He used to be one of them. Now an attorney, he's dedicated to helping drug addicts and skid row residents.
Legal aid lawyer Louis Rafti was leading a group of law students on a tour of skid row when he saw it in the corner of a homeless shelter.
The cot. The very one, he could swear it was, that he had slept on during his last night on the row a few years before.
Rafti froze. He didn't say a word, but a sense of wonder overwhelmed him.
Wonder that he did not have a crack pipe in his hand. Or a needle in his arm. That he had a home, a job, a life.
These days, Rafti is a pugnacious housing rights lawyer for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, known for his take-no-prisoners advocacy on behalf of the poor and disabled.
What many of his clients and colleagues don't know is that until six years ago, Rafti was a homeless cocaine addict. He contracted HIV from dirty needles. He watched friends die. He would get cleaned up, only to relapse and return to the streets.
Now, at age 49, dressed in sensible shoes and a dark polo shirt, he is back on the streets of skid row -- this time as a lawyer for the kind of person he once was.