"Watch out for the doo-doo."
Kevin lives on skid row, where the streets, despite the recent efforts of the Los Angeles Police Department, remain littered with the detritus of failure and addiction and poverty -- half-eaten cans of baked beans; spilled suitcases; the occasional corpse.
It seems almost frivolous to worry about playtime. But kids must be kids, even here. So over the last two months, city officials, skid row advocates and police have hatched a plan that seems radical only here: to let children play in a park, once a week.
For as long as anyone can remember, tiny Gladys Park has been ceded to grown-ups.
These days, scores of homeless people and addicts gather there in relative peace, to sleep, to play cards. But at times, the park has degenerated into a "crime orgy," said LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who has spent 10 years patrolling skid row. Not long ago, a heroin enterprise left behind piles of colored balloons used to package drugs.
Now, on Friday afternoons, a phalanx of police cars pulls up to the park shortly after noon.
Adults are cleared out. Officers pick over every blade in the tiny section of grass, on a hill overlooking a colorful mural and six palm trees, to make sure there aren't any stray syringes. Then they open the green iron gates, this time for kids only.
"They don't have any place to play," Joseph said. "This is one place for them to come and get away from everything."
There is a greater sense of community on skid row than one might think: a three-on-three basketball tournament, street-side domino rivalries between old friends.
Still, the district's 50 square blocks are believed to be home to 400 registered sex offenders and 3,000 people on probation or parole for violent crimes or drug charges. According to some estimates, though no one knows for sure, half the residents have some form of mental illness. Just a few blocks from Kevin's hotel, there is a woman known to all as the Doctor because she can find a vein for intravenous drugs when even the most hardened junkie has given up.
Authorities concluded long ago that this was no place for a kid to grow up. But even though hundreds have been relocated in recent years, there are still at least 150 children on skid row. For many, the future is dark.
Kevin's parents met at the Ohio Hotel; both work there, his mother at the front desk and his father as a handyman of sorts. It is the only home Kevin has ever known.
The $100-a-week hotel is hidden away in a forbidding pocket of skid row known as the Bottoms, away from most missions and social services agencies. There are few commercial enterprises in the area other than seafood distributors; on hot days, the streets smell like squid.
Conditions at the Ohio have improved in recent years, but city documents filed during a recent review of the district's 40-odd residential hotels alleged drug deals, "nightly fights" and "used condoms in the bathroom."
Even now, a hand-written sign next to the front desk, just a few feet from Kevin's apartment, is meant to ward off troublemakers: "Sí, su visita es problemática." Yes, your visit causes a problem.
Outside, it's no better.
"¡Todos son animales!" a tiny, hunched woman, clearly mentally ill, screamed at Kevin one recent afternoon after he walked outside. "You're all animals!"