakes you cookies with obvious roach body parts protruding

  • How to use paperclip and tax free Mexican cigarettes to build a tree sculpture ( that your coworkers and clients eventually smoke, one cigarette at a time, even though it is covered in glitter and shellac)

  • How to react when Soccer Moms walk you and your daughter back to your car and spy the Thousand Pack of condoms on your front seat

  • How to react when you complain “I need a man” and 10 minutes later a homeless client brings one of her homeless friends – who doesn’t speak any language you are fluent in – to “service” you.

  • How to politely tell someone to call back and complete their suicide threatening call in 10 minutes because you can’t think straight until you have some coffee in you.

  • How to bring homeless clients home with you

  • How to identify the difference between a family of cats and a pack of rats on the street at 10 pm

  • How to react when the social worker in the next cubical discloses that she is a weekend dominatrix

  • How to have a successful “telephone actress” career from the comfort of your day job

  • The best way to plan for your new born baby’s first outing, which will be to a homeless shelter to donate all the ugly baby clothes and supplies you don’t need.

  • Making all first dates be lunch dates and they have to pick you up at the homeless shelter where you work and be approved by your clients.

  • What to do when the LA Parking Enforcement is in love with ticketing your car so you come out of work to find an orange “boot” on your wheels

  • How to discourage homeless people from opening your car doors and climbing in as you drive down the street (hint, play dough and pennies burn on hot days.

  • How to sweet talk your Dad into buying you a car with automatic locks because homeless people climb in your car

  • How to make a fast $100 by letting a street hustler host a yard sale of everything in your trunk.

  • The best ways to shake people down for all the drug paraphernalia on their person when they walk into your office.

  • How not to laugh when your best friend comes on your client field trip to The Hollywood Bowl only to get scared by the mannequin on the corner ( there is someone behind you – oh my God, they could kill you!)

  • The fabulous way driver’s License Photos look when you get your make up done by an actual crack whore while in line at the DMV

  • I really think that extreme poverty – in a society that is rallying against the 1% and simultaneously posting angry FaceBook messages about Food Stamp users is a topic that absolutely should be covered. I think it would have to be done all in re-enactment format but I should be spoon fed to the general public.

    Why?

    Because we can not solve a problem that we insist on avoiding.
    PS ( Don’t judge. Jerry, the owner, is a reality show junkie and once a chubby chick won a British competition he decided all fat chicks can sing. Luckily – I really can so I sing in exchange for coffee. I am poor and I do what I gotta do.)

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