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Los Angeles

Block Party to Shed Light on Street Scene

The event aims to draw attention to the residents of downtown's skid row and to the organizations that work on their behalf.

August 31, 2003|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

The streets of downtown's skid row may seem an unlikely place to host a block party.

The way Pete White sees it, though, any community benefits when people get together to eat, share a good time and learn.

So on Monday on San Julian Street in the heart of skid row, there will be music, food, games -- and information that could help change people's lives.

"We felt a block party was really the way to bring people out, the way we do in other communities," said White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network. "No one wants to acknowledge that this community exists."

The block party will serve a dual purpose, White said: It will shine a light on both the area's long-term residents and on the organizations that work on their behalf at a time of massive change.

According to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, more than 2,600 housing units are under construction. Developers have received permits or submitted plans for another 2,200.

With its loft apartments, new restaurants and stores, downtown is becoming more attractive to residents. Advocates worry though that increased housing prices will force current residents from the only homes they can afford. Encampments for the homeless are resurfacing in other areas.

"The boundary is going to be pushed further and further east," White said.

The changes have also affected downtown organizations. The Spring Street building that houses the Community Action Network and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is being converted to lofts, forcing both groups to move, White said.

In the midst of the changes, the Share the Wealth Coalition, a gathering of several organizations advocating for downtown's poor, won key support.

"The mayor and the coalition have met and discussed several platform issues and have found common ground," said Sarah Dusseault, the mayor's deputy for economic development. "On many of the issues, we're working together."

Mayor James K. Hahn has agreed to help create a notification system that would offer current residents the first opportunity to rent any new affordable units. He also agreed to a "no-net-loss policy" that says the total number of affordable units in a redevelopment area will not be decreased.

"This is particularly relevant in downtown," Dusseault said. "He's not interested in kicking poor people out. He would like to bring in more residents of all income levels."

A job-training program for residents who live in and around the downtown area has also won backing from the mayor. The program was negotiated by the Figueroa Corridor Coalition with the developers of the $1-billion L.A. Sports and Entertainment District, which is to be located next to the Staples Center, said Sandra McNeill, coordinator of the Share the Wealth Coalition.

The agreement calls for 70% of the jobs created by the project to be union and 50% be filled by community people, McNeill said.

At the block party, residents will be able to sign up for the Figueroa Corridor Community Jobs Program. Through the program, due to begin Oct. 17 at Trade Tech College, participants will be able to earn high school diplomas or associates' degrees or to acquire enough computer skills and English literacy to get better jobs.

The goal is "to prepare folks to really have a place in this community -- especially as it changes so rapidly -- and to take advantage of the development that's going on," said Haleemah Henderson, community development coordinator for the organization Strategic Actions for a Just Economy.

Representatives of Volunteers of America will also participate in the block party, serving hot dogs and drinks and offering referrals for drug and alcohol treatment programs.

"We're not putting pressure on people to do anything on that day. It's a day to enjoy," said Jim Howat, director of Volunteers of America. "Sometimes that's when a person makes the best decisions -- when they're relaxed and not under pressure."

Organizers expect a mix of residents from downtown and South Park. On a stage set up in the middle of the block, speakers will discuss issues such as housing policies and universal health care. So many children attended last year that organizers have added games and gift bags this time.

One of the most anticipated events of the day may be a showcase of local talent, dubbed "Apollo West." Last year's hits were a Tina Turner imitator and a James Brown imitator who showed up with background dancers.

"I think sometimes we forget people in recovery and people that are working trying to get out of homelessness have to experience some joy every now and then," Howat said. "That's what we really try to do on this day."

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