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Monday, April 12, 2021

COVID-19 cannot cease the Sidewalk Challenge on skid row

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Three years in the past, dominatrix Soma Snakeoil was going to donate her previous floggers and dominatrix garments to intercourse staff dwelling on the road when she met Russia, a girl in her 50s who was housed in a tent on Los Angeles’ skid row.

“She simply picked up the flogger and began twirling it round like she knew,” Snakeoil stated. “She positively knew the right way to use a flogger and I used to be like, ‘I wanna be your pal.’ She ended up with a few of my previous dungeon provides, and we related, and I simply saved going again to her and taking her stuff and slowly creating a relationship.”

Snakeoil’s work with people who find themselves unhoused is as idiosyncratic as her background: She’s a punk rocker, an artist, a intercourse employee, a winner on the AVN Awards (the Oscars of porn) and a playwright whose musical “Dwelling Avenue Dwelling” made it to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Middle in 2018. The manufacturing about runaway teenagers surviving on the road was co-written together with her ex-husband, NOFX vocalist Michael “Fats Mike” Burkett, and Jeff Marx, co-creator of the Tony-winning musical “Avenue Q.”

“It was so necessary for me to make use of ‘Dwelling Avenue Dwelling’ as a type of activism for individuals who didn’t have a voice, after which sooner or later I actually felt prefer it was necessary to not simply write, but in addition to do direct motion,” Snakeoil stated.

Soma Snakeoil, left, and Jen Elizabeth load sack lunches and provides for folks on skid row earlier this month.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Instances)

She created the Sidewalk Challenge, a nonprofit devoted to utilizing artwork and music in public well being initiatives for unhoused folks. (“We use the phrases ‘houseless’ or ‘unhoused’ as a result of we imagine that the phrase ‘homeless’ has a whole lot of stigma to it,” Snakeoil stated.) And whereas L.A.’s COVID-19 case rely drops as vaccines roll out and optimism builds towards a post-pandemic future, the hustle doesn’t ease for these street-savvy punk rockers who stay sure to their unorthodox outreach and their mission to assist those that are nonetheless very weak.

Snakeoil began the Sidewalk Challenge alongside Stacey Dee, guitarist of the band Unhealthy Cop/Unhealthy Cop, and Emily T. Nielsen, founding father of the artwork collective and administration group Punk Rock & Paintbrushes. In true DIY trend, the ladies initially simply handed out lunches that they ready themselves. Then they related with Crushow Herring, an L.A. artist, activist and rapper who used to promote medicine on skid row and lived there at one level. Herring stopped dealing medicine in 2006 when his son was born and now maintains his ties to skid row by way of activism.

“He companies his group down there and is an actual chief,” Dee stated. “He walked us into the skid row group and actually made what we do reputable. He gave us the chance to be checked out as an ally, not as anyone making an attempt to maneuver in.”

Together with his assist, the punk rockers have been in a position to construct belief in skid row to higher perceive the right way to serve folks’s wants.

“My entire factor,” Herring stated, “is to do one thing huge right here in skid row the place we carry sufficient noise. I instructed them, ‘You guys carry the punk rock group, I’ve the hip-hop group.’”

Herring stated their backgrounds influenced them to take a extra inventive strategy to fundraising and outreach, particularly because the missions within the space have been doing solely completely different work. “Music brings folks collectively, artwork brings folks collectively, and it’s one widespread floor the place cultures come collectively and merge with no confusion.”

The Sidewalk Challenge began organizing fundraisers with Punk Rock & Paintbrushes, auctioning artwork by musicians in distinguished bands like Blink 182, Social Distortion, the Offspring and the Vandals. Most importantly, the Sidewalk Challenge started throwing month-to-month block events the place unhoused folks might entry important assets whereas having the uncommon little bit of enjoyable.

“Sidewalk Challenge normally is a celebration,” Dee stated. “It’s a road social gathering the place we’ve obtained music, stay portray, clothes giveaways, meals, drinks, healthcare kits, hygiene kits, intercourse employee kits, and plus our syringe alternate program.”

Earlier than the pandemic, these events offered unhoused folks with artwork actions, musical devices and an open mic in order that they may play or sing for the crowds.

“Artwork and music are a type of hurt discount,” Dee stated. “If somebody offers a bit of little bit of their time to one thing that makes them really feel good and that they actually get pleasure from — by way of creating or singing — that reduces the hurt in a day which will have in any other case not been that nice for them, so we take a look at music and artwork as being a part of our hurt discount technique.”

The Nationwide Hurt Discount Coalition defines hurt discount as “a set of sensible methods and concepts aimed toward decreasing unfavourable penalties related to drug use.” The NHRC additional defines it as “a motion for social justice constructed on a perception in, and respect for, the rights of people that use medicine.” Incorporating hurt discount was significantly necessary to Dee and Snakeoil, who had overcome drug dependancy earlier than beginning the Sidewalk Challenge.

Soma Snakeoil wears a Sidewalk Project face mask while taking to a man on L.A.'s skid row.

Soma Snakeoil talks to a person on skid row.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Instances)

“My journey to sobriety was a hurt discount journey,” Snakeoil stated, and it’s one of many causes she’s so passionate in regards to the matter.

Dee’s expertise was rooted in childhood. Dee’s dad and mom have been partiers, she stated, and illicit substances have been all the time round. She stated she remembers watching her dad and mom doing traces of cocaine on a telescope lens at residence. “I’d observe my mother round the home and he or she would wipe her hand on it, rub it in opposition to her gums, and I’d do the identical. … She wouldn’t see me, however that’s the way you be taught,” Dee stated.

Dee obtained clear in 2015 after a ruinous incident on tour left her hospitalized.

“My band had an intervention. They got here to me and stated, ‘You should get higher or we’re not gonna be in your life anymore,’ and I’m so grateful that they did that as a result of I had one thing to lose,” Dee stated. “My music was all the time an important factor in my life, and Sidewalk Challenge now’s simply as thrilling.”

When COVID-19 ended the events, the Sidewalk Challenge hit the streets to distribute important provides and to attach folks to companies they may need, together with acquiring drugs for HIV or coronary heart situations, discovering therapy for syphilis or pneumonia, or getting an abortion, Snakeoil stated.

Snakeoil is out daily for roughly 4 hours at a time, and the remainder of the group joins her every Sunday for 5 hours.

Sidewalk Project volunteers Joe Oneill and Jen Elizabeth collect discarded syringes on skid row.

Sidewalk Challenge volunteers Joe Oneill and Jen Elizabeth accumulate discarded syringes on skid row.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Instances)

“Since COVID, we haven’t slowed down and in reality have gotten extra energetic,” Dee stated. “We’ve been figuring out of the again of a truck and going tent-to-tent, nonetheless bringing our hygiene kits, intercourse employee kits and our syringe alternate program with us. We’re a cell syringe alternate, so we’ve tailor-made it to be going tent-to-tent slightly than having folks come to us.”

Ricky Rosales, who works within the metropolis of Los Angeles’ AIDS Coordinator’s Workplace, stated the Sidewalk Challenge is the primary cell syringe alternate program since 1994 to be accepted for hurt discount companies. The venture will get soiled needles off the road and exchanges them for sterile ones.

“It’s a giant deal,” Snakeoil stated, “and I feel that the explanation we obtained accepted is as a result of the necessity is huge on this time of COVID. There’s much more overdoses, and we’re at a syndemic between poverty, systemic racism, HIV, Hep-C and COVID all coming collectively at one time. It’s a disaster scenario in society, and likewise, we would like folks to remain in place. So if a cell alternate can go to folks and produce assets, then there’s not as a lot crowding in places or lining up, so it’s an excellent mannequin for COVID.”

The Sidewalk Challenge additionally has been dedicating time to efforts like putting in hand-washing stations throughout skid row, achieved with a grant from the state. Artwork actions for unhoused folks have continued by way of the portray of murals across the metropolis.

The punk rockers even have turned their consideration to shifting Russia off the road and right into a camper. With the assistance of social media, they obtained a donated RV, however it wanted crucial renovations.

The group couldn’t discover the proper of free expert labor to get the RV mounted. “Then her tent caught on hearth and he or she was burned within the course of,” Snakeoil stated. “Then somebody drove by — that is actually unhappy, however typically folks will drive by way of skid row and shoot folks with pellet weapons as sport — and that occurred to her proper after her tent caught on hearth. And we have been like, we will’t fiddle anymore.”

The group raised sufficient cash to purchase one other camper and stated Russia resides comfortably in it. The unique RV was despatched to the unincorporated squatter group in Imperial County referred to as Slab Metropolis, the place it was given to a pregnant lady in dire want of housing.

The Sidewalk Challenge continues to develop and has chapters in San Diego, Orange County, Las Vegas and Phoenix. It’s even been in a position to rent folks from skid row, like Russia, to assist preserve the brand new hand-washing stations or assist employees with distributions. But it surely’s in search of extra funding, so it’s collaborating on a multi-artist punk rock cowl of “Lean on Me” to boost cash, which shall be launched this spring.

“It’s actually necessary to point out how empowerment already occurs and there are techniques that work,” Snakeoil stated, “and the techniques that work are on the streets.”

Volunteer and board member Joe Oneill hands out food and water on skid row.

Volunteer Joe Oneill, additionally a Sidewalk Challenge board member, fingers out meals and water on skid row.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Instances)



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