February 13, 2017 @ 9:00 AM
At 4:40 a.m., Paramount employee Kevin Chalk’s alarm goes off. He puts on running clothes and sneakers and is out the door in 30 minutes. He’s on his way to Los Angeles’s infamous skid row.
It’s certainly an odd choice for a morning jog. But Chalk is a volunteer at Back on My Feet, a nonprofit that combats homelessness through the power of running, community support and essential employment and housing resources.
Chalk’s morning itinerary is precise and consistent, much like the training regimen of a seasoned athlete. By 5:25, Chalk is driving past makeshift tents in the impoverished neighborhood. Skid row has the highest concentration of homelessness in the nation—in just one square mile, over 2,000 people live in squalor.
Chalk steps out of his car and is struck by the putrid odor of synthetic marijuana, or spice. Spice is a cheap (albeit potentially lethal) high, making homeless residents an easy target for dealers. The toxic stench grows stronger as Chalk walks towards the Mission. He weaves in between tarps draped over fences, derelict buildings and throngs of families and neighbors huddled beneath threadbare blankets.
Rap music blasts from set of speakers in one tent, while 70s soul blares from a car radio. It’s barely dawn. There are men, women, and children of all ages mingling in the streets amidst rats and tumbleweeds of trash.
Skid Row in Los Angeles. Photos courtesy of Getty Images.