Skid row residents show up to vote in primary election

Robert Hinkley, left, and Clyde Collins, right, stand outside a polling station in downtown L.A.
Robert Hinkley, left, and Clyde Collins, right, who live in downtown Los Angeles, stand outside the polling station at James Wood Community Center. Hinkley did not vote in Tuesday’s primary election, but Collins did.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A 74-year-old homeless woman walked out of the James M. Wood Community Center in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, leaning on her cane and holding a small voting sticker.

It was primary election day and the woman, who declined to give her name, had made her way from the Union Rescue Mission nearby to the polling station.

“I have always voted,” she said. “It’s very important to let the candidates know that I care about them doing the right thing.”


The right thing, she elaborated, is addressing homelessness in Los Angeles, helping folks like herself trying to get out of shelters and into permanent housing. In the mayor’s race, she doesn’t trust billionaire mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and she knows little about City CouncilmemberKevin De León, but she knows Rep. Karen Bass and voted for her.

She noted that Bass was once a physician assistant, saying she’d bring a touch of care and empathy to City Hall. As a Black elected leader she would have a better understanding of the Black community, especially those affected by the conservative agenda to end abortion rights and an increase in racial violence in the country.

“She’s the most qualified candidate to me,” said the voter, who is Black. “She cares about people.”

For many years skid row has been known as the “capital of homelessness,” but its voting potential is often overlooked or dismissed by political candidates, even as L.A. County has targeted the area to expand voting access.

Edward Bowden, 63, lives near the polling station at the James M. Wood Community Center.
Edward Bowden, who lives near the polling station at the James M. Wood Community Center, says he planned to vote Tuesday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“They don’t recognize the citizens of skid row,” said Edward Bowden, 63, who planned to vote in the afternoon. “I don’t see any candidate talking to the people here.”


In 2020, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk‘s Office launched the Flex Vote Center Program to reach voters “with distinct needs such as voters experiencing homelessness, voters with disabilities, voters residing in assisting living homes and geographically isolated voters.”

Rick Sanchez, spokesman for the county registrar-recorder, said the county partners with nonprofit organizations, community groups and cities to place voting stations in areas with these vulnerable populations. The program has more than 80 polling stations that operate between May 28 to Tuesday.

“Expanding voting access and opportunity that’s the goal of this initiative,” Sanchez said. “We understand there are individuals in the community who may have mobility challenges, or may not have access to find voting centers and they prefer that in-person voting experience.”

The homeless voter who supported Bass said the process was not too difficult and hopes she will have her own place by the presidential election.

She said that she and her husband ended up homeless two months ago after her landlord pressured them to leave her apartment in South L.A, paying them $900 to leave. She said at first she declined the offer and tried to find legal alternatives to stop the landlord from harassing her. But after he threatened to evict her, she took the money and left because an eviction on her record would make it difficult for her to find a new apartment.

A woman who is living at the Union Rescue Mission casts her ballot at a community center.
A woman who is living at the Union Rescue Mission votes on Tuesday at the James M. Wood Community Center in downtown Los Angeles. She declined to give her name.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“But I can’t do $1,900 a month,” she said, adding that she and her husband were paying $1,200 a month with their Social Security checks. “It took up all my paycheck.”

She said she’s on a waiting list for the Section 8 housing choice voucher rent assistance program. She’s been staying at the Union Rescue Mission, but her husband refused to join her and has been living in a tent nearby.

“I told him to come to the shelter so he can get rest,” she said. “I told him baby, be cool, be careful at night, there’s a lot of people not in their right mind out here.’”

Looking around skid row, she glanced at tents lined along San Julian Park. Music played loudly while some people walked around talking to themselves. Earlier in the morning, a man ran in the middle of the street after another man chased him with a small blowtorch, while around the corner paramedics were responding to an apartment.

Clyde Collins, 66, who rents a single room in skid row, said he voted because it was his civic duty, not because he was particularly optimistic that the election would bring about significant change.

He was convinced that none of the candidates would be able to fix the problems of the city, particularly homelessness.


“Politicians only promise you what you want to hear,” Collins said.

It was noon and the voting center had more poll workers than voters.

Pet dogs Zada and Kay wait for their human companion to vote at a community center.
A downtown L.A. resident votes at the James M. Wood Community Center as his two dogs wait. The man declined to give his name.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Walking out of the station back to her nearby apartment on skid row, Avé James, 53, said she was feeling somewhat hopeful about this year’s election. She didn’t say whom she voted for, but said she wants the candidates to address homelessness and public safety. James said her children sometimes visit her. and she’s afraid to go outside with them because it’s not safe.

“I voted for the betterment of the people here,” she said. “That’s why you vote.”

A man looks through the garbage outside the polling station a downtown L.A. community center.
Signs point to a polling station at the James M. Wood Community Center while a man rummages through a trash can on Tuesday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)