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Workout Facility Provides Healthy Pastime on Skid Row

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Resplendent in a navy blue suit, boldly checked shirt and blue rep tie, Larry Williams programmed the stationary stair-climbing machine and started pumping. Breaking into a sweat, the transient hotel resident and recipient of General Relief from the county, also broke out a smile.

“I’m usually not this dressed up when I exercise,” Williams, 44, said after finishing a 10-minute ascent on the machine. “I normally bring a T-shirt or something; I wasn’t expecting to go through a workout.”

Williams was joined Monday by developers and YMCA officials at the dedication ceremony of Ketcham-East YMCA Center--a refuge for the fitness-conscious of Skid Row.

The project is an attempt by the Single Room Occupancy Housing Corporation, a nonprofit city agency--which generally focuses on finding basic shelter for the homeless--to address some of the other needs of downtown’s welfare recipients and low-income residents.

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“The people who come are the ones who want to do something with their lives,” said Kevin Ruffin, a volunteer at the center, at Sixth Street and Stanford Avenue.

“They appreciate being able to come use equipment like this,” he added, nodding toward $50,000 worth of exercise machines and workout stations tucked into a converted storefront in a hotel building that also houses a low-income senior citizens. “The ones we get here are serious about their health.”

Before the center opened, several area social-service agencies had arranged for groups to use the downtown YMCA’s facilities to help “physically detoxify” those being treated for substance abuse, said Robert Wilkins, director of the YMCA’s community programs.

“We’re in such a rat race down here,” said Barbara Dunlap, 38, a recovering heroin addict, who discovered the fitness center when she was going to a job interview at a temporary employment agency. “The (Skid Row) surroundings turn us into really ugly people. We’re suspicious of each other. We see each other in the street and give hard looks. But the attitude of people (in the center) is much different. It’s one of the few places on Skid Row where the environment is healthy.”

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Williams agreed that having a place to exercise has given him a better outlook on the area. “During a good workout, you get soaked,” he said. “But the sweating feels good. Afterward, I don’t really feel tired, either. I am usually so up.”

Williams said he has been coming regularly to the new facility since he passed it in March as he walked from the General Relief office to his hotel room.

“I was surprised to see something like this offered for free,” Williams said as he mopped beads of sweat from his upper lip.

Center visitors are required to sign in with a trainer and to wait patiently for others to finish using the stations. If the center becomes crowded, patrons are asked to follow a prescribed workout, which limits the time each individual may use a station.

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The center, at 800 E. 6th Street, is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.


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