The searchers, a couple dozen volunteers and Los Angeles County workers, had orders: Interview everyone living on these streets. Find out how long they've been homeless. Ask about their addictions, their mental and physical health.
Carrie Bach, a 54-year-old nurse with the Public Health Department, was leading one of the teams, a scarf around her neck and a walkie-talkie in her mittens. As her department's homelessness coordinator, she knew skid row better than most. But she felt nervous and a little naive. She had never glimpsed the Boschian tableau that materialized after the warehouses bolted their doors, after the corrugated-metal gates rolled down over the church fronts, cheap-toy outlets and fake-flower shops.