PART FOUR
STEVE LOPEZ / POINTS WEST

Street Conversations With the Broken-Down Brigade

While Villaraigosa talks to Reid, who seems increasingly likely to be stuck out in the rain for the night, I go back on wheelchair patrol.

No. 3: Dorothy Kenyon, 67

"I've got two flat tires," she says of her motorized chair. "I've got to get them fixed tomorrow."

She's already tucked into bed, one of the lucky ones who scored a cot at the Midnight, where she's sharing a room with more than 50 people. The room set aside for families is overflowing again, so six children are sleeping out here with the adults.

"I've been homeless since January," Kenyon says. Then, three months ago, "my kidneys collapsed and I fell over backwards." Been in the wheelchair ever since. She's wondering how she'll pay to fix the flats.

No. 4: John Yost, 79

He's a few beds away from Kenyon. His wife, an alcoholic, is out on the street. Yost's legs gave out on him 10 years ago, after he and his wife moved to San Bernardino from Lebanon, Pa. Nothing has gone their way since. One thing I should know about people in wheelchairs, he warns, is that not everybody who's got one needs it.

"They steal them," he says, from people who do. Then they use them as carts or try to sell them.

I look around for the mayor, who's talking to a young mother with three children. One boy is in a stroller he's too big for, crying his eyes out. The woman tells Villaraigosa she voted for him.

A few minutes later, Midnight Mission publicist Orlando Ward tells Villaraigosa that conditions on skid row are the worst he's seen in his seven years of working there. He sees mothers shooting up, and whereas one relatively docile gang used to control the drug trade, several gangs now compete, with bloodshed common. Ward knows of a guy on the street who sells dope he keeps hidden in his baby's diaper.

Villaraigosa's been doling out hugs at the mission, but Ward tells him to watch out. Disease is rampant, with a particularly nasty staph infection bouncing through prisons and shelters.

No. 5: Joe McMichaels, 62

He's at Main and Winston, his left leg gone below the knee.

"I got hit by a truck," he says. It happened two years ago.

"My leg is gone forever."

I ask how long he's been on the streets.

"I have a permanent mailing address," he says. "In Pasadena."

Tonight, maybe he'll stay at a drop-in center on 7th Street.

Why not go home to Pasadena?

"I have a permanent mailing address," he says again, and then he heads south on Main, using the worn heel of his shoe to pull himself slowly down a dark and lonely avenue.

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