Economic hard times for Blacks (FCN, 04-01-2007)

LOS ANGELES ( – Los Angeles is home to some of the world’s wealthiest human beings, corporations and organizations, yet underneath its towering skyscrapers and city lights dwell a massive homeless population which includes approximately 3,000 women who sleep on the streets each night.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are 600,000 families with more than one million children that experience homelessness in the U.S. on an annual basis, with domestic violence being one of the most frequently stated causes of homelessness for families.


Two other causes, according to Dr. Arisah Muhammad, a drug and alcohol dependency counselor, are drug and alcohol abuse.

“The number has increased over the last four or five years and you’re seeing more women on the streets because more women are on drugs. The drugs are so prevalent in their lives, they don’t pay their rent or take care of their children, and they end up on the streets,” she said.

Dr. Muhammad, who also serves as the Nation of Islam’s Western Region M.G.T. & G.C.C. Captain, spoke with The Final Call while en route to address the Cocaine Anonymous convention, entitled “Reaching Out,” in Brighton, England, as a keynote speaker and guest panelist. She noted that every woman on the streets is not there because of drugs, but the majority of them are.

“Women get pulled down here to this area and they get stuck…they end up in this vicious cycle of hell.”–these words by an anonymous Skid Row resident leads viewers into Corina Gamma’s documentary entitled “Ties on a Fence: Women in Downtown Los Angeles Speak Out,” which highlights the ordeals of mothers, sisters, grandmothers, daughters and wives who are homeless.

The documentary grew out of the director/producer’s two-year role as an art teacher at the Downtown Women’s Center. She said that during her experience, she realized that she must tell their stories, so she began to record the lives of those afflicted on a daily basis with this epidemic, such as Ann, who has lived on Skid Row for 12 years now.

“I’ve been on my own for so long. I have a daughter 26 and a son 23, and six grandkids. My family doesn’t want me downtown. They don’t understand why I’ve got to be going down to the Mission to eat, but I don’t know why. I’m still confused today, myself,” Ann says.

As the cameras continue to shoot, Ann is being forced to collect her blankets, cardboard boxes and scarce personal belongings, in search of a place, however temporary, safe from police or city bulldozers reminiscent of those that swept through Skid Row in 2003 during a clean sweep of the city’s streets.

For Cissy, an artist and three-year Skid Row resident, whose income froze when she was too young to receive government assistance, says “People think that because you’re homeless, you’re like a detriment to society and it causes a lot of conflict, especially with people you knew before this happened to you. People think that when you‘re homeless, it’s your fault and you did something wrong or bad to make yourself get into that situation, but this is not always the truth.”

Like Cissy, many of the women on Skid Row are either married, estranged from their husbands or fleeing abuse. Some are single mothers whose last paycheck either did not come, or crumbled under the weight of an increased cost of living. Some are educators and world travelers that have fallen on bad times. Others are ill and broken–mentally, physically and spiritually. But there are remedies, says Dr. Muhammad.

“The welfare to work program is a five-year program and if mothers dependent on welfare have not gotten a job, they must get off public assistance. There are programs set up that will prepare women to get jobs, pay for schooling, childcare and transportation, however, people don’t follow through,” she said.

That is due, in part, Dr. Muhammad added, to the fact that some social work counselors do not inform the women of what is available.

For her part, Dr. Muhammad routinely implements a workshop titled, “Rising Above Emotions Into the Thinking of God,” based upon the series of Self-Improvement Study Guides authored by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

“This consistently helps women, and men, to focus on their God skills and not their emotions. It helps them to stay focused on not using drugs and alcohol,” she said.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness notes that people can help to end homelessness on a daily basis by educating themselves and others about prevention; advocating on state, local and national levels to encourage policy makers to create programs and laws to help those at risk of becoming homeless; and, volunteering time and donating food and clothing to local homelessness organizations and shelters.

“During the process of making this film, I went back and forth many times on whether to interview policy makers and people who run the facilities. But the problem is so complex, women are dealing with mental illness, lacking medical care, affordable housing, I couldn’t even touch the surface of all these issues. I decided I wanted this to be about the women and their voices. I was struck by the hardship listening to their stories,” Ms. Gamma stated.

She said that the 2003 clean sweeps, an effort to get rid of the homeless encampments, was shocking and horrible. “Everything that people discard or don’t need anymore ends up downtown, and then they come down and take it all away again. There’s a lot of irony in the area anyway. It’s a different kind of people that take it away, but all these tents, their furnishings, personal belongings that they left in those tents, are destroyed,” she added.

Ms. Gamma said that Skid Row should not be a breeding ground for the next generation. It could end, she said, if people would consider the face behind persons they see hanging out in the streets. “We really don’t have time for each other anymore, to address each person’s needs on an individual basis, ask someone how they’re doing,” she continued.

Cherise Muhammad, a long-time homeless activist and outreach coordinator at Muhammad’s Mosque No. 27, agreed. “I’ve been going to Skid Row for over four years. I look at going as the Good Samaritan. I’m doing what the Hon. Elijah Muhammad wants us to do, which is go into the highways and byways. I want someone to feel like I feel, that these people are like the kings and queens and I’m trying to put them back on their thrones the best way that I can,” she said.

Ms. Muhammad added, “Min. Farrakhan’s consistency, never giving up on the Believers, inspires me to help others. After the meetings, everyone is so excited and I see life come to the people,” she said.