SIDEWALKS & SIDE EFFECTS
In the County of Los Angeles more than 58,000 women and men are homeless. Skid Row has the highest concentration of homeless in the US, between 5,000 to 8,000 people living without permanent shelter in a 50 square-block area. The 2013 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reports that at least 30% of homeless individuals live with severe and persistent mental illness. Those numbers are self-reported, and likely to be underreported. More than 40% of Lamp clients live with chronic disease, including HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and cancer.
The drug addiction, the mental illness, and the disease is all rampant. During the Ronald Regan Administration, mental hospitals were shut down and subsequently their patients were released. The idea was that with the advent of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other medicines of the like– paired with social security and disability assistance– the sick and disadvantaged would be able to go forth and take care of themselves. The result was an influx of sick and mentally ill homeless individuals. This continues today. “Obviously, many of them are also involved with addiction and sometimes, you can’t figure out which came first,” says Mollie Lowrey, Lamp founder and Lamp client.
When we think of Skid Row, the image of the grotesque– the hollow-faced jack-o-lantern of a man– comes to mind and we want to turn away. Albert Camus wrote “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.” The conflict arrives when we compare our definition of truth with the subjects’ definition. If we force ourselves to confront this truth, we can see Sidewalks and Side Effects shows us individuals who, for any number of reasons, find themselves in a self-defining community. If we look at their faces and not their places, are they really so different from what we seek ourselves? What are they thinking? We see human beings who have accepted their lives; some are pensive, some are content, some seem even to be quite busy.
Camus wrote about Sisyphus, the mythological Greek king who was condemned to an eternity of burden. His task was to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down the other side, at which point, he had to start anew. One always finds one’s burden again.
Sidewalks and Side Effects– begs the fundamental question of the lives of the Los Angeles homeless:
Considering all this, Sidewalks and Side Effects asks which is the cause of the situation: is it the mental illness and addictions that led these people to the streets, or is it the streets that caused the mental illness and addictions? In the end, does it matter?