Described as the ‘last stop at the bottom of the world’ by some of its 6,000 or so hapless and homeless residents, Los Angeles’ Skid Row is a grim circus of pimps, drug dealers, hustlers and prostitutes.
For most of the men and women sleeping and wandering the downtown streets of the City of Angels the idea of divine intervention is as distant as the glimmering lights of Mullholland Drive and the Hollywood Hills.
Their stories are easy to ignore, which is what inspired one documentary filmmaker to brave the violent, tent filled sidewalks to reveal life for what it is on the mean streets of America’s second city.
Having produced two prior films on the drug-addled addicts of Melbourne and Liberty City, Miami, Australian filmmaker, Shanks Rajendran decided to turn his attention to Skid Row in early 2013.
However, his gonzo journalistic style almost landed him in trouble on his very first night filming.
Sitting in his car with his camera, Rajendran, 28, was initiated immediately into the ways of the streets when around half-a-dozen guys stormed up to his car to demand why he was filming.
‘They thought I was an undercover cop,’ said Rajendran to MailOnline.
‘They were screaming, ‘You can’t be doing that,’ said the documentary maker.
In video from his recently released documentary of his 18 months on Skid Row, Los Scandalous, the terrifying incident is played out in full.
In the video, one man approaches the car, demonstrably calmer than the others and tells the filmmaker that he is being foolish.
‘People are doing personal private things around here … We got entrepreneurs and other things around here.’
That mans name is Lavell Putman and with his help, Rajendran managed to talk down the irate men.
‘I showed them my previous work and they came to believe that I was not a cop, but a genuine filmmaker,’ said Rajendran to MailOnline.
From that day on, Putman became the Australian’s personal guide through Skid Row, opening doors that would have taken weeks, if not months to open.
With his checkered criminal history of robbery and being a former gang member, Putman had the necessary trust among the residents of Skid Row for Rajendran to film startling confessions and shocking snippets of drug taking and abuse.
Some of the doors that Putman opened were quite literal.
In one shocking episode from Los Scandalous, Putman and Rajendran walk up to a public toilet and knock on the door.
Inside is a man sitting on the toilet cooking up what seems to be crack, but is in fact just bicarbonate of soda without any cocaine – fake crack.
‘This man had people knocking on the door begging to buy what they believed was crack cocaine,’ said Rajendran.
‘The dealer said that they didn’t know any better and that in their state, ‘fake Gucci’ might as well be ‘real Gucci’ and he was only there to make money from them.
‘Fooling people and making money from the weak is what goes on on Skid Row.’
Indeed, the reality of Skid Row is that not all of those on the streets are destitute.
An entire economy has sprung up around abusing the addicts, with drug dealers coming from miles around to ply their trade along the streets.