2 Displaced Homeless Men Hike to Spectacle

Times Staff Writer

Most of the homeless displaced from the Union Rescue Mission by the papal visit spent Tuesday morning on metal chairs in a dark city warehouse on Skid Row, sleeping or watching the Pope on television.

But Leo McDaniel and Michael Williams decided to walk the eight blocks to watch Pope John Paul II's motorcade.

They left the squat, one-story brick building at 527 Crocker St. that the city had cleared of surplus furniture to accommodate 385 transients moved out of the Union Rescue Mission by the Secret Service for security reasons. The mission is located next to St. Vibiana's Cathedral, where the Pope is staying.

Williams, 44, dressed in a clean shirt, jeans, and worn black shoes, said he is a mortician, now jobless, and had been around Skid Row for seven months. McDaniel, a bearded 27-year-old, wore snappy Adidas pants, Nike sneakers, and a T-shirt. He'd been there for three weeks and was working out what he called "bad karma."

The pair threaded their way eight blocks through Skid Row, careful not to jaywalk. "Cops always giving us tickets for that," Williams said. Several area regulars were already sitting on the sidewalks, leaning against buildings, and the gutters were full of empty beer cans and Thunderbird wine bottles. "Happy Pope Day!" a fellow transient yelled.

The closer they got to the motorcade route, the cleaner the streets became, and finally they were part of the crowd at 5th Street and Broadway.

They waited, and while they did not look so different from the people around them, they were from a different world. While a family nearby watched the Pope's airport arrival on portable television, they passed the time picking out those in the crowd they thought might be plainclothes police.

McDaniel wondered about John Paul. "Is he really true, does he really care?" he asked, talking to himself, "or is he just another person with power?"

Williams shrugged. "He should see us, how people are really living."

They marveled at the security precautions. "The millions, the money they spent for these two days here, when they won't spend $1 million for the homeless, it's sickening," Williams said.

After an hour, the Pope flashed by, gone in an instant. The people around them yelled "Papa" and clapped. The two men were silent. They headed back to Crocker Street, again careful not to jaywalk, even though most of the departing crowd ignored the traffic lights.

Staying on Schedule

At the warehouse, other transients, whom mission personnel call "guests," said they did not mind the temporary relocation too much, although they were somewhat fearful. The Skid Row section of Main Street around the Union Rescue Mission attracts mostly alcoholics, they said, while the Crocker Street area has many drug addicts, is tougher, meaner and more dangerous. Some said they had never traveled the nine blocks between the two places or been "this far west."

Still, mission staffer Ray McCaan said, "It's been quiet, relaxed and friendly." Workers have largely been able to stick to the regular schedule of three meals a day and two Protestant, nondenominational religious services, he said. Instead of using the mission piano, the daytime chaplain plays hymns on his guitar.

Another 85 mission clients are being housed at St. Vincent's Men's Center this week, McCaan said, while 220 men who are either mission employees or enrolled in alcohol or other rehabilitation programs continue to stay at the mission.

Back from his excursion, Williams sat down on a metal chair, glad he went to see the Pope. "It was very interesting," he said, adding with a sigh, "I just want to know what tomorrow brings."

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