Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving on Skid Row

I returned from visiting my mother in the late afternoon. I put my laptop in the room and walked around the neignborhood. They were folding downt the stage at the Midnight Mission when I arrived. The entertainment was over and the reality of life, as experienced by these citizens of the United States, is the aftermath. As the holidays are experienced and enjoyed by many in this country, let us not lose sight of the fact that, while many during these holidays revisit the dreams and hopes they have for themselves and there families, there are, in this country, during holiday times, very scared, lonely and frightened people. They are in homes and warm apartments as well as on the streets of America.

They had special dreams, hopes and desires. They believed they would come true.
However as what happens more often than not in this world, the reality of life continually leaks upon us, and, in many ways, forms vast oceans that separate many from those islands of hopes and dreams that bring joy and peace to souls.

Some people can still see rheir dreams in the distant horizon and can hold on to a faith that they will be able to swim ashore and enjoy the blessings that each respective island brings. To others, those dreams and hopes are not visible or felt. they are beyond the visible horizon and have also beyond the feeling of their souls. These individuals feel lost and feel forgotten. I know what it is like to feel lost and forgotten.

Someone recently said "American is better than this." I hope we prove it because nobody in America should experience Thanksgiving Day like these people experienced Thanksgiving Day, 2008. There are many Skid Rows across America where people outside in the streets feel like they will never feel the warmth of being inside. There are people who are inside who feel they are outside or who fear being outside soon. It is a time for people in America to not isolate ourselves, but to reach out and link up and through our links form a strong chain of unity.

Lets pray for the people on the streets and pray that we can find within ourselves ways to help them. For to help them we help and enrich ourselves as well.

"America is better than this."

Monday, November 17, 2008

HIV Loneliness in Skid Row

There is a phrase in the salutation before every class of the martial art Pentjak Silat , “Let my eyes see what they do not see.” I have many times asked that very same thing. I know there are things that I do not know about Skid Row. There are many things that I know escape my attention. Many times these things are right in front of me, but I am just not ready to see them.
I have been living in the Skid Row community for almost two years now. And as many have described it, Skid Row is a community where many of society’s unwanted and shunned has found themselves, whether by intent or circumstances that they did not control. I have found that people who could not talk about substance abuse problems can discuss them out in the open. Women who have been abused and were ashamed of their plight could gain support by seeking out someone who share a similar past.
I have came here as a client and now I work here and I serve those who have various challenges. Needless to say considerable insight into the life experiences of many who have challenges that are understood or even cared about by those outside of the Skid Row community.
I thought every person was visible and could openly discuss their problems and issues. Women and men talk about being disconnected from their families. They also talk about having their children taken away from them. They deal with that pain while fighting the addictions, in most cases, that brought about the reality of their present circumstance.
The transgender population is open and visible and they are shunned in most places. So I was led to believe that no matter who you are, you could walk up to almost anyone and you would have an open ear to which you could ask for guidance and direction. But I was wrong.
The HIV population in Skid Row does not walk around in open communication. I was in one meeting, in early 2007, in which a person talked about being HIV positive. They are in the shelters but no one knows who they are because of confidentiality laws. Two men died in the shelter that I was in and I did not know they were HIV positive until they died.
I interviewed for a position recently. I would have interfaced with HIV clients. It was talked about in a very matter of fact fashion. There was no judgment in the attitude of the project managers in referring to their clients. The case workers view them as clients and are there to support them. But in the community at large, a community in which they are embedded, they walk and suffer in silence. They cannot openly discuss their problems with anyone they see. To do so would begin a wild brush fire of gossip and finger pointing. Soon they would be isolated from others in the neighborhood. In a community where most of the residents are shunned by outsiders, the residents shun a segment of their own population. Ironic isn’t it. In a community where sex partners are traded on a regular basis, where people practice unsafe sex or share needles to use drugs, you would think that there would be more compassion. However, I guess there is a social stratification in every society and in the Skid Row Community does not escape that social dynamic and all of the ugliness that can accompany it.
I wonder if there will be hope for the HIV population in the next four years. Will they get the attention and understanding they deserve. When there is so much suffering in our country, I speculate that people will be more concerned with their own security and have little energy to worry about those that are already forgotten by most of society. In a community where there is so much suffering, it is clear that there are levels of suffering. The suffering has characteristics unique to its specific category.
Jubal and Cheryl Rade of the HIV Alliance in Eugene, Oregon put together this video. Three individuals talk about what it is like to live after being diagnosed as HIV positive. I hope this video teaches people to have more compassion for others. Many in Skid Row suffer like these three individuals. If there is going to be change in America, let us also change the way we treat eachother. Understand the pain of your fellow man or woman. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Skid Row Women's League

The Skid Row 3 on 3 Street Basketball League now has a women's division. This fall the league added on a women's division. In a community where the institutions have been created and designed have largely designed services to answer the needs of men, to the exclusion of women AND families, the Skid Row 3 on 3 Street Basketball League has embraced women into its agenda of community outreach. Currently there are two women's teams and OG, the league commissioner, is very excited about the involvement of women in the league. "They are much better than the men. The men will show up to the games but the women will show up to all of the meetings. They are getting involved in the total planning process. They are used to that type of activity because they take care of kids and the family so they are accustomed to keeping an eye on the details", commented OG.
I was sitting next to OG when he was talking to his staff about the women. He suddenly softened his tone and shared with them a very special moment. It was during a woman's game when a woman limited skills had been struggling during the game realized that she had possession of the ball in the last two seconds of the game. The game was tied. She desperately tried to find a stronger team mate to whom she could pass the ball. There was no time left so she took the last shot. The ball bounced around the hoop before it sank through the nets. She made the game winning basketball.

The woman was more shocked and relieved than happy but her teammates ran to her, hugged her and gave her a round of high fives. It was a confidence building moment and you could see it developing within her. "That is what this league is about. We build confidence in our league members and you could just see hers building right in front of your eyes."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Historic Voting Day

This morning, I pulled myself up and struggled with my socks and shoes while marginally navigating my way toward the store that had my needed cup of coffee. I could not sleep as the anticipation of the previous not of today's historic event kept me awake. I descended downtown stairs in an elevator and heard a buzz of noise that was foreign to my ears.
The elevator door opened and when I disembarked from it, I noticed that another door leading from the elevator follyeah to the main lobby was closed-an aberration. Faces were behind it. Many faces with no bodies as the door only had a small viewing piece of glass. I opened it and found a long line of people. Ah yes. It was election day and people were in my lobby to vote.
I voted in the primary and was not certain if I was allowed to vote. In the primary there was no line. This time there was a line that snaked from the voting room through the lobby and out of the door and extended down the street. It was beautiful to see. Indeed it was an historic day.

I talked with some who were had been on Skid Row for some time. They said that it was the first time that lines were so long. In the past a voter could walk right in, vote and be on their way within minutes.

Yes folks, I voted. I, like many others, believed we couldn't. Well, I found out I could vote. I could participate in this historic day in America.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

jazz musicians on skid row

Downtown Los Angeles dwellers are interested in the arts. In fact the proliferation of the art galleries in downtown Los Angeles arguably paved the way for additional development in downtown. Cultural events and activities are also an important part of the New Skid Row. The Skid Row Art Exhibit, a few months ago, was the first of its kind in the Skid Row community. The Skid Row Photo Club has started and is increasing in popularity. Indeed there is a strong interest in the arts as well in Skid Row. In some cases the elements of birth that you find sprouting up in the Skid Row community are reminiscent of the Harlem Rennaissance movement in New York in the 1920's and 1930's.

There are people who very dedicated in elevating their artful expression and some of them can be seen every day on the north east corner of Maple and 7th streets. This is a very short clip of them playing Summertime.