In the heart of Los Angeles, there is a new home for low-income families and community members who are organizing to stop gentrification that is reshaping their city, a place that’s designed to serve as an anchor in their neighborhood.
On June 24, the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) celebrates the grand opening of its Justice and Wellness Center in the city’s Skid Row neighborhood. It is a sustainable complex of classrooms, gardens, art areas and gathering spaces that will support LA’s downtown neighborhoods, and the people who live there, in the coming years.
The center merges the grassroots group’s organizing work – advocacy, leadership development and social change – with spaces for artistic work, said Pete White, LA CAN’s executive director.
“One part of the organization is to develop the sort of political acumen, leadership needed to move our social change goals. But, the other side of the building…that is the cultural piece that allows us to create material that expands our vision for what’s possible.” White said.
“(B)ring those two together you are really talking about social movements and social change.”
The center grew, in part, from the challenges LA CAN has been addressing for years: the intensifying waves of gentrification that are changing Los Angeles, and Skid Row in particular, and the need for affordable housing.
Over the years, LA CAN was repeatedly forced to move, changes that disrupted its work to help and support low-income community members by amplifying their voices in policy and politics and fighting for their place in the city.
Today, there are two competing visions of Los Angeles, according to White. On one side, developers and public officials are trying to shape Los Angeles into the “Manhattan of the West Coast,” he said.
On the other, LA CAN and others are fighting for downtown communities and against their displacement from the city, he explained.
Increasingly, low-income residents are not simply displaced by gentrification, they are banished because “there is nowhere to go in the region, White added.
n the future, the center will serve as an anchor for these residents and communities. There will be a community room and meeting areas, other offices, a rooftop garden full of vegetables and fruits to help end “food deserts” and the first ever LA CAN University, which will support leadership development and policy work.
Overall, it will enhance the community of Skid Row and strengthen their voice in the city.
“It provides a space for us to fully implement our three-pronged social justice strategy – community organizing, community service and community improvement,” White said.
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News. The top image is courtesy of LA CAN.
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