From the bizarre to the intriguing, here’s a glimpse into the strangest things discovered in downtown homeless encampments this year.
With Los Angeles City Council enforcing the new anti-camping law in early 2023 that banned sitting, sleeping, and storing property fire hydrants, parks, and libraries to freeway ramps and even bike paths, 2023 brought what must have felt like a imperial invasion for long-time urban campers. One side of the story tells of the dangers of being homeless and the commitment to find unhoused people shelter, while the other side tells of incompetence, neglect, and abuse.
When the Sanitation Department and law enforcement clamped down on Skid Row in February of 2023 to make room for new bike lanes and other “improvements,” they bulldozed one tent fixture on 5th and San Pedro deemed “The White House.” 10 years in the making. The mobile home, as seen on live on ABC Eyewitness News, had wheels, a queen-size bed, a jacuzzi (with shower), and a gas stove. Demolishing the structure against the tenant’s will brought national attention that has since died down. At the time, the owner of the dwelling, Stephanie Arnold, aka Skid Row Governor, told LA Magazine, “If the city can’t help its unhoused, just leave us alone.” There have been reports that Arnold has since moved from temporary to permanent housing.
Shockingly, access to electricity in a tent may seem like a modern miracle, but in 2023, the secret behind the magic was revealed. The resourceful unhoused have found ways to tap into the city’s underground power supplies, risking electrocution to splice the power lines of traffic lights and street lamps. With a few quick splices and an extension chord, urban campers are able to power everything from cell phones to big-screen TVs.
One thing about our city’s unhoused is that they do know how to spot a good bargain. Slashing prices off necessities needed to survive these mean city streets, more than an few urban campers provide one-stop shops to help each other survive. Blankets, rugs, art work, bicycles, appliances, lighting, washers and dryers, mattresses, microwaves, and room dividers are offered for fractions of their original cost.
Recliner and a TV
When throwing away furniture items on the side of the road, always remember that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. For the urban camper, randomly finding such items can be seen as a form of good luck and a way to temporarily improve their way of life. Forget the image of cardboard boxes and makeshift mattresses; the owner of the recliner, Todd Fairlane, told the media, “Some of us nomads have figured out inner peace is more important than outside appearances.”
Netflix and Chill
Social media exploded after a YouTuber posted a video in May 2023 from outside a tent in the Fashion District. The images revealed a projector with the inside tent dweller Netflix and chillin. Rumor has it that there was even the smell of popcorn.
December 2023 saw one of the most elaborate tent set-ups of all. Trailing a stolen pickup truck from Bell Flower to Olive just south of the 10fwy, officers arrested three men after pulling back tent walls to undercover a full-blown chop shop complete with stolen chopped down Maserati.
Of all the illegal activities presumed to be taking place behind the walls of some of these tattered tents—drug deals, prostitution, murders—finding a full-blown chop shop operation was the strangest of all.
Free Crack, Needles, and Meth Pipes?
Conservatives and liberals had it out on social media when it was revealed by Skid Row activists that the government was funding a local non-profit, Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, to distribute drug paraphernalia. Sure, everybody loves freebies, but substance abuse has always been listed as a gateway to homelessness. In this bizarre twist to the narrative, enabling these individuals with clean needles, crack pipes, and meth pipes wasn’t looked at as a way out but as an anchor to keep them in place.
The usual suspects, easily converted makeshift paraphernalia found in most smoke shops around downtown LA.
While the intentions behind such programs may be rooted in harm reduction, the drug-addicted some tent dwellers surely had no problem finding these tokens before tax paying citizens got involved. Skid Row documentary maker Tony Anthony told Fox 11 “This is a damn shame. It’s dangerous and irresponsible.”
Photo courtesy Matti Myller / Yle
Electric scooters and Metro bikes are littered around the city. According to the LAPD, there’s been almost a 129% increase in e-scooter theft. We’re not implying that the homeless are stealing them, but some mentally ill people do seem to have personal vendettas with the devices, kicking and hurling them to the ground in fits of rage at any given moment.
These rentable travelers do have paid accounts attached to them, with renters attached by state identification and credit card information, so finding one in a tent does seem a tad bit strange. Maybe they are just on pause.
Although laughter is healing, seriously homelessness is no laughing matter. As homelessness continues to rise despite every effort, the strangest item found in a tent is still people. How is this subculture so resilient and comfortable living amongst the elements and why are they so resistant to the rules of society. How did they get this way? How do they escape the danger of being exposed to the criminal elements who prey upon them daily? Should they receive free housing while the rest of the working class slave away each day just to pull off rent? Is all of humanity responsible for their well being? And if there is an earthquake that leaves everyone without power and water, how can we get them to help us survive?
Answers to questions as strange as the homeless situation itself.