Lost Angels

Danny Harris was once an Olympic silver medalist in track and field. Then he began dabbling in drugs. Then his grandmother died. It was the beginning of a downward spiral that cost him his athletic career, sports sponsorships, his home, and all financial stability. He ended up in the 52-block vicinity in downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row, the subject of documentary Lost Angels, Skid Row is My Home. Actress Catherine Keener narrates in an overly serious and somber tone, perhaps as an attempt to over-emphasize the incomprehensible–Los Angeles’ highest concentration of homeless are living just blocks away from its financial epicenter. 

As the system for providing housing and health care to society’s mentally and physically disabled as well as drug addicted continues to erode, the neediest have little choice but to live on the streets. Many of Los Angeles’ 50,000 homeless ironically call Skid Row their home. It’s come to symbolize a community, a place for America’s forgotten. We meet Danny Harris, along with Terri “Detroit” Hughes, Kevin “KK” Cohen, and Albert “Bam Bam” Olson, whose varied yet similarly tragic tales of comfortable-to-destitute highlight just how easy it is to end up in poverty. Those that believe that all individuals should be fully responsible for themselves and “get a job” would do well to watch Linda Harris, whose congenital skin condition makes it even difficult to look at her, let alone to be willing to offer her work. Or the elderly Lee Anne Leven, who despite a severely hunched back and mental issues, has taken to feeding Skid Row’s population of cats and birds, every single evening. Many of these people are far too ill to be expected to re-join society, and we are treating them as criminals, punishing them for their inability to integrate. Thankfully the very few non-profits like LAMP, who operate in the area, provide housing to the most severely ill residents without judging their pasts or forcing them to seek treatment. Sadly their belief that everyone should have a roof over their head, no matter what the situation, isn’t shared by the city of Los Angeles. The government offers no financial help to the non-profits, nor to the residents. The recent interest in the neighborhood’s plethora of lofts and beautiful, old architecture has resulted in teams of police being sent to Skid Row to “clean up the streets.” We watch those with nowhere to go being kicked out of their tents, their tents destroyed, blankets thrown away, and crates (which are used as chairs) confiscated. It’s almost laughable seeing the police officers drive off with a truckload of crates, as if they’ve made a worthy achievement.

But despite being harassed by the cops and ignored by the city, the residents are surprisingly hopeful and upbeat. I wonder if we had more access to such stories, either via the media or through mandatory volunteering, would there be an increase in empathy and thus a desire to strive for better care for the most unfortunate? I don’t see how anyone watching Lost Angels could walk away without questioning their own judgments about our homeless populations and wondering what we can do to help. It’s just a shame that so few people will end up seeing this film, as with so many of the challenging documentaries that don’t exactly make for sit-back-and-relax-style viewing. When I initially re-vamped Cha Cha Charming, I intended to write at length about my borderline-obsessive interest in documentaries, but haven’t yet managed to do so. After watching Lost Angels, I realized it’s time I start. There’s just no way I can walk away from this film without urging others to see it too.

Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home is currently playing on Netflix.

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