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.