COVID-19 cannot cease the Sidewalk Undertaking on skid row

by -50 views

Three years in the past, dominatrix Soma Snakeoil was going to donate her outdated floggers and dominatrix garments to intercourse staff residing on the road when she met Russia, a girl in her 50s who was housed in a tent on Los Angeles’ skid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 how you can use a flogger and I used to be like, ‘I wanna be your buddy.’ She ended up with a few of my outdated dungeon provides, and we linked, and I simply saved going again to her and taking her stuff and slowly creating a relationship.”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 “House Avenue House” made it to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Heart in 2018. The manufacturing about runaway teenagers surviving on the road was co-written along 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 vital for me to make use of ‘House Avenue House’ as a type of activism for individuals who didn’t have a voice, after which sooner or later I actually felt prefer it was vital to not simply write, but in addition to do direct motion,” Snakeoil stated.

Soma Snakeoil, left, and Jen Elizabeth load sack lunches and supplies for people on skid row earlier.

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

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Instances)

She created the Sidewalk Undertaking, a nonprofit devoted to utilizing artwork and music in public well being initiatives for unhoused individuals. (“We use the phrases ‘houseless’ or ‘unhoused’ as a result of we imagine that the phrase ‘homeless’ has a variety of stigma to it,” Snakeoil stated.) And whereas L.A.’s COVID-19 case depend 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 certain to their unorthodox outreach and their mission to assist those that are nonetheless very susceptible.

Snakeoil began the Sidewalk Undertaking alongside Stacey Dee, guitarist of the band Dangerous Cop/Dangerous 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 linked 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 via activism.

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

Along with his assist, the punk rockers had been in a position to construct belief in skid row to raised perceive how you can serve individuals’s wants.

“My complete factor,” Herring stated, “is to do one thing large right here in skid row the place we convey sufficient noise. I informed them, ‘You guys convey the punk rock neighborhood, I’ve the hip-hop neighborhood.’”

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

The Sidewalk Undertaking 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 Undertaking started throwing month-to-month block events the place unhoused individuals may entry important sources whereas having the uncommon little bit of enjoyable.

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

Earlier than the pandemic, these events offered unhoused individuals with artwork actions, musical devices and an open mike 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 somewhat little bit of their time to one thing that makes them really feel good and that they actually get pleasure from — via creating or singing — that reduces the hurt in a day that 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 lowering destructive 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 notably vital to Dee and Snakeoil, who had overcome drug dependancy earlier than beginning the Sidewalk Undertaking.

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 subject.

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

Dee acquired 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 at all times a very powerful factor in my life, and Sidewalk Undertaking now could be simply as thrilling.”

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

Snakeoil is out each day 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 Undertaking volunteers Joe Oneill and Jen Elizabeth gather 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 trade program with us. We’re a cell syringe trade, so we’ve tailor-made it to be going tent-to-tent slightly than having individuals come to us.”

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

“It’s a giant deal,” Snakeoil stated, “and I believe that the explanation we acquired accredited is as a result of the necessity is large 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 state of affairs in society, and likewise, we would like individuals to remain in place. So if a cell trade can go to individuals and convey sources, then there’s not as a lot crowding in areas or lining up, so it’s an excellent mannequin for COVID.”

The Sidewalk Undertaking additionally has been dedicating time to efforts like putting in handwashing stations throughout skid row, achieved with a grant from the state. Artwork actions for unhoused individuals have continued via the portray of murals across the metropolis.

The punk rockers even have turned their consideration to transferring Russia off the road and right into a camper. With the assistance of social media, they obtained a donated RV, however it wanted essential 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 individuals will drive via skid row and shoot individuals with pellet weapons as sport — and that occurred to her proper after her tent caught on hearth. And we had been like, we are able to’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 neighborhood in Imperial County generally known as Slab Metropolis, the place it was given to a pregnant lady in dire want of housing.

The Sidewalk Undertaking continues to develop and has chapters in San Diego, Orange County, Las Vegas and Phoenix. It’s even been in a position to rent individuals from skid row, like Russia, to assist preserve the brand new handwashing stations or assist workers with distributions. But it surely’s searching for extra funding, so it’s collaborating on a multi-artist punk rock cowl of “Lean on Me” to lift cash, which will probably be launched this spring.

“It’s actually vital to indicate how empowerment already occurs and there are methods that work,” Snakeoil stated, “and the methods 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 Undertaking board member, fingers out meals and water on skid row.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Instances)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *