An Evening On Skid Row

Skid Row is a twelve-block section of downtown Los Angeles with the highest concentration of violent crime on the West Coast. It is home to an estimated 5,000 people who ball up under cardboard boxes and plastic tarps at night. Sirens echo off the buildings, and the streets smell like weed and urine.

I’d show you pictures of it, but I can’t. It was too dark. Literally. I spent Friday night there with about 60 people from the LA Dream Center.

I can’t begin to tell you what a bad idea I thought that was.

But Dream Center teams have been showing up on Skid Row, day after day and every Friday night for years. They have so much street cred with the community, the game is entirely changed – even in the dark with sirens and crack smoke.

“Hey where’d all these white people come from?” I heard someone yell as we milled through the crowd.

“‘Dude, it’s the Dream Center,” somebody yelled back.

“Oh, ok cool.”

The residents of Skid Row trust the Dream Center, so they tell their stories and break your heart. When I finally pushed through the fear of going, I got to look in the eyes of a Vietnamese man who asked if I could get him a new tent, because his was broken. I prayed for a babbling woman in a wheelchair and found some Doritos for a 90-lb woman sleeping under clear plastic on the sidewalk.

Yes, many of them were extremely high and about as broken as a human can be, but they all have eyes and you can look into them; and that changes everything. Then, when they thank you for coming and treating them like humans, well…

But the question looms:

Aren’t we enabling people to be addicts and homeless by feeding them on Skid Row?

It’s a hard question. But many in the Dream Center’s army, who have escaped the cycle of poverty and addiction, will tell you – Jesus can fix this. He does it all the time. Furthermore, as the Apostle Paul told the Romans:

But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? Rom 10:14-16 The Message

The Dream Center volunteers, who sit on dirty sidewalks and pray for crack smoking homeless people, do it because Christ died to rescue all of us messed-up sinners, and it doesn’t matter how messed up. And if by offering food to a junk-sick homeless woman, The Dream Center can convince her there is a God who loves her and wants to fix her mess, they’ll keep doing it.

After all, to catch fish, you must go fishing.

To support the work of The Los Angeles Dream Center click here.

What To Do When Life Isn’t Working.

Last night, a Hispanic girl, maybe 17, wearing baggy jeans got up to speak at the Angelus Temple – the LA Dream Center’s church home.

She was trying not to cry and her hands shook as Pastor Tommy Barnett held her arm. It took her a try or two to get the words out and when she did, her voice broke. Immediately, the place erupted with people hollering encouragement and telling her they loved her and she could do it.

She told us the death of her father devastated her so badly she wound up on a crystal meth spiral and without the Dream Center she wouldn’t be here.

“God is so good,” she said and she walked off the stage.

On Wednesday night, I met with Bob Goff, author of Love Does (more on that later). This gracious and hilarious guy, spent 45 minutes with me, before stepping on stage to encourage the students at Pepperdine University to love people extravagantly.

Bob is dedicated to looking for proof that Jesus is alive, much like a detective dusts for fingerprints. He said, when you deliberately look for Jesus, you find him everywhere.

For many years, I didn’t bother to look for Jesus because I thought I didn’t need to. But when my life began to feel like eating a sleeve of saltine crackers, I decided to look. That’s why I picked up The Bible – even though, at the time, it felt foolish and naive.

Now I’m at the Dream Center, a place that sparkles with Jesus, because much of its leadership is composed of people who came through drugs, and jail and the system. But, just like that brave little sister who spoke last night, they were restored piece by piece by Jesus and the Dream Center’s one-year discipleship program.

The bible calls people like this “trophies of grace” because when you come to Jesus just like you are and he gets you cleaned up and then uses you to clean other people up, you’re a huge prize.

So if trusting Jesus feels silly and naive to you, like it did to me, make a point of looking for his fingerprints. Listen to people who would be dead without him and see if that makes you curious what he’s has planned for you.

See The Why Behind The What – LA Dream Center

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him how can the love of God be in him? I John 3:17

I’ve been hanging out in Watts and Compton all week, feeding people.

And I know I’m supposed to say about something deep about that – like the poor are beautiful and the light of Jesus shines in their eyes. And it does, because Jesus loves all of us the same, from the woman stepping out of her Bentley in West Hollywood to the Filipina grandma rolling a dirty stroller through the food line to pick up her frozen chicken and yams.

But there’s nothing deep to say. Poor and hungry people aren’t always grateful and sweet, sometimes they are demanding and they hustle you, which makes them very similar to rich and well-fed people. And there’s a lesson in that. We all have a story and we are all broken in different ways. Maybe it’s PTSD in the homeless veteran, molestation in the prostitute, illiteracy in the gang-banger or critical selfishness in me. As Nancy Alcorn founder of Mercy Ministries says, “there’s always a why behind the what” and Jesus cares about all of it.

So the LA Dream Center’s idea is a simple one. Go to them, feed them, find out what they need, try to get it, make friends and introduce them to Jesus. People here are clear-eyed about the enormity of the problem – 100,000 homeless people live in LA – but they don’t let it paralyze them, instead they get up, pray hard, load the truck, sort the food, pass it out, hug the people and repeat day in and day out.

Skid Row, Los Angeles

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it works. One by one, story by story, it works.

This morning I picked through a pallet of persimmons, looking for the best ones to take to Skid Row this afternoon.

Skid Row is home to about 10,000 homeless people and has the highest concentration of violent crime on the West Coast. Yet the Dream Center is there five days a week, feeding hot meals to the drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless veterans, the mentally ill and people who have just come up short.

And here’s what they say about it.

What could be a better place to shine the light, love and hope of Jesus then in the midst of such dark and dismal places?

For sure not everybody is called to do this kind of work. Some people go to Skid Row and some people send them. But if you are interested in helping the Dream Center rescue one life at a time you can donate here.