A crowd of antsy women stood on skid row, applying glitter, adjusting sashes, fidgeting with their hair. Behind them was a modest brick building with a faded mural on the wall. For decades, this was the Downtown Women’s Center.
On Friday morning, at the cue of a bongo drum and with a chorus of cheers, the women paraded Mardi Gras-style down Los Angeles Street to the center’s new home.
The sidewalks could barely contain their dancing and singing. “Stay out of the street,” a parade leader called out.
Angie Wade didn’t seem to hear it. She was grooving in the right lane, clapping her hands. Wade is a residential manager at the center, which helps homeless women on skid row. She said of the new facility, which is twice the size of the old one: “People are walking on clouds.”
A woman named Jazz walked nearby, resplendent in gold cowboy boots, a gold blouse and gold hoop earrings. Once a center regular, she now lives in a single-room-occupancy building nearby. “I came back for this,” she said.
The parade turned east on 4th Street. Shop owners and parking lot attendees stopped to take it in. Some gave the women high-fives.
Angeles Socarras, a homeless man from Cuba, shook his hips and said, “In my country, we dance in the street too.”
At the corner of South San Pedro Street, Los Angeles Police Department Officer Deon Joseph rolled down the window of his patrol car and said, “I’m trying to protect all these beautiful ladies here.”
A cheer went up when the new center came into view. A former shoe factory, it now features 71 studio apartments, a rooftop garden, a daytime drop-in center and skid row’s first medical and mental health clinic for women.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was among those waiting in the parking lot. Women, he said in a speech, make up L.A.'s fastest-growing homeless population.
“These are our sisters, our mothers, our friends,” he said. “We’re here to stand for the proposition that everybody — everybody — deserves a home.”