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Skid Row women and volunteers get a day of pampering

By Sonali Kohli
Published: Friday, May 18, 2012, at 04:22PM

Static Salon employee Vanessa Garcia prepares Downtown resident Judy Brown for the fashion show at Women's Day in the Park.

About 15 women danced their way into a circle in the middle of Elysian Park, letting out cheers in response to the instructor’s shout of “How’re you doing?”

“Don’t be shy, let’s go,” dance teacher Ashinee Reynolds said, encouraging her new students as they twisted their hips and shuffled closer together. “Now who can get the lowest?”

Reynolds teaches a dance class once a week at the Downtown Women’s Center. But on Friday, her lesson was transplanted to a patch of grass for the 11th annual Women’s Day in the Park.

The event happens in May to coincide with National Women’s Health Week and Mothers Day. It also allows Downtown organizations like the Women’s Center and the Los Angeles Community Action Network to pamper women from Skid Row and introduce them to health and legal services, explained Debbie Burton, co-chair of the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition, and an LACAN organizer.

Burton, 60, has lived on Skid Row since she was laid off from her job in Koreatown in 1993, she said. She’s moved from the streets to temporary to permanent housing, and became involved with the Downtown Women’s Center in 1999 after seeing that women had little representation and services on Skid Row, she added.

“This is an opportunity for us, the women in our community, to treat other women to a nice day,” Burton said.

This year, buses from two Downtown locations brought over 200 women to the Elysian Park, near Dodger Stadium.

On one end of the park, Downtown resident Judy Brown was getting her hair done for the fashion show later in the afternoon, featuring Skid Row residents.

“I don’t really do this sort of fashion show thing— it’s good, I’m glad I made it,” Brown said, before heading to join the rest of the women eating lunch.

At the other end of the park, women could get clothes and temporary tattoos, or ask for legal advice and sign up for health services.

Many women on Skid Row do not have health insurance, despite the fact that they experience a high rate of physical and mental health problems, according to a 2010 needs assessment from the Downtown Women’s Center.

More than 49 percent of women said they’d experienced physical health problems in the year before the survey, and while nearly a third of the women polled said they came to Skid Row after experiencing domestic violence, 72.3 percent of those women said they weren’t offered services to deal with the violence, according to the report.

On Friday, women could enroll in wellness programs and get health assessments, said Jenn Ma-Pham, the director of clinical health services at the women’s center.

For some Skid Row residents, the day provided an opportunity to get out of the urban environment they’re used to.

“I think it’s helpful to take the women out of Downtown LA and show them something different,” said Raquel Davis, one of the women who was dancing in Reynolds’ circle.

On the bus ride over, women were “hollering” with excitement, she added.

Davis currently lives in permanent housing on Skid Row – come November, she’ll be four years clean from a 20-year drug addiction, she said. The Skid Row housing is only a stepping stone for her, though – she’s currently working toward a state certification in drug and alcohol counseling, Davis explained.

“I want to be able to help people get their life back,” Davis said. “You can live down on Skid Row, you don’t have to die down there.”


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