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Chat & Selfie

Young advocate reveals the rewards of helping L.A.'s homeless

We talk to Sasha Truong of Skid Row Housing Trust on helping L.A.'s homeless, and her favorite downtown bars

1. Find yourself in front of Full House Restaurant....

2. Locate the alley on the left-hand side of Full House.

3. Walk about 20 feet down the alley (away from the street).

4. Stop.

5. Notice dumpster on your right-hand side.

So begin the directions to the literally underground club in Los Angeles' Chinatown where California ran into Sasha Truong. The 2011 Cornell graduate was at Betalevel for a Boom magazine event, and hung out afterward in the dimly lighted, low-ceilinged, microbrew-scented basement venue chatting about her work as a project manager with the Skid Row Housing Trust. California later emailed her a few questions. We've crunched the conversation below:

Hipsters vs. the homeless — Who are you rooting for?

Obviously the homeless, and I prefer to say "individuals experiencing homelessness." We should all be rooting for them to find housing. It means less public resources wasted on prisons, hospital emergency rooms and institutions. Real hipsters would want them to win, too.

You grew up in Irvine. Isn't that technically the exact opposite environment from Los Angeles' skid row?

Yes. Irvine was a great place to grow up — safe and wide streets, good schools, perfectly pruned parks, free music programs and nice people. But it's a bubble. I find beauty and inspiration in skid row.

Your job is to find or build "supportive" housing — housing that includes services such as counseling. What's the strangest sound you've heard on the job?

When construction workers modify metal on one of our construction sites, the process can be ungraceful. The closest comparison would be the sound made if a whale farted a chain saw.

Is your job scary?

No, it's fun. I get to bring visions to life.

This time be honest, how scary is it working in an area where more than a few people are destitute, desperate, mentally ill and on drugs?

Skid row is not the America or California my parents envisioned when they emigrated from Vietnam. It's scary that we allow an area like this to exist and neglect it. I've had to witness how people struggle to live on the streets, like pooing in the gutter because there are no facilities.

Describe one scene that made you want shed tears of joy or despair.

I showed a resident his apartment for the first time. He looked at the 350-square-foot studio unit and was silent. I felt embarrassed. The unit was dusty and small. He turned around — his eyes like golf balls — and said, "Is this all mine?!"

What's your take on "defensive architecture" — you know, those metal spikes people stick on walls and in doorways to keep out the homeless?

It looks dystopian. It doesn't solve the problem, it just moves it somewhere else.

Name two California public servants who are doing something remotely meaningful about solving the state's homeless problem.

Dr. Mitch Katz (director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Sevices) is transforming healthcare to address homelessness. Mayor Eric Garcetti is positioning L.A. as a leader in ending veteran homelessness.

Care to ID two clueless tools?

No comment. They know who they are.

Name two skid row or skid row-adjacent bars you frequent that are so hip California Section readers might feel ill at ease there.

Yxta at 6th and Central has the best margaritas in L.A. and the Love Song Bar at 5th and Main mixes music and booze like no other.

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