Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Heartbreaking scenes of homelessness from a ‘national disgrace’

By Kenneth Dickerman

March 2, 2018 at 9:43 AM

Andrew Hudson, 33, injects himself with heroin next to an angel statue in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. “It’s miserable quitting, or trying — trying anything,” said Hudson. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
A mentally ill homeless woman walks past a man sleeping on a sidewalk in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are more than half a million homeless people in the United States today. That is a large number, for sure. But it actually represents a decrease in the homeless population. Between 2007 and 2017, “overall homelessness decreased 14.4 percent,” the group says.

Out of the 50 states, 30 recorded decreases in homelessness, while 20 saw increases. Among those 20 states is California, where a rise in homelessness was just described by The Los Angeles Times editorial board as a “national disgrace.”

Associated Press photographer Jae C. Hong set out in 2017 to document the plight of people living in Los Angeles’s “Skid Row,” a downtown area with one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. In an AP Images blog, Hong says he was compelled to document life in Skid Row because he was repulsed by it. “Initially, it wasn’t to bring awareness to the plight of the people there or to give voice to the homeless,” he writes. “It was more of a visual curiosity.” Hong goes on to say:

“I dialed 911 four times to get help for people. One was a drug addict passed out in the middle of a street intersection on Skid Row. Another was a naked woman in a tree in Santa Ana talking to herself in Spanish.

“There’s always an internal struggle. As a photographer, I want to capture the moment because my job is to tell the story. As a human, the agony can be too hard to watch. Some don’t know they need help or that help exists.

“I have sympathy for the poor. I don’t judge them now that I’ve seen so many people in dire situations from different circumstances and have heard about their lives. Many times I’ve tried to comfort them with encouraging words.”

What Hong shows us through his lens is a collection of people living raw, destitute lives in a place the Los Angeles Times describes as “a Dickensian dystopia in downtown Los Angeles.” There are many people  there — some because of economic reasons and some for mental health reasons. But what is certain is that the sight of so many people without a place to live is a heart-rending one, as you can see through Hong’s images here.

Bearing cuts all over his face, a homeless drug addict, who said his name is April Jane, stares vacantly on a sidewalk in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
Los Angeles County coroner’s investigator Kelli Blanchard looks around a tent where the body of 33-year-old homeless man Andrew Withrow was found. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
Homeless man Moody Tanksley, 61, is surrounded by paramedics as he refuses medical treatment after dialing 911 twice. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
A homeless man wobbles back and forth tearing a cardboard box into pieces in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
A mentally ill homeless woman cries out while holding a pay phone after running through several blocks of downtown Los Angeles, yelling and screaming. The woman, who said her name was Kara Miller, is a Skid Row resident. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
A homeless drug addict twists his body while sitting on a sidewalk in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
A homeless drug addict, who said his name is Barbie, smokes crystal meth in his tent in downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
Wearing a pair of American flag socks, homeless Stafford Wilson, 48, stands in front of his tent while dancing to music in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
Using a teddy bear named Michelle as a pillow, Manuel Martinez, a 45-year-old homeless day laborer originally from Mexico, falls asleep on a sidewalk in the Skid Row. Martinez said he has been an alcoholic for more than a decade. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
A mentally ill homeless woman talks to herself in Spanish while sitting in a tree naked in Santa Ana, Calif. A passing homeless man, who said he had seen her in a tree a few times before, tossed some clothes to help her cover herself, but she declined his offer. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
Samuel Raymond, 50, holds up a banner saying “Jesus loves you” on a sidewalk as a passing homeless man reaches into a trash can in search of anything of value in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
Homeless man Jack Harten breaks down as he listens to gospel music while drinking beer on a sidewalk across the street from the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles. Harten said he drinks about 12 cans of beer daily. “I’m tired of drinking,” he said, sobbing. Help exists, but many turn to drugs to cope with their problems. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
D.J. Meek smokes crystal meth in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. Meeks’s veins are collapsed due to chronic use of heroin. He said talking to himself makes him unemployable. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)

More on In Sight:

The Tet Offensive: 50 years later, photographs and memories still haunt Vietnam War photographer Don McCullin

These photographs are World Press Photo winners

These six photos are competing for a top photojournalism prize

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.


Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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In Sight | Perspective

Heartbreaking scenes of homelessness from a ‘national disgrace’

By Kenneth Dickerman

March 2, 2018 at 9:43 AM

Andrew Hudson, 33, injects himself with heroin next to an angel statue in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. “It’s miserable quitting, or trying — trying anything,” said Hudson. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)
A mentally ill homeless woman walks past a man sleeping on a sidewalk in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP/)

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are more than half a million homeless people in the United States today. That is a large number, for sure. But it actually represents a decrease in the homeless population. Between 2007 and 2017, “overall homelessness decreased 14.4 percent,” the group says.

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