University of Chicago sociologist Forrest Stuart spent five years hanging out on Los Angeles’s grittiest streets for his new book, Down, Out and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row. “I figured this was ground zero for trying to start over, for testing the American bootstraps story, and I wanted to see if and how it could work,” Stuart explains
Right away I started seeing how the police, in part just because of their numbers in Skid Row, were creating a situation I’d never seen before. Just as a guy was starting to get on his feet—for example, he had finally secured a bed at a shelter—some small infraction would cut him back.
It could be as little as getting a single ticket for loitering. For people living on dollars at day, to suddenly have to pay $150 for a sidewalk ticket is huge! If they don’t pay, they can be arrested. Not only do they have to spend time in jail, they usually lose their bed at the shelter or their room in low-rent apartments. In a lot of shelters or apartments, if someone doesn’t show up at the end of the day, the managers give away all their things. So now they’d be right back to square one. Broke, homeless, just trying to get a roof over their head. The bootstraps were cut.
This Sociologist Spent Five Years on LA’s Hyper-Policed Skid Row. Here’s What He Learned, Mother Jones, by Maria Streshinsky, Aug. 1, 2016