The Fight for Skid Row


“General” Jeff Page is an activist from Skid Row, not “on” but from. We met with General Jeff at Skid Row’s famous King Eddy’s Saloon just two days before what he called “the most historical vote in Downtown History”, the Subdivision from DLANC to form a Skid Row Neighborhood Council being held on April 6th.

Skid Row located east of Main, between 3rd, 7th to Alameda  Street is also perceived by many as the Haunted Forest of Downtown.  For most of a century Skid Row was the place the poor could go if they found themselves in need of free social services. However, somewhere along the line it became perceived to be the place that many could go but few would ever return unless it involved panhandling, defecating, cat calling, drug dealing or filling the streets with the stench of the un-bathed or mentally disorientated people who wandered by day and slept by night in tents, on bus benches, in parks or the very sidewalks of Downtown LA. Sometimes the Skid Rowans engaged the public, sometimes they didn’t. But for as long as we could remember they had always been.

The perception: These were the “have nots”, the beggars, always looking for a handout, tent dwellers that refused to progress their own lives within the social services that had been allotted to them. And to find employment, well to these people, that was beyond out of the question. Everyone wanted something for free and they were all just mad they couldn’t get it. To them…the system was racist. The building developers were evil. The police abusive, the nonprofits ineffective. The City was stalling and the Neighborhood City Council that had jurisdiction over that part of town, well they were just down right incompetent.

The reality: Skid Row is an enigma that few can wrap their heads around. No time to take the road less traveled, as cranes and construction hats continue to escort Downtown through its present-day hospitality renaissance, homes are being built in the areas surrounding Skid Row’s borders, but for Skid Row, crime, death and homelessness are the most things on the rise.

What exactly is Skid Row, a recovery zone or a man-eating machine that consumes human beings and shoots them out twisted, addicted, and unworthy of any type of respect? And If it is, surely it wasn’t meant to be that. Perhaps it’s lack of interest, money, resources, humanity or just plain fear, contributing to the hopelessness resulting in the failure to fulfill the promises Skid Row had made to so many.

But, is that all that came out of Skid Row? Problems. Hardship. Finger pointing and blame games?

Of course not. There were volunteers, religious leaders, art institutions, environmentalists, police, social service providers, photo journalists, event coordinators, non-profit leaders,  humanitarians and active members of the community, on the ground level, devoting every ounce of their beings to change the perception, provide hope, inspiration, and services. They were all fighting for a voice, for progress, caught up in the struggle for human rights, or fighting tooth and nail to put an end to homelessness. And there were political activists like “General” Jeff Page.

“General” Jeff Page is an activist from Skid Row, not “on” but from. We met with General Jeff at Skid Row’s famous King Eddy’s Saloon just two days before what he called “the most historical election in Downtown History”, meaning the Subdivision from DLANC to form a Skid Row Neighborhood Council being held on April 6th.

Headlines from previous articles from local newspapers read, “Downtown Divided…” But that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the rumors, speculation, tyranny, secret alliances, pledged allegiances, and hidden betrayals the political strain of this vote had put on the people of Downtown.

This election was clearly taking a toll on Jeff, there was not much room for lighthearted conversation and many of his words came out heated as if his mind was a furnace being fueled by red hot burning coals. No doubt about it, he was in the campaign of his life and the pressure was getting to him. Jeff had served on DLANC for 6 years and was using his experience there to spearhead the Subdivision Initiative as Chair of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee recruiting those around him knowledgeable in the subjects he lacked to help move the initiate forward, and it was working.

Now, two and a half years after the process had begun, in less than two days the outcome that could either recognize him as a founder of SRNC forever, or establish the opposition’s validity, portraying Jeff’s cause as an enemy of progress for the surrounding businesses and private sectors and pushing him and the Skid Row community into fighting for the subdivision for yet another 2 years.

One thing was certain Jeff Page may be the stuff of legend, but he is not a saint. He was easily agitated and sometimes pretentious during the interview. However, he had devoted the last fifteen years of his life to lobbying almost every City entity into doing something in betterment for the people of the Skid Row community, all the time refusing to define the town’s struggle by race. From Parks and Rec’s to DWP, to City Hall, to the Olympic Committee and Nike, his list of partnerships leading to achievements in Skid Row goes unmatched especially when considering the point he doesn’t accept personal payments for any of it.

Most of his achievements include advancements for the community centering around but not limited to Gladys Park, starting with a basketball league, moving on to clean water, restrooms, and cleaner street initiatives. Jeff did dawn a few smiles reminiscing about the early days. Days he told us were spent purposely looking for ways to better the Skid Row community with a relentless ambition becoming more and more in tuned with the needs of the people and City Hall which eventually led to this initiative passing all the criteria the city had required to move the subdivision forward to a vote, including the creation of bylaws and the valid signature collection process.

Add to that, all the support for a subdivision pouring in from all over the world, all over the country, and all over Los Angeles, including 26 other neighborhood councils, dozens of fellow Skid Row activists, local nonprofits, civic center agencies, community held town hall meetings, old school hip hop members, and family and friends.

Yet, after all of it, within a victory, Jeff has stated on many occasions he has no plans to man the SRNC as a chair not for a lifetime, not ever, only to see it formed. In fact, there is no telling who will run, or what the policies will be of SRNC once a subdivision is complete, which could take months considering the next steps would be the election of Board members, followed by the election of the Chairs, who could upon manning those seats do anything from changing the name of Skid Row, its bylaws and/or amending the number and assignment of the chairs. Simply put if the Subdivision becomes official the people will have to take it from there.

Photo courtesy of SkidRowPhotography.com

KerFree100

Yup, you guessed it. It's me Keri Freeman, publisher and concept designer for Downtown Weekly. As an African American Indian and middle aged female who lives, works and plays in Downtown Los Angeles for the better of 25 years, it gives me great pleasure to be able to tell our story in such a unique way and offer support for literary artists and educated journalists who inspire me every day to keep writing although I think I suck at it. Also, it would seem I'm the only woman of color to publish a newspaper here in over 100 years, so hopefully that inspires some future generations as well....Just remember if its fun...it can't be work....Thank you, people of Gaia, for your continued support and thank you for reading!