♪ [intro music] ♪ [Mental Illness Los Angeles] Oh… We’re about to get onto the freeway. ♪ [down-tempo hip-hop music] ♪ [Narrator] L.A., the City of Angels. Palm trees, sun, and beautiful people. But there’s another side to this city. There are places that tourists should never go. Places even locals try to avoid. This is Skid Row. A place referred to as
America’s only third world city. It’s home to hundreds of homeless people. Many of whom are mentally ill. or impaired. We’d been warned, but nothing
prepared us for what we saw as we cruised the streets
leading to the heart of Skid Row. We’ve filmed in plenty of places but we were surprised how bleak
and frightening this place is. Film crews aren’t welcome here, and none of us wanted to
get out of the van. [inaudible] Our first destination was
the Union Rescue Mission. It’s the largest and oldest
organization in the USA working to support homeless people. It was started by the founder
of Union Oil, Lyman Stewart, one hundred and eighteen years ago. [Man] Skid row in L.A., which is really like
one of the worst human disasters in the US, and it’s really been
caused by corralling and containment of people who are struggling
with homelessness. [Narrator] Thirty percent of homeless people in the US
have some form of mental illness. If you’re poor and mentally ill,
you have few options before you hit the streets or jail. [Man] And you never know, which came first.
Sometimes the mental illness comes and leads to homelessness, but certainly
prolonged homelessness and suffering devastation on the streets,
being robbed, and beaten, and mugged and if you’re a woman, much worse.
Certainly leads to depression and other issues of mental health,
so we’ve got to make sure that we don’t leave one precious
human being on the streets, that’s really the bottom line. [inaudible] [Narrator] Andy takes us to what feels like
a disaster zone. He makes regular trips here,
handing out water. He’s insisted on bringing eight
minders along to make sure our cameras don’t upset people, but I wasn’t prepared for the barrage
of people coming up to us. Man, you want water? No? [inaudible] the United States Marine Corps,
my name is Lunatic, I’m gonna say Julie and Rydell, we alive ya’ll! According to the 2007 statistics, up to 142,000 men, women, and
children become homeless over the course of any year. Up to 74,000 people are homeless
each night in Los Angeles county. Half the homeless are single men,
25% are single women, and the rest are entire families. We are the capital of homelessness, we have more people on the streets
in L.A. than in any other city. Double of what New York and
Chicago have combined. Every suburb, every region,
every city has kind of dropped off their folks who were struggling
in this spot in L.A. and forgot about them. We’re not living up to being
in the City of Angels and we’ve gotta work toward the day when
we don’t have one precious human being on the streets and that’s
gonna take a lot of work, but mostly, it’s gonna
take a heart change. [Man] What sort of feeling
does this give you, Andy? [Andy] Just encouraging to give folks
a cold drink of water and a little bit of encouragement
and some hope, because I mean [Reporter] To get through the day for you, I mean
you see a lot of sadness, I mean is this just sad too.
Is this getting you through? Doing stuff like this?
-[Andy] No. Yeah, it helps but what really helps is when
somebody gets a bottle of water and they decide later on because
they know where the water came from they come in and ask for real help. [inaudible] [Narrator] Andy once spent a night out on the
street just to see what it was like. [Andy] I slept like thirty minutes ’cause
a guy said he’d watch my back, you know I took a little nap, but that’s all I got. A friend of mine that spent twenty years
said, “Andy, after six or seven days, that fear would’ve been replaced by anger
and you would’ve adapted ’cause humans adapt to anything.” We realize they’re precious people,
they’re somebody’s aunt, somebody’s uncle they’re somebody’s precious baby
that they held in their arms and we need to quit referring to people
as “the homeless” or “the drug addicted” [Narrator] It’s hot, a dry, searing kind of heat. [Man] We’ve only come about…
maybe fifty meters. We’ve handed out over
two hundred bottles of water. It’s gone. [Andy] We experienced a tsunami of families
in this latest economic downturn, and about 53% of the families who
came our way were experiencing homelessness for the first time in their life.
They lost their home, they lost their job,
they lost their apartment, they ran out of funds, they ended up
in a hotel ’till their savings was gone, then they moved to their car, and then
the last stop was a place like Union Rescue Mission and we relaunched
probably about 45 families, including I think three are getting
relaunched this week because we didn’t leave them in
homelessness long enough to suffer the devastation of homelessness. You wouldn’t have wanted to visit here
before the safer cities initiative You couldn’t. I couldn’t walk down the street
without having to break up a serious… pipe fight or knife fight. It was described as Mardi Gras on crack. And it was very dangerous,
and now you can see we can walk down the street–
-[Man] Yeah. -[Andy] pretty safely and without
the police we couldn’t do that. -[Man] Yeah. This is our day room for our male folks
who come in and are staying with us and they can come in and
just have some quiet time, just to get off the mean streets
down here on Skid Row. [Narrator] People can sign up for
beds, enjoy three meals a day, and take what might be their
first shower in weeks. -[Lady] Good Morning Sweetie, how are you? [Narrator] Here, cuts are provided along with
fresh clothes, and medical care. Therapists are on hand to assist the
mental state of those who turn up here and work out an action plan. The Union Rescue Mission provides a
real opportunity to get off the street and start a new life. [Lady] This wall is the wall
where, when folks come in and they’re sick and tired of being
sick and tired and being on the street and they want some help, they sit in
these seats for about 14 days, that let’s us know that they’re really
serious about getting some help. [Lady] It’s full every night. This place holds
I think about 160 single women, and we’re full, we’re overflowing, and so
we put out cots in the area downstairs where I showed you the dayroom for the women as well as the men,
that’s our overflow. [Man] So, how long essentially
would somebody stay here? [Lady] Normally, it would be a month and then
after a month, you have to try and get in one of our programs,
to try to get off the street, or just go away and I guess,
stay somewhere else, but because we’ve had to bend the rules
a bit, because we’ve really had nowhere to send anybody, so we’ve had to let
them stay a little, a lot more than one month. There’s like 160-odd beds here,
and as you can see, most of them are made, which means that somebody’s coming back for the night. There’s very few that aren’t made.
This place is full. And overflowing. Yeah. [Narrator] The question going around
in my head is, “why are all these people here?” For many, the bottom has
fallen out of their life. But a whole lot of people
living here are mentally ill. Hospitals have even dumped unwanted
mentally ill patients here on the street. [Andy] Actually, I was standing out front,
and a cab pulled up, did a U-turn dropped a woman in a nightgown
in the middle of the street and she started wandering this way,
and I called the police and sent a staff person to rescue
the lady off the street. We had a video tape of that
from our cameras and that played all around the world,
and it was the first time… it had been documented that hospitals
actually drop off patients. She was from 20 miles away. So they
dropped this woman off in her hospital gown in the meanest streets of Skid Row,
she had dementia, she had high blood pressure and a fever, and if we wouldn’t have seen them
drop her, we wouldn’t have rescued her. She’d have been on these streets, and the
hospitals were fined, and they set up a protocol, and my wife and I set up a special referral
sheet, that they get properly referred and can we or can we not take care
of the needs of that patient? Yes or no. And set up a system, but then we found a
man wandering around out here who had nine prescriptions for anti-psychotic medicine,
and he’d been dropped off by a mental hospital 40 miles away,
and the city attorney looked into it, and found that 155 mental patients had
been dropped off on these mean streets in 22 months, and they were
fined 1.6 million dollars, and now there’s a city law
banning the dumping of patients in Skid Row LA, and South LA,
and that’s the thing… doctors are sworn to do no harm,
and yet hospitals were dropping the most vulnerable people in our
society off on these meanest streets really in the country. Sharon Cameron was homeless
for nearly 25 years, and has struggled with mental illness
and drug addiction most of her life. [Sharon] I would just grab anything, to
just make what I was feelin’ go away. And then your body is burnt out,
my slogan was, I felt like I was dipped, cooked, and fried, the only thing
left was to toss me to the side. -You used to sleep here?
-Yes, sleep here. If you notice, people still sleep here.
All this back here, because it was safe, it was not too light,
it was not too dark, you know, you can kinda peek up and
see what’s going on. -And it was warm?
-No, it was cold. In the summertime it’s okay, but it was hard.
-What did you sleep on, cardboard or something? -We had, in the rain, put the cardboard up.
But see, they don’t allow that. This is a public library.
-When you’re laying here, what are you thinking? …Is this the worst thing
in the world, or what? Actually, I didn’t have a thought,
I just stared at the sky and you see, I was not only homeless,
I was gone mentally, and I didn’t, it was, just existence,
you know, just balled up for the night existence, worry about who’s gonna hurt me,
of course, and who’s gonna, you know, men take advantage of ’em– women. I mean, you wait– when you first pass out,
I pass out and like I said, I go to sleep. I pass out and when I, I just came to,
can you imagine? And you know, sometimes I didn’t
really know where I was. I didn’t, oh God. It’s an
indescribable feeling. It’s just like, you know, that’s when
you go off into depression, deeper and deeper and deeper,
and just wishing you never wake up. You know, of course there’s suicide
comes with that, and I just kept trying and I kept trying, so I just got disgusted,
I said, I can’t live and I can’t die so I existed. -[Man] So, how long did this last for?
How long were you on the streets for? -This lasted almost 20 or 30 years, off and on. -[Man] Just to get a bit of background,
you were one of nine children. That must have been
tough growing up. -Yes, I have three older than me,
my older sister committed suicide at 25. I was really jealous ’cause she succeeded,
but not no more. Then, my brother he’s in Seattle, he’s doing well.
Then my sister, Deborah, I’m trying to help her, that’s the one
sleeping on 65th and Western and it’s really bad. And then comes me,
but and then five little boys up under me they all have different fathers,
so that let’s you know that environment with these men coming in, you know what I’m saying?
I love my mom, she was young, and no I don’t, I’m not
the one that talk about she was young and she
made a lot of mistakes. -Trouble started for you pretty early.
When were you diagnosed? -Well I knew something was wrong.
I knew something was wrong, ’cause everybody’s smiling
and I didn’t get that. You know, it didn’t look like
the sun was shining to me, it hurt my stomach. -When was the moment you said,
“I can’t do this anymore? I’ve gotta… do something about this, you know
I’m fifty-years-old now, you know?’ -I went downtown, and I just took
all sixty of those pills and I said a prayer. I never forgot to pray though, never.
I’m talking the cell phone, “Lord, where are you?
Please come help me.” So, I took the pills and I prayed,
and do you know, I just froze– I didn’t even go to sleep.
So, that’s when I realize, this is, I can’t live and I can’t die.
That part I knew clear. That’s about the only thing
that made any sense to me. I kept thinking, “this man up here
got a plan for me,” ’cause I really don’t want to be here
and I don’t know how to live that’s a cold situation. So that’s when I went to the Excelsior House,
that’s a great place too, I love this program. -So many people are needing help,
that counselors struggle to reach them all. Sharon needed to take the first step. -This room, you got all the ehtereal lights, huh?
-Yeah, that’s, everyday is Christmas to me now. I love this place called Earth,
I never thought that I would say this, look, everything is very peaceful. [Narrator] Sharon’s been off the
streets for just a year. She now works as a peer advocate
for the treatment center that saved her. -[Man] Every day for you now is like,
you wake up and it’s– -Yeah, I’m just ready to help someone.
See, as I climb, I gotta make sure… I have something in my hand,
and my doctor and my therapist told me don’t overdo it, but He got me. -Yeah.
-Yeah. [Narrator]: Now Sharon’s eagerly helping
as many other homeless people as she can. She has a spare bed set up for the
homeless people she picks up off the street. -This is Jesus carrying me. If you notice, he’s
carrying me through the storm, the rain, the quicksand. I mean,
there’s every– see it yourself. -Right.
-It is what it is. Look at that. Beautiful. Do you know I have a problem with,
this is why I’m afraid now for me? ‘Cause I feel like I don’t deserve anything.
Every time I would do good, then I’ll make sure I kick myself down. And I’m really aware of that now,
so I’m really watching myself now, and I’m talking about it to
everybody that will listen and have that feeling in their heart. -This is your sister?
-Yeah, that’s my sister and this is me. -And she lives– -She’s about eight, yeah. I would like
for you to see her. Maybe she could– -Maybe we can go today and see her.
-I sure hope so. I really need help with her but I’m doing– yeah. So you can really
see what’s going on. -What is going on with her? She’s–
-She’s delusional, she’s sick physically, mentally, substance, she’s just
broken. She’s another me. How I was.
-Really? -Yeah, I’m trying to take some of this stuff,
these tools I have and I’m trying to spread them all over the world now,
and she just happened to be my blood. I just want to share the gift of life
with someone else. -Oh, I like that. [Narrator] Somewhere out on these streets
is Sharon’s sister, Debbie, or Angel, as she’s known on the street.
She’s lost in the City of Angels. -How ironic is that.
-[Narrator] We decided to try to find her. ♪ [hip-hop music] ♪ We head south of downtown L.A. to an area
most people will have seen on the news. But there are few good news stories
out of South Central L.A. -Every other corner, you see a
liquor store or a church. -Yeah.
-And that’s only in the black neighborhood. -Right
-And they sell Sysco wine, this really cheap wine. -Yeah.
-That, cause you to get drunk real quick and sick. [Narrator] Sharon is a success.
But hers is a rare success story. It’s all too easy for people to virtually
disappear into the vastness of the city. -We’re getting close to where we are. -60th.
-I think that’s where Deborah
was sleeping back here. -Lot of trash.
-60th Street. Yeah, that’s where she sleeps back there. My mother died when I was 21 and I had
the 13, 14, 15-year-old kids to raise. -Yeah. Where was Debbie at that time? -Deborah was already messed up. She was from the age of, Deborah was abused really bad. I would sleep up under the bed
when Deborah was being raped. I was like seven and she, I was like five
when she was seven, so that’s another reason why I’m so determined to help her,
because I know what happened to her. -Yeah.
-I saw it happen. -And then she tell somebody and my mother
say, “what goes on in the house stays in the house,” so I said I didn’t see anything,
so can you imagine all that piling up on her?– -Yeah.
-Inside as a little bitty girl? [police sirens] I’m gonna have to turn.
Hey, have you seen Angel? You haven’t seen her? Alright.
She also sleeps in Compton. -Yeah?
-Yeah. -How does she get there?
-Huh? -How would she get there?
-Panhandle. See, last time I picked her up, she was
on that porch right there asleep, in the rain.
[Narrator] As we search for Angel, we come accross one of Sharon’s friends
still living on the street. -If it’ll help somebody, we trying to get some help
-We just got on the freeway. [Narrator] She’s nervous of the
camera and refuses to talk to us. -You have any change?
-No, I don’t have no money in my pockets. [Narrator] Just meters down the road,
a newly homeless guy. -You still homeless?
-[Narrator] There are people in need everywhere. -Hi, I’m Louis.
-Nice to meet you, man. How are you?
-Good. -So, this is your home right now?
-Yeah, this is my bed and my clothes underneath that. This is my home.
-Yeah? What put you into this situation? -I think financial reasons. Not enough money
to afford all that commodities and stuff. I think it was a financial reason.
-And who’s helping? -Right now?
-Yeah. -Well, I wait for public assistance and
I just live on whatever I can get out here. There’s more of the homeless
people right there. Yeah, she always– they fight over blankets. Que paso? Have you seen Angel? -No, who are ya’ll?
Why are ya’ll watching me… on camera? -I’m looking for Angel.
I was looking for Angel. -Angel in jail.
-Oh yeah? -Yeah.
-Why you look mad? You don’t know Angel’s in jail? -No, that’s my sister.
-You talking about skinny Angel? -Yeah.
-She in jail. -Alright. Wow. -She got problems when they
raided the house down the street. -What was she doing? Smoking crack? -No, she bough something for
an undercover police officer. -Oh, God! She’s gone to jail. She’s gone. -So, not so good news. -No. No, I don’t really know how to digest that,
but the one thing I know for sure is that she has a second chance.
Sometimes you don’t get arrested, you get rescued. [Narrator] Angel’s story is typical.
In and out of jail, on and off the streets. And a mental illness and
drug addiction to boot. But unlike Sharon, Angel is not ready
to let go of the only life she knows. -You know, sometimes when you’re out here… you just take anything just to
make the pain go away. -Not a nice way to find out though, is it?
From somebody else. -No, it’s horrible. I’m hurting.
I guess I’m hurting. [Narrator] For 25 long years, Sharon
lived on these streets. Not lived, existed. There are organizations striving to help
people living with mental illness, but the problem is so overwhelming. Too many people just end up
back on the street or worse… in jail. Some say, the L.A. county jail is the de facto,
biggest mental institution in the world. It’s the evening muster
at the Union Rescue Mission. There, people with nowhere else to go. It’s scary to think how easy it is to
slip off the edge in the United States. If you lose your job and miss
a few payments on the house, there’s often not a lot standing
between you and Skid Row. This is the first dinner
session of the evening. They’ll feed about a thousand people tonight,
first of all it’s the women, then the men, and they also feed the families separately as well. It’s a lot of mouths to feed. [Narrator] Up on the roof,
it felt like a million miles away. The sun was still shining, and it was
another beautiful L.A. sunset. Downstairs, they were setting up for the evening.
Staff here at the rescue mission know they have the skills to
help people back on track. People need to make a
conscious choice to seek help. But if you have a mental illness,
that choice isn’t so clear.