IMPACT

Activist Reminds Us That There is Much More To Skid Row Than Homelessness

03/09/2015 01:14 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2015

Beyond the tall buildings and growing development of downtown Los Angeles lies the four-mile zone of Skid Row. While the area has gained notoriety as a center of poverty, one community leader is speaking out in defense of the neighborhood.

Steve Diaz, an organizer for the Los Angeles Community Action Network, joined HuffPost Live on Thursday and offered a more nuanced perspective that is at odds with the dominant perception of the area.

"We're often portrayed ... as drug addicts, a transient community, a community that doesn't care," he told host Marc Lamont Hill. "That's not true. Our community is full of people taking on resistance, artists, culture -- folks that are every day hitting the grind so that the community is better.

Diaz, who once lived on Skid Row himself, added that it's a "community of working class folks, disabled folks struggling" to improve.

"In terms of the community, the community is a beautiful place," he said. "We're labeled and stigmatized as something different, but I can tell you that it's a great recovering community. It's a community thriving, just like any other place in the city of L.A."

Diaz pointed to the fatal shooting of a homeless man known as "Africa," last week, as an indicator of what he called Skid Row's "occupation at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department."

"Through the Safer Cities Initiative, Skid Row has been occupied for over the last eight and a half years," he said. "Anywhere from 50 to 118 new police officers have been dedicated to targeting folks just for being on Skid Row."

Diaz urged a rethinking of traditional policing practices, as one of the "demands" that the Community Action Network is looking to achieve through its activism.

"We continue not to have mental health services and mental health workers be the first respondents, which is one of the demands that we are actually asking for," he said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about the Skid Row shooting here.

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