I recently visited friends in Pacific Palisades, my hometown for 25 years as my children were growing up. "Are you still working with those kids?" inquired one of the dinner guests.
"Yes, I'm looking forward to our 25th anniversary in January 2013. Lots more stories to share with our readers."
"We're all in transition, spending more time with the grandkids, enjoying cruises and when I'm home I volunteer at a shelter in Santa Monica," my friend shared. "We're talking about dropping by OWS at City Hall. It reminds us of the 60s and 70s marches. I probably have to carry a portable chair when my legs get tired," she laughingly added.
"I'll go with you, we can stop at Langer's for corned beef sandwiches," I enthusiastically responded.
"Oh, no, that's not healthy, we're only organic these days."
I was happy to see old friends and just as pleased to say good night. Strange questions coming from friends who led student walk-outs at Berkeley and broke bread with Huey Newton. They asked if teens today are more violent and aren't I afraid to attend meetings in South L.A. One former neighbor sits in his gated hilltop home listening to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News all day. In 1972 he hosted brunches for a progressive school board candidate.
I find myself defending today's teens; they're not "super-predators," a phrase coined by Princeton University Professor John DiIulio a few years ago. I told my dinner partners a story about one of our young writers.
Young people today can go from home to college, back home, and to their first apartment. However, my friend Roshawn had nowhere to lay her head.
I met her six years ago when she wandered in to L.A. Youth, our teen journalism training program. She wanted to set her own story down.
The story she told broke our hearts. Her heroin-addicted mother wound up with her children on Skid Row. Four people squeezed into a single room occupancy hotel - no kitchen and a bathroom down the hall with the luxury of sharing it with any kind of transient. They endured for four years.
She made the long trip from Skid Row to Reseda High School, until the fall 2003 bus strike. She was out of school for six weeks and fell so far behind with her schoolwork that she was forced to drop out.
No one called from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
No one provided assistance from L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.
No one investigated from any agency.
For a short time an older sister's couch in Inglewood provided respite from the drug dealers, violence and madness of Skid Row. Roshawn completed classes to qualify for the GED and she began taking classes at Los Angeles Trade Tech College to pursue a career in early childhood development.
But, this was not to be. The crowding and myriad responsibilities of the house ultimately sent her back to Skid Row, where she's permitted to sleep in a shelter for the next 30 days.
Will any downtown developer offer her shelter now?
With no permanent address how will she secure employment?
I haven't seen Roshawn for a few years. She had a baby in March 2007. Her daughter lived with a foster family for a time. How many more generations of her family will endure these hardships?
High-rises, lofts and businesses are within proximity to Skid Row. The people who live and work in these places step over and around the hundreds of homeless people sleeping in doorways and under plastic tarps. The neighborhood park is off-limits for children as dozens of mentally ill and homeless adults sleep on benches and clutch their belongings stored in shopping carts. Children and teens have few safe places to gather outside of their hotel rooms.
Shelters, over-crowded rooms and Skid Rows are crises that don't tally in our minds because we've heard them so often. But, my friend Roshawn is a living, breathing, striving victim of these disasters."
Silence at the dinner table. No one stayed for dessert.
Donna Myrow is founder and publisher of L.A. Youth, the non-profit newspaper.