the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Fact-Finding Mission


Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles is one of its most shameful spots.  Thousands of homeless roam the streets in this scary 50 square block section of the city.  But finally, Los Angeles city officials are tackling this problem.  A delegation of Los Angeles leaders, including representatives from downtown Los Angeles’ business, law enforcement, and political organizations, travelled to New York’s Times Square on a "fact-finding mission."

New York famously cleaned up Times Square in the 1990s. More than $1 billion has been poured into the area for shelters, housing and cleanup. Times Square saw a 68% decrease in crime between 1992 and 2005. Once a cluster of sex shows and run-down buildings, it is now a bustling city center and tourist destination.

Can Skid Row learn from Times Square?  This 30-member delegation wanted to find out.

Of course, there are huge differences in these two areas.  New York’s Times Square has been world-famous for a hundred-odd years and is located in the middle of the city.  Skid Row is in an grungy dangerous part of town that Angelenos wouldn’t travel to for any reason, even if Pamela Anderson announced she was going to strip naked there on Friday night.  

Some wondered if the trip was really necessary at all.  After all, isn’t the man who "cleaned up" Times Square, former NYPD head William J. Bratton, now the Chief of Police of the LAPD?  Why not just take him out for lunch here in LA and ask him?  Why travel 3000 miles and spend our city’s dollars? 

But City Council members were adamant that this trip was necessary in order to learn what New Yorkers do right — and to find solutions to Los Angeles’ homeless problem.

I feel honored here at Citizen of the Month to be able to sit down with several members of the delegation, to discuss their trip — and what it could mean for Los Angeles.

Councilman Ed Cheatem (D) said,

"My assignment was to see as many Broadway shows around Times Square as possible.  I was especially impressed by the enthusiastic crowd at "Spamalot."  If Los Angeles was able to build several Broadway-sized theaters on Skid Row, imagine how that would help clean up the area?"

Asst. Police Commissioner Manuel Dinero disagreed.

"I saw "Spamalot" and wasn’t impressed.   The biggest problem facing Skid Row in Los Angeles is the lack of fine eating establishments, like they have here on Times Square.  I chose to eat dinner 3-4 times at Becco on West 45th Street.   To taste Lidia Bastianich’s Antipasto Misto, an assortment of marinated and grilled vegetables with assorted seafood, was a real eye-opener.  If we were to open an establishment like this in skid row, I would think our problem would be solved.   Most homeless people cannot afford to eat in a restaurant like this, so they would just move away to a place like Riverside or Oxnard."

Not everything for the delegation revolved around education and "fact-finding."  After all, they were in the "city that never sleeps."

State Senator Igor Misleadi said,

"I’m sure the taxpayers understand that part of our mission in New York was to behave like a typical upscale tourist, in order to learn ways to improve our Skid Row as a tourist destination."

It was State Senator Misleadi himself who chose the fashionable W Hotel, Times Square, as their home base.

"We definitely need one of these on Skid Row!" said downtown LA real estate developer Will Steel.

While most of the group went out "clubbing" during their second night in New York,  Los Angeles Administrative Officer David Embezzlo and former Council Supervisor Mario Fraude, remained in the hotel, continuing with their work.  As part of their research, they asked two high-priced hookers to come to their rooms.  They were eager to learn what differentiates upscale New York hookers from the prostitutes on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.   Knowing that finding streetwalkers is impossible in visitor-friendly Times Square, they chose instead to deal with an escort service that operated from the Upper East Side. 

Supervisor Fraude spoke about his findings: 

"The fact that these women had to travel to Times Square did nothing to hamper their abilities to perform their services.   I was very impressed.  The obvious difference between these upscale New York hookers and their Skid Row counterparts is that these New Yorkers were much more attractive.   I also felt less fear of catching some disease.  Although their prices were a tad high for a typical county supervisor’s salary, I would say that a New York hooker puts a great deal more effort into her blowjob than the typical prostitute on Skid Row."

Administrative Officer Embezzlo agreed.

"I really learned a lot during this "fact-finding mission" to New York.  I’m hoping we gain as many insights during our upcoming "research" trip to Paris."


  1. anne

    Oh yeah. We’ll be happy to help, of course.

  2. Elisabeth

    And I’ll be glad to be their guide and interpreter for the research trip to Paris.

  3. He's Dead, Jim!

    I think I saw that delegation. They ran into Condoleeza Rice at Ferragamo.

  4. cruisin-mom

    Oprah will be joining the Paris trip to help the boys get into Hermes.

  5. JJ

    Why do they have to go to Paris? Skid Row already stinks.

  6. ashbloem


  7. anne arkham

    Was that Ed Cheatem of Dewey Cheatem and Howe?

  8. M.A.

    And no one worries about the actual people who live there…

  9. Trix

    Genius as usual, my friend.

  10. AWE

    Is anyone selling tickets to the Pamela Anderson stripping event? I couldn’t find them on Ticketmaster, maybe I should look on Stripitmaster, but that could lead to a different kind of site.

  11. annie

    A 30-member delegation, including representatives from the Sheriff’s Department and the ACLU? Local politics makes for some strange bedfellows.

  12. cherchezlafemme

    This is hysterical. I worked in Times Square for 8 months and I keep picturing the people milling about, bumping into each other, walking on without a second glance, the abundance of chewed remnants of gums that invariably stick to the bottom of your shoes or better still, your best pants, the very day you have your big career-making meeting… ah, I miss New York!

  13. chantel

    The only thing this group was missing was drugs. You really should get’em to smoke some crack.

  14. Bill

    Very interesting and civic-minded. By the way, did anyone ever find out where New York’s homeless went when Times Square was cleaned up. Did they all get one way tickets to Jersey? Just curious about what “cleaning up” entails. Perhaps L.A. might want to provide free one way tickets to Oakland?

  15. sara lee

    Very Nice!

    p.s. What was the area called before it became “Skid Row”?

  16. better safe than sorry

    it’s wonderful to read how dedicated to their jobs this group is, not everyone can go around and sample the venues.

  17. Spirit Of Owl

    I can see your mistake here. Pamela Anderson was with Tommy from MOTLEY CRUE, not Skid Row.

    Tehehe. I bet you feel silly now!

  18. Cookiebitch

    I say, build a GAP where those homeless people are sleeping, and the blight will be over. Or at least the homeless will start wearing snappy looking scarves with their begger gloves!
    (P.S. Missed you … the bitch is back)

  19. Neil

    Was curious where the term skid row came from. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

    The first skid row was Skid Road (Yesler Way) in Seattle, where logs were skidded into the water on a corduroy road for delivery to Henry Yesler’s lumber mills. After the onset of the Great Depression, the area went into decline, and skid row became synonymous with being a bad neighborhood.

    Los Angeles’s Skid Row, in an area of downtown Los Angeles known as Central City East, is home to one of the largest stable populations of transient persons in the United States. Informal population estimates range from 7,000 to 8,000. First-time visitors to this area are often shocked by the sight of the cardboard box and camping tents lining the sidewalks; the juxtaposition with the gleaming glass-sheathed skyscrapers on nearby Bunker Hill is quite striking. A common joke about the high prices of houses and taxes in Los Angeles city and county limits is that, “you can’t even buy a cardboard box for that price” (with “that price” being a modest budget with which an individual seeks to secure housing). L.A.’s Skid Row is sometimes called the “Nickel,” because it is centered on Fifth Street. Most of the city’s homeless and social service providers (such as Midnight Mission, Union Rescue Mission and Downtown Women’s Center) are based on Skid Row. While downtown Los Angeles has gone through a revitalization in recent years, it has mostly skipped over the Skid Row neighborhood.

  20. Nance

    I have a couch in my classroom. I call the kids who invariably end up on it day after day “Spud Row.”

  21. Won't tell

    When are you going to submit a piece to Shouts and Murmurs? If not now, when?

  22. bella

    Maybe just transplant all LA-ians to NY, and vice versa, let the NY-ians fix it all up, then give it back!

  23. Cheryl

    No Angelenos would go to Skid Row…EXCEPT all the folks buying million-dollar lofts in that area. Something about sky-rocketing property values has prompted a sudden wave of compassion for LA’s homeless. Interestingly enough.

  24. Sammy

    If there was a W i=on Skid row I guess I would stay in it too. Love politics.

  25. helen

    The delegation need anyone to videotape their ‘research’ ? I’ll be glad to help out!! 😛

  26. Used Hack

    I travel to San Diego on business for a week every year. The homeless people there have it pretty good. I know if I were homeless, that’s where I’d try to go.

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