At the beginning of the week, as soon as we get a new youth group into the city, we take them on a tour of Los Angeles, asking them to pray for various social issues: homelessness, racism, changing demographics of neighborhoods, etc. Skid Row always hits hard with the groups, causing some to remark that the people seem to live in community, watching out for each other (as they do) and others how there is no visible alchohol (although it's there). You can tell their stereotype of "homeless" is being messed with.
At the turn of the 20th century, Skid Row homeless shelters served primarily white men who were dealing with alcohol addiction. Partially because of the introduction of crack cocaine in the 1980s, this demographic began to change to primarily black.
Because I know so little, I dare not explore this topic too deeply, but I would like to bring in a quote from a book that my grandfather encouraged to read, a book my mother worked on with a predominant San Francisco pastor in the 1990s.
As Reverend Cecil Williams began to "smell death on the streets" (drugs) in the 1980s, he and others began to realize that "traditional drug treatment programs didn't work for most African Americans...the Twelve Steps didn't help many blacks...[because] it focused on individual recovery...but African Americans are a communal people..."
The conclusion he came to was that context mattered very much when it came to recovery: "Twelve Step Programs...teach people to get clean and sober and to go back out into main stream society. Well, the only society many of our folks needing recovery know is the drug mix--they've never been in the mainstream. Many of our folks need to get clean and sober and to learn how to empower their lives and make their way in a world that is less than welcoming to many..." (page 8)
All this means what, then? That drugs are worse than alcohol? Nope, too simple. That race is the most important factor in helping someone? Again, no. Maybe it just means that there isn't one set of values that make someone successful in this life, just like there isn't one chain of events that lead to homelessness or a drugged-out life or poverty.
It seems that sorting out the conditions from the problems and the individual responsibility from collective culpability is our main job as humans, Christians, academics, and caring citizens. Goodness gracious, good luck to us in this never-ending battle.
-Rachel, CSM Los Angeles Summer 2011 City Host
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