The heart of Los Angeles’ Skid Row is comprised of roughly 50 city blocks (0.4 square miles) of the greater downtown area, generally east of the Downtown Historic Core and the high-rise district of Bunker Hill. In Los Angeles and elsewhere, Skid Row has historically been a predominantly male (and disproportionately African-American) place, home to transient workers and the chronically unemployed. Over the past several years, however, homeless women have become the fastest rising demographic in Los Angeles, due to soaring rents, domestic violence and the graying of L.A.’s homeless population. According to government statistics, one in three homeless people in Los Angeles County, or a total of over 14,000, are now women. This represents a 55% increase in just five years. The number of women camped out in RVs, tents and lean-tos doubled, again, in the last three years alone.
Homeless women face staggering levels of violence, in shelters and homeless housing as well as on the streets. A survey by the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition, a consortium of service providers and advocates, found that nearly half of Skid Row women had been physically attacked in the previous 12 months; more than a quarter of them were sexually assaulted, requiring new forms of trauma-sensitive care for this most vulnerable group among the homeless. Officials and advocates say the situation could improve with the passage of Proposition HHH — a $1.2-billion city bond initiative passed in 2016 to build homeless housing — along with expanded funding promised from the county and state (Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2016).
Francine Orr, a veteran photographer for the Los Angeles Times and a 2012 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, has documented Los Angeles’ homeless crisis for many years, gathering personal stories of homeless women across L.A. County along the way. This exhibition features 36 of her dramatic color photographs, and text by Los Angeles Times writer Tom Curwen, highlighting female homelessness in this city.