Richard Smith has gentle smiling eyes and the spiky disheveled hair of a much younger man. The Veteran of the Korean Conflict just celebrated his 80th birthday at the Ellis Hotel where he has lived for 13 years.
He followed word-of-mouth to his home at SRO Housing’s Ellis Hotel. “I met a vet who told me he lived here and that it was a comfortable place and affordable. I was a little reluctant to live in a place called Skid Row. I thought it would be a dump. Instead, I was taken aback. It was renewed and refurbished. I have enjoyed the Ellis Hotel from the start.”
He has enjoyed the community as well. “Skid Row is the hub of Los Angeles. I have adapted very well.” His pace has slowed a bit while he recovers from surgery. In the past, he spent the majority of his time at community events and activities and wrote for a community newsletter until he was laid off. And now, he has more time to think about the past.
Smith says he is most proud of his military service, "I have lived a great life compared to people who have never left Los Angeles." He served as an Army linguist during the Korean War. Stationed in Japan, he was trained in interrogation techniques to conduct interviews with suspected spies. He gently brushes off a request for more detail, "I signed a non-disclosure form."
His background includes a family tradition of service. His father was in the Coast Guard and his sister was a nurse. After discharge from the Army, he worked as a draftsman and later as an apartment manager. When he found himself homeless for a brief period, he was grateful to find a home at the Ellis Hotel.
Now, he trusts his neighbors and building management to look out for him. “I get my meals a day five days a week in the dining room. It is a real advantage to me in a lot of ways. I don’t know the first thing about cooking. I have my cereal for breakfast and I open up a can of whatever I get from the food bank. I pay my neighbor a few dollars to cook for me.”
The building’s state-of-the-art community kitchen is a hub of activity at meal time. Every Thursday, Food Bank
distribution adds to the activity and every week day, a hot lunch is served. Smith is a regular. Residents and community members greet him warmly and he smiles at the attention.
"Now that I'm a senior citizen, I try to keep active but I've slowed down some. The other day I was on my way to church and the police stopped me and asked me where I was going. I told them and they drove me to the door of my church. I like it here. Skid Row is a real community."
Richard Smith and other SRO Housing residents benefit from a varied menu of social services. You can help.
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