On a hot, sultry day in July, I walked through Los Angeles’ Skid Row, the largest and most infamous of the city’s numerous homeless encampments. It is a little-visited part of a city better known for its celebrities and showy materialism—a city where the very rich build mansions with a dozen or more bedrooms while the poorest of the poor live on sidewalks, under freeways or in parks.
Buildings trapped the street’s heat. Some residents sat in tents or under tarps in stifling conditions. Others were standing or sitting on the sidewalk, with their backs against the buildings. So packed were the sidewalks with people, tents and possessions that sometimes I had to walk in the street. I was so intent on observing the scene that at one point I stumbled and almost fell. A homeless man asked if I was OK. I assured him I was. He patted me on the back and told me to be careful.