The office of the newspaper Public Forum is on the second floor of the La Jolla Hotel, 721 East 6th St., Skid Row, Los Angeles.
I visited it the other day to meet the publisher, Barbara Frost, who, together with a few Skid Row volunteers, have put out four editions of the paper. They want to publish it every week.
I know several woman like Frost on the Row. They're educated people of the middle class who've rejected comfort to help those condemned to the city's special hell. I've never met Mother Teresa, but they remind me of her. Some of them, I know, wash the swollen, bloody feet of Skid Row women who stand all night because they're afraid to lie down.
I parked on Crocker Street, around the corner from the La Jolla. That stretch of Crocker is pretty safe, but it begins to get bad farther down, where small groups of tough men, and a very few women, stand by buildings and fences. They're drug addicts, dealers, people who've hit the absolute bottom.
By the time you reach 5th and Crocker, one of the most dangerous intersections in the city, the dealers and addicts are a crack-smoking multitude.
When I rang the bell, the attendant in the La Jolla opened the locked door. Frost, a thin woman with reddish-blonde hair, dressed in a red T-shirt and jeans, met me. She's an intelligent, well-spoken person who carries her sense of mission with a smile.
We walked two flights upstairs to the office, which is also her room. There was a bed, simply made with a blue-gray blanket; a dressing table that serves as a desk; another table with an IBM Selectric; a bookcase with journalism textbooks and, in the corner, a sink. Her room was clean and neat, as was the hotel, one of several refurbished by the Single Room Occupancy corporation, a city-sponsored housing agency.
Frost was a missionary in Central America for 17 years. After the breakup of her second marriage, to a minister, Frost decided to write. She left her three children in Duarte, with their father, her first husband, and looked for a room. First she lived in the Weingart Center, a Skid Row shelter, and then moved to a single room in South-Central Los Angeles.
Driven by a religious calling I don't understand, she camped on the streets, living with the homeless at 5th and Crocker. Awhile back, with the aid of donations from family, friends and her church, she moved into the La Jolla.
She started the newspaper because she felt the city's papers and television and radio stations had forgotten the Row after a brief period of interest. She raised money from friends and friendly organizations, recruited a staff of the homeless and started typing and pasting up the paper in her room.
Printing 1,000 copies costs $240. She has put out four editions and hopes to raise $1,000 to make The Forum a weekly. She's looking for advertisers.
The paper records life on the Row. Photographer Nelson Clark took a page of pictures of the "wake-up call," when the cops roust the street people at dawn each day. Columnist Southern Comfort noted, "You need a partner to go half on a nickel rock. . . . You need a partner to watch for the police while you go into someone's property. All this to lose your freedom. What I am talking about is needing a partner to gain our freedom."
I left the La Jolla and drove north on Crocker, turning left at 5th Street, where Frost had lived. On the side of a building was the powerful mural conceived and executed by Henry Brown, the Skid Row artist who is the art director of Public Forum. It was now obscured by the crowd of crack smokers, but I had been there months earlier, when Brown was painting the mural. I was struck then, and now, by the strength of the human spirit and its ability to create institutions to meet peoples' needs amid all this misery.
That spirit was reflected by the Public Forum's story on Feb. 28 of Flo Hawkins, a homeless artist, winning first place in an art contest sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Census Outreach Program. "I know what it feels like to be rained on while sleeping in an empty parking lot," she said in accepting the prize.
"Once I went to sleep sitting straight up on a church step. People would stare at me and shake their heads as if I was beneath them. They never bothered to look inside at what I yearned for; a chance to express my talent and a nice warm place to live."