Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Street festival aims to reduce the stigma of Skid Row
Skid Row is the epicenter of homelessness in Los Angeles, which is to say that Skid Row is the epicenter of homelessness in the United States. A 2011 count recorded 23,539 homeless people in L.A., 4,316 of which were in the Skid Row area. The problem is nothing new, at this point, it's taken as a given.
Skid Row certainly needs many things. What it’s getting this weekend is a hip hop concert.
Organized by Public Enemy’s Chuck D and hip hop producer and now Skid Row activist General Jeff, Occupy Skid Row will be an afternoon festival on the streets of Skid Row. Featuring performances from hip hop acts like Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and Kurupt, the event is aimed at providing something positive for a part of town and a community that has largely been ignored.
"It’s basically society’s unwanted. The place where human beings are thrown away," says General Jeff (whose real name is Jeff Page). He’s resident director for the Central City East Association’s Skid Row efforts and has been a community organizer in Skid Row since 2007.
Occupy Skid Row will be a free event and all of the performers are appearing on a volunteer basis “We don’t even have a sponsor," says General Jeff.
The street festival will also include speakers, live painting, a book giveaway and food trucks. In addition to providing a day of activity for residents of Skid Row, the event is intended to appeal to an audience from outside the area. And while it might seem a little out of place to throw a street festival in the heart of a city’s destitution, for General Jeff that’s the whole point.
"Just by them coming to Skid Row, they’ll get a sense of the Skid Row community’s perspective," says General Jeff. He says the area suffers from a stigma that’s hard to break. He’s hoping that an event like this will help erode that negative perception.
"If it’s okay to come on this day, it’s okay to come on any day," he says.
He argues that the area is significantly different than it used to be. Its problems, like excessive drug use and street crime, have diminished over the years. "The old wild, wild West days are over," he says.
The idea of luring people to Skid Row is an interesting approach to generating some attention in an area mainly associated with extreme poverty and homelessness. Whether a hip hop concert will change anything is debatable. But, for the organizers, bringing more people down to Skid Row – and not just more homeless people – is a step towards change.