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The intersection at East Sixth Street and Los Angeles Street may look like any other in downtown Los Angeles. But at the edge of its faded crosswalks is the unofficial border between two very different cities.
Walk west and you're in a bubble of trendy bars, restaurants and condos. Walk east, and the chronic poverty, homelessness and crime of Skid Row becomes overpowering.
"This really is the heart of Los Angeles," said Alex LiMandri, who founded LA Lofts Realty, which works primarily in the downtown area. "There is no other place like it."
The gentrified portions of downtown have attracted young artists and professionals for much of the last decade. Its population growth skyrocketed following the recession, as thousands of young people poured into the cheaper condos and apartments lining Spring Street.
There were 28,000 people living in downtown in 2008, according to the Department of City Planning. In only seven years that number has doubled, according to LiMandri.
"There has been a very dramatic transformation," said Blair Besten, a director at the Historic Core Business Improvement District. "People continuing to move here just facilitated the momentum and it has kept going."
As people moved into the neighborhood, businesses followed. In only the last two years, 84 new businesses have opened in the Historic Core, according to Besten.
From organic brunch spots to tequila bars, much of downtown is now filled with restaurants and retail stores catering to young people.
"The artists and young people have really made this area one where businesses can thrive," said Nikki Sunseri, who has managed the very popular bar Las Perlas for the last year. "We've had a lot of success here."
Las Perlas is one of many bars and eateries catering to the wealthy clientele that now lives in downtown. The bar offers $9 margaritas and an extensive list of Mexican-only spirits. Its neighbors include the pet boutique Pussy & Pooch, along with a bakery, hair salon, and vape store, which offers e-cigarettes and smoking accessories.
"A lot of our clientele are people who live in downtown," said Spencer Schwartz, a manager at the Vape Supply Co DTLA.
But for these upscale businesses, life in downtown comes with problems that mostly originate on the other side of Los Angeles Street. Only two blocks from Las Perlas is an encampment with the largest homeless population in the country on Skid Row.
11,000 homeless people fill the streets with tents. There are 107 homeless service providers on Skid Row and ten missions that offer food and shelter to the homeless. But despite these services, the homeless rate has continued to rise.
There are now 54,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County according to the Department of Homeless Services. That's an 11 percent increase in only four years, and these shelters cannot stop the drug and crime issues that have sprung up from Skid Row as homeless rates have increased.
"The drug use on Skid Row is out of control," said Andrew Still, a director at the Midnight Mission on Skid Row. "There is very little police presence and it is hard to contain the problems to just Skid Row."
For businesses just off Skid Row, the issues with homelessness are a constant worry.
"It's a constant battle. We are constantly kicking people out," said Schwartz. "I've had mentally ill homeless people coming in and screaming. It's hurting business because people have just gotten apathetic about it."
As homelessness has risen crime has as well. In the last six months there have been 956 violent crimes in downtown, according to the LAPD. That's a 22 percent increase from the previous six-month period.
On the section of East Sixth Street where Pussy & Pooch, Vape Supply Co and Las Perlas are located, there have been 63 crimes in the last six months, according to LAPD data. That includes four assaults, three armed robberies, 14 petty theft cases and nine vehicle thefts. There was also a homicide one block south on Main Street, when Jose Dolores Rodriguez, 42, was shot and killed while working at a clothing manufacturing business.
There have also been 43 crimes in the last month in the .2-mile radius of Pussy & Pooch. A detailed chart of all of the crimes is below.
"The increase in crime lowers the morale of the neighborhood," Besten said. "When you open the paper and see that there have been so many crimes, people pay attention."
Besten and the rest of the Historic Core Business Improvement District have worked in tandem with the LAPD to increase patrols in the area and identify hot spots for crime and quality of life issues.
On March 1, officers shot and killed a homeless man on Skid Row after a brief struggle that was captured on video. The shooting occurred only three blocks from Pussy & Pooch, exemplifying just how close the issues on Skid Row can get to area businesses.
In response to the shooting and the increase in crime the LAPD has assigned units from its elite Metro Division to patrol areas near Skid Row. The patrols began over the summer, and are just one of several security measures put in place to protect local businesses.
Additionally the Historic Core Business Improvement District has their own patrol unit of officers who respond to crimes and concerns from businesses. Businesses can call into a special hot line and have first responders at their stores within minutes. The group also does cleaning, power washing of sidewalks and helps improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.
But more importantly than any program to specifically clamp down on crime, Besten and many business owners have adopted an upbeat attitude about the problems facing the area.
"This is a very cohesive community and people feel like they are a part of something bigger living and working down here," Besten said. "That is a big part of keeping people happy about the neighborhood despite its challenges."
In fact the challenges of working in downtown are part of the allure for some, who favor the grit and urbanism of downtown over West Los Angeles and other areas in the city.
"This is the only part of Los Angeles that is actually a city," LiMandri said. "People are excited to work here. There may be things we have to deal with, but that is part of living in a city."