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Skid Row is a 50-square-block area in Los Angeles that has one of the densest populations of homeless people in the country. About 7,872 homeless people live here, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority — more than any other area of the city.

This 2.5-minute video from ABC-7 offers an aerial tour of Skid Row in 2019, showing street after street of homeless camps.

It’s here in Skid Row that you’ll find the center of LA’s addiction crisis. It’s estimated that more than 12,000 meth and heroin addicts make their way through Skid Row every year. A NYPost article reports it has the highest concentration of overdose deaths in the county and its fire station has the dubious honor of being the busiest firehouse in the country.

What we, as members of the drug addiction recovery community, can learn from Skid Row’s legacy — and what it means for California’s drug problem — is a complicated lesson on mental illness, poverty, and addiction.

Homelessness and Substance Abuse in California by the Numbers

To put the connection between substance abuse and living in severe poverty into perspective, we’ve gathered data. In this list you’ll see that California, which is one of the wealthiest and most populous states in the country, is also home to the U.S.’s largest population of homeless. You’ll also see a relationship between substance abuse, mental illness, and homelessness, which are three problems that are plaguing Skid Row’s residents. When figuring out a way to treat drug addiction we also take into account these environmental factors.

This graph above, from CalMatters, compares physical health issues, mental health issues and substance abuse between California’s sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations. The data strongly supports the hypothesis that there is a strong relationship between unsheltered homeless people and substance abuse.

  • 150,000+ homeless people in California as of 2019, the highest number in 10 years (calmatters)
  • ~59,000 homeless in Los Angeles County (latimes)
  • 36,000 to 49,000 homeless in Los Angeles city limits (lahsa.org)
  • 67% of California’s homeless are affected by mental illness and/or substance abuse
  • Substance abuse alone affects 46% of homeless (latimes)
  • 1 in 9 Americans live in California, and 1 in 4 homeless live there (calmatters)
  • New York and Hawaii have higher per capita homeless; however, California has the highest number of unsheltered homeless (calmatters)
  • Conditions that affect LA’s unsheltered homeless (latimes):
    • 47% have health conditions
    • 46% struggle with substance abuse
    • 34% suffer from mental illnesses
    • 26% have all three of the above — known as “tri-morbidity”

What We Can Learn from Skid Row

Two important factors that contribute to homelessness not only in Los Angeles but throughout California are the absence of well-paying jobs and high housing costs. Poverty, homelessness and substance abuse are three companions that love to travel together and feed off one another.

California is the second most expensive state (Hawaii is number one) and the state is home to 17 of USA Today’s 25 least affordable cities. They estimate that the average income needed to buy a house is over $150,000 yet average annual wages are less than half that.

The Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT) was established in 1989 and has been providing single-room occupancy, also known as SRO, to people who live in the area. According to SRHT, between 1950 and 2000, more than 15,000 SROs were destroyed, which could have contributed to the high number of homeless in the area. The Trust, which is funded by public funds, grants and donations, manages 24 permanent supportive housing buildings for former homeless.

Other efforts have been raising funds from a variety of sources to provide showers and restrooms, free storage for personal items, and collection boxes to reduce exposure to hazardous materials such as needles.

If Someone You Love is Homeless and on Drugs

Our experts are standing by, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and in danger of becoming homeless. We have more than 30 years of experience treating people from a variety of backgrounds — from homeless people living in poverty to celebrities living in wealth.

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Our former clients say it best...

Dr. Stone, I am so grateful to your program and also your generosity. I was a hopeless addict who believed there was no way of getting clean. Thanks to my sister and Cornerstone staff, I recently took my 90 day chip in N.A. Thanks, my life has been changed.
~ Isaac C.

“This was the best foundation I could have asked for to be sober. My case manager was the Best!! She showed me your life can be exciting and sober.”
~ Tina H.

It is the truly caring staff that makes Cornerstone the best rehab I have been to. The best part was finally getting my depression medications right, after many others tried for 2 years.
~ Jim V.

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