Monday, 17 February 2014

Recap #3 Downtown Woman's Centre

After the LACMA/Charles White visit we were kindly invited downtown to Skid Row to the Downtown Women's Centre by Dena Younkin a previous recipient of the Fellowship I am travelling under (she visited the UK from LA last year to look at the UK's social enterprise models in order to apply them here).
The centre is great. It provides cheap supported residential accommodation for homeless women in need of it. There are two retail outlets selling soaps, candles and craft items produced by the women in the centre in conjunction with volunteer designers, developing soft and vocational skills in the women who participate, supporting the running costs of the centre and paying the women for their work. Many of whom have been out of work for decades or indeed never worked a regular job.
There's a cafe and a canteen where homeless women can come and get a hot meal and a dorm where a few can bed down during the day. It's safer to stay awake at night on the streets. The centre was set up in 1978 by Jill Haverson, a social worker who worked in Skid Row in the 70's and 80's and her client/friend Rose.
Here's a painting of the two of them produced from the fingerprints of the centre users for the opening of their new building in 2012.

It seems like a fantastic facility and sounds like there should be more places like it. There are a few hundred people on the waiting list for the 70 odd rooms. Find out more about it here

Skid Row is grim. The level of homelessness and poverty is shameful, as it is across the city. The fact that the richest most powerful country in the world can't provide for vulnerable and mentally ill citizens is a disgrace. It's president's day here so a good time to remind people of Ronald Regan's
closure of mental hospitals causing this explosion in homelessness.

It's a reminder that we need to fight really hard back in the UK to maintain the fragile safety nets we have created to prevent destitution, not that they catch everyone.

People who are homeless in California at least have the minor blessing of relatively warm winters. I spoke briefly to a guy in Venice in the phone shop on my first day, I think he was sleeping rough. He said if you are sleeping out this time of year in New York you don't survive. I wonder what the mortality figures are with the weather this year.

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