Skid row homeless shelter pleads for water donations

The sun was at its peak as the Midnight Mission began lunch service on San Pedro Street in Skid Row.

Sweat dripped from the backs of the homeless men and women who queued up to eat – and drink. The latter became increasingly difficult to obtain as the summer heat settled on Los Angeles, the US city with the largest homeless population.

For Midnight Mission, which serves the growing number of homeless, this means a growing need for water donations.

“Water is not a privilege; it is mandatory,” said Georgia Berkovich, the mission’s director of public affairs. “And now even more so, we’re seeing more and more people fetching water and we’re seeing more heat-related illnesses in Skid Row.”

Georgia Berkovich, director of public affairs at The Midnight Mission in downtown Los Angeles, speaks about the mission.

Georgia Berkovich, director of public affairs for the Midnight Mission.

(Al Seib / For Time)

Like many LA neighborhoods, Skid Row is an urban heat island where streets and other infrastructure absorb and reflect heat from the sun more than natural landscapes such as forests and bodies of water.

The non-profit Midnight Mission provides people with little or no shelter with basic needs, including meals three times a day, access to water and cooling stations.

Between 500 and 1,000 people will line up during the meal service. says Berkovich There is always a shortage of water, but the mission needs more now, especially since some large donors have left the area.

People form a line in front of The Midnight Mission in downtown Los Angeles during the lunchtime edition.

Before the midnight mission, a queue forms for lunch.

(Al Seib / For Time)

Water Drop LA, a mutual aid organization working in Skid Row, focuses on keeping hydrated the homeless. The group distributes about seven pallets of bottled water every weekend and takes it directly to the people in the tents.

Co-founder Aria Cataño says the homeless have limited access to water. When not getting it from organizations like Water Drop, they sometimes tap fire hydrants to clean their dishes and wash their bodies.

“I think I see people getting water mostly as they can,” said Sade Kammen, a Water Drop staffer.

Cataño and Kammen say organizations like theirs are just band-aids temporarily addressing the larger problem of lack of resources and access to shelter from the heat. Over the years, there have been initiatives by the city to provide those resources, they said, but the COVID-19 pandemic has halted that progress.

A person asking for water for a friend during the Midnight Mission's lunchtime edition.

The Midnight Mission provides the residents of Skid Row with food, water and other beverages three times a day.

(Al Seib / For Time)

The city had installed a number of temporary drinking fountains attached to fire hydrants but removed them over fears they could become sources of coronavirus spread.

“If you’re worried about the spread of germs killing people,” Cataño said, “you should be pretty worried about people being killed by dehydration, too.”

Driven by climate change, the drought has exacerbated heat and drinking water shortages, according to an audit by the California State Water Resources Control Board released last week.

“California is in the midst of an historic drought that will only add to the strain on many struggling water systems,” wrote California auditor Michael Tilden.

Mark Rodriguez, a Midnight Mission security guard, said the heat was brutal.

“I’m going to walk up and down the street giving water to the people who are just lying there because it’s so hot,” he said.

Stafford Wilson, 50, left, shares ginger ale with a friend outside of Midnight Mission in downtown Los Angeles.

Stafford Wilson, 50, drinks outside of Midnight Mission.

(Al Seib / For Time)

Stafford Wilson, who is homeless, said he is grateful for the water he gets during the mission’s food services. He says some people don’t understand how much dehydration takes on the body.

“The body needs the water, and when they leave that, the body will leave them,” he said.

In recent weeks, the Midnight Mission has launched social media and email campaigns in hopes of stimulating donations, including water, from parishioners.

“I think if people experience more heat in their places, maybe they’ll feel more compassion,” Berkovich said. “So the donations start flowing in, but we’re always short of water.” Skid row homeless shelter pleads for water donations

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