Be the Cause

Revitalization vs. Gentrification

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I am constantly taken aback by you marvelous Be the Cause people. Supun, thank you for sharing the fact that one of the ladies told you that what we served was “Love Food.” It’s amazing how that sentiment can be communicated without words. Thank you all for your time, for running around, gathering ingredients, mindfully creating healthy, filling food. Thank you for your loving hands as you served the Ladies, for carefully handling and presenting this food. Thank you for sitting down, for listening, for making the ladies laugh, for making them reflect on things other than how awful it is out there. Thank you for bringing love into a place surrounded by so much anguish.

The day before, we had the opportunity to take a tour of the Downtown Women’s Center (I’d link to Supun’s previous posting where he addresses this, but big computer make too confusing). Sophia was our resident tour guide — humble, articulate, perceptive and clever. She asked us to have an open mind and understand that people end up on Skid Row for a variety of reasons. She also gave us some history on the DWC, how it was founded in the 1970s by a woman social worker, how it was meant primarily as a permanent residence for ladies with mental illnesses. I like to think that the center was given birth or inspired by the women’s movement. And what type of change is my generation giving birth to?

Sophia addressed the “revitalization” of downtown. As Supun mentioned, “gentrification” is more the word for it. But revitalization? Was downtown dead?

There is life on Skid Row. Everytime I walk into the DWC I feel so much warmth. It is safe there.

Next to the residence is a big empty lot where there’s construction going on — no doubt more space for artists lofts. Many of the ladies who come for lunch are not residents. They come from the streets or nearby hotels, which are probably becoming increasingly expensive, or are soon to be converted into hip said lofts.

Whoever’s in charge of designing Los Angeles has been lusting after this dream of centralizing downtown. This is to be an entertainment center; you’d be able to walk to work, walk your dog and feel safe without fear of being accosted by panhandlers. They’ll have moved “over there” in time. Ironically, one of the biggest selling points of “gentrification” is the prospect of being able to interact with your neighbors, to feel part of an urban community, where you can tip your hat to your barista and say things like top ‘o the mornin to ya!…..Or not.

This is sick.

The DWC houses only 45 ladies. There are thousands of people literally fighting for a place to sleep. And they have all come to congregate on Skid Row. Maybe at some point the land in downtown was cheaper, and therefore “dead” in the economic sense. At that point thousands of low-income folks moved to this area because here they had a chance at survival. Moreover, several resources like the Union Rescue Mission, the Midnight Mission and the Downtown Women’s Center sprang up. I’m afraid that in the years to come they won’t have a fighting chance against those economic, social and cultural forces. I walked by that dirt lot next to the residence and it makes me sad to know that it’s off limits to the DWC.

The reason it’s so important to me that we serve the Ladies good food is because if they can’t get some good sustenance here, where can they? If we do not listen to their troubles, or extend a sense of comfort or love, who will?

The reason we call them “Ladies” is because it changes our perception of them. It may help them to change their perception of themselves. As Rupal observed, some of the Ladies don’t look homeless. A homeless person is supposed to be dirty, ragged, missing teeth. The Ladies at the DWC have their nails done, their hair coiffed, their clothes are clean, they wear more make-up than me. They are actually pretty mindful of what they eat. They appreciated that the food was healthy on Sunday. They are deserving of the same basic comforts as we volunteers are.

The reason we address the Ladies respectfully is because it reminds us and them that we are human. In that space we too are each vulnerable.

***

One lady asked me if I could smell the “Icy Hot” patch on her knee. Hmm…no, I couldn’t. Arthritis? Nah. The day before she was trying to get into “the Union” but 3 of the security guards had to keep this Lady from getting in. She claimed she had a knife. The police were called, they let her go. Now she wears Icy Hot and keeps the 2 bruises on her head covered with her hat. Looking more closely, I could see the edges of dark patches on her black skin.

To what lengths would anyone go to to survive? I also believe in self-fulfilling prophecies, where ultimately you will turn into whatever image authority figures or a majority of other people have of you, however skewed it may be.

Inside the DWC there was love because you Be the Cause folks were there. Thank you for reflecting that human part that resides in everyone.

“Extremely loud and incredibly close”

I started reading this book that my 18 year old cousin recommended to me when she was 17. it’s a book about a nine year old boy who lost his dad in 9/11. There’s a part in the book (one of the many) that really struck my heart because…it’s about ambulances and fire engines. When I was little, we had a house fire and I’ve never been able to hear an ambulance or fire engine drive by..without feeling this dread and fear and unease..and it’s really like nails on chalkboard for me…beyond a pet peeve…almost unbearable. It’s a reminder of loss you could say…not only about the fire but of other losses..and let’s just say…where once it was an annoyance…it has become heartwrenching and impossible for me to hear. And you can’t avoid it…it’s a sound that one could get used to…sirens wailing by…but it stops me in my tracks.

The strangest thing happened a week or so ago…an ambulance went by…on the whole, I send good thoughts, prayers, whatever u may call it…to whoever is in that ambulance or to the person or people waiting for that ambulance. It may seem irreverant to laugh as an ambulance drives by…but the other week…one did and there was this boy about 13 on a skateboard…and the ambulance wails by…and I see this boy put his hands on his ears dramatically and comically while riding on his skateboard…yah, that could cause him to get hurt and summon an ambulance..but something about his dramatasized actions made me giggle..so it was the first time an ambulance/fire engine went by and I didn’t feel clenched up, in fear, dread. I was actually smiling. Something changed my pattern with this. I really feel it turned something around.

But What I wanted to share from the book…this is still what I wish…that people could know as an ambulance drives by…

From the book: “An ambulance drove down the street between us and I imagined who it was carrying, and what had happened to him. Did he break an ankle attempting a hard trick on his skateboard? Or maybe he was dying from third degree burns on ninety percent of his body? Was there any chance that I knew him? Did anyone see the ambulance and wonder if it was me inside?

What about a device that knew everyone you knew? So when an ambulance went down the street, a big sign on the roof could flash:

DON’T WORRY! DON’T WORRY!

If the sick person’s device didn’t detect the device of someone he knew nearby. And if the device did detect the device of someone he knew, the ambulance could flash the name of the person in the ambulance, and either:

IT’S NOTHING MAJOR! IT’S NOTHING MAJOR!

Or if it was something major,

IT’S MAJOR! IT’S MAJOR!

And maybe you could rate the people you knew by how much you loved them, so if the device of the person in the ambulance detected the device of the person he loved the most, or the person who loved him the most, and the person in the ambulance was really badly hurt, and might even die, the ambulance could flash:

GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU! GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU!”

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