Union Rescue Mission CEO loses use of legs to infections

andy-bales-aron.jpgAndy Bales. Photo by Hillel Aron/LA Weekly

First off, Andy Bales says this: "Conditions on Skid Row are worse than they have ever been in the 11 years I’ve been here. And I would venture to say that they are the worst and the most violent and the most lawless than they have ever been."

This is the CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, saying the same thing that LAPD Skid Row guardian Deon Joseph said a year ago, when he wrote that LA's Skid Row is in the midst of a full-on "mental health emergency." I think we can assume they know what they are talking about and are not hyping. Time to understand that, LA. The Los Angeles downtown renaissance is taking place next to this, the biggest and worst urban dumping district of any city in America.

But now this: Bales has been told he will never walk normally again. He picked up a nasty trifecta of infection — E. coli, strep and staph — out on Skid Row, he thinks. Six weeks of drip antibiotics in the hospital didn't cure him. Now he uses a wheelchair, wakes up in pain every day, wears a special boot and may have to get a leg amputated.

From the story by Hillel Aron in LA Weekly:

Life on L.A.'s Skid Row – the only area of its kind in country – is worse than ever before. Just ask Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission…

The shockingly unsanitary conditions found on Skid Row are rarely seen outside the Third World. In 2013, public health officials discovered a strain of tuberculosis believed unique to the area. And while all this makes just walking down the street dangerous, for diabetics and other people with compromised immune systems, it can be deadly.

"There are many other vulnerable people like me, diabetics, that are on these streets," says Bales. "I found one young lady, her thumb was black, and she was gonna lose her thumb. it took me an hour to convince her to come in here to our clinic and then go to the hospital. So what I experienced, a lot of the vulnerable people on the sidewalk are experiencing because of the conditions that are out there right now."

According to the latest count, there are over 41,000 homeless men and women in Los Angeles, a 16 percent increase from two years ago. But those official numbers don't quite seem to capture the magnitude of the epidemic, apparent under many bridges and freeway overpasses. Even in up-and-coming neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Venice, there are dozens, in some cases hundreds, of homeless encampments.

"Venice has become a second Skid Row," says Bales. "If you got to 3rd and Rose, you will think you’re on Skid Row. There are more than a 100 people in tents on the sidewalk."

Politics note: This morning, City Council President Herb Wesson and council members Jose Huizar and Marqueece Harris-Dawson are holding a presser declaring a homeless emergency in Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti joined them.

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