There is a phrase in the salutation before every class of the martial art Pentjak Silat , “Let my eyes see what they do not see.” I have many times asked that very same thing. I know there are things that I do not know about Skid Row. There are many things that I know escape my attention. Many times these things are right in front of me, but I am just not ready to see them.
I have been living in the Skid Row community for almost two years now. And as many have described it, Skid Row is a community where many of society’s unwanted and shunned has found themselves, whether by intent or circumstances that they did not control. I have found that people who could not talk about substance abuse problems can discuss them out in the open. Women who have been abused and were ashamed of their plight could gain support by seeking out someone who share a similar past.
I have came here as a client and now I work here and I serve those who have various challenges. Needless to say considerable insight into the life experiences of many who have challenges that are understood or even cared about by those outside of the Skid Row community.
I thought every person was visible and could openly discuss their problems and issues. Women and men talk about being disconnected from their families. They also talk about having their children taken away from them. They deal with that pain while fighting the addictions, in most cases, that brought about the reality of their present circumstance.
The transgender population is open and visible and they are shunned in most places. So I was led to believe that no matter who you are, you could walk up to almost anyone and you would have an open ear to which you could ask for guidance and direction. But I was wrong.
The HIV population in Skid Row does not walk around in open communication. I was in one meeting, in early 2007, in which a person talked about being HIV positive. They are in the shelters but no one knows who they are because of confidentiality laws. Two men died in the shelter that I was in and I did not know they were HIV positive until they died.
I interviewed for a position recently. I would have interfaced with HIV clients. It was talked about in a very matter of fact fashion. There was no judgment in the attitude of the project managers in referring to their clients. The case workers view them as clients and are there to support them. But in the community at large, a community in which they are embedded, they walk and suffer in silence. They cannot openly discuss their problems with anyone they see. To do so would begin a wild brush fire of gossip and finger pointing. Soon they would be isolated from others in the neighborhood. In a community where most of the residents are shunned by outsiders, the residents shun a segment of their own population. Ironic isn’t it. In a community where sex partners are traded on a regular basis, where people practice unsafe sex or share needles to use drugs, you would think that there would be more compassion. However, I guess there is a social stratification in every society and in the Skid Row Community does not escape that social dynamic and all of the ugliness that can accompany it.
I wonder if there will be hope for the HIV population in the next four years. Will they get the attention and understanding they deserve. When there is so much suffering in our country, I speculate that people will be more concerned with their own security and have little energy to worry about those that are already forgotten by most of society. In a community where there is so much suffering, it is clear that there are levels of suffering. The suffering has characteristics unique to its specific category.
Jubal and Cheryl Rade of the HIV Alliance in Eugene, Oregon put together this video. Three individuals talk about what it is like to live after being diagnosed as HIV positive. I hope this video teaches people to have more compassion for others. Many in Skid Row suffer like these three individuals. If there is going to be change in America, let us also change the way we treat eachother. Understand the pain of your fellow man or woman. Thank you.