Adopt-a-Block: Let’s Talk About Community Engagement in Skid Row - Little Tokyo Service Center

Adopt-a-Block: Let’s Talk About Community Engagement in Skid Row

Adopt-a-Block: Let’s Talk About Community Engagement in Skid Row

By Caitlin Ginnaven, Marketing & Communications Associate

I didn’t really know what to expect going into Adopt-a-Block.

Ahead of the event back in February, I knew that some of my Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) colleagues and I would be in Skid Row to conduct community outreach and engage with folks in the Skid Row community ahead of groundbreaking for our upcoming Umeya affordable and permanent supportive housing project. But beyond that pretty vague description and a few photos from the first Adopt-a-Block, I was essentially in the dark when my supervisor and I pulled up to Crocker Street in Skid Row outside of the vacant former Umeya cracker factory.

The street was lined with tents and makeshift shelters belonging to some of the street’s unhoused residents. A few of our colleagues, as well as the Yaki Papis crew, had already arrived and were setting up tables for food and resources that we would shortly distribute to the community members in attendance. One table displayed mockups and information about the Umeya project for anyone interested in learning more from one of our staff.

Still being new to LTSC, I met some of my colleagues for the first time, including Carol Zou, LTSC’s Artist-in-Residence, and Megan Fu, our Public Art Intern*, and I learned about LTSC’s efforts to utilize the arts as part of our community building approach. For a while, I helped Megan hand out tote bags to the Skid Row residents which they could decorate and personalize with provided supplies.

On the other side of the street, I observed street artist, Crushow Herring, and LACAN (LA Community Action Network) Community Organizer, Natosha Smith, paint a mural in honor of Bam Bam, a recently-passed member of the community. With the green light from LTSC to use Umeya as a canvas, the bold and vibrantly-colored tribute would remain intact, until the building’s demolition, as a reminder to friends, neighbors, and passers-by of Skid Row’s resilience and active community engagement. 

The Umeya site sits on the border of Little Tokyo and Skid Row, presenting LTSC with a unique set of challenges by building in a neighborhood with pre-existing shared history. Since Adopt-a-Block, I’ve learned more about that history, which includes periods like Bronzeville, and Little Tokyo’s relationship with other marginalized communities. Upon completion of the new building, the Showzart collective, which Crushow is part of, will design a permanent mural which will aim to uplift the shared histories of struggle that have shaped both of these neighborhoods.

“This community is long overdue for beautification, for sustainability, when it comes to being a world-class community. And I’m passionate about seeing that through,” said Coach Ron of the Skid Row Brigade, the dedicated volunteer unit that first brought Adopt-a-Block to Skid Row, inspiring LTSC to do the same. “Get involved, take that next step. Be a part of what’s positive in your community.”

LTSC staff in attendance, including Executive Director Erich Nakano, Homeless Outreach Specialist Stephen Saengpradap, and Umeya Project Manager Caroline Calderon spoke with community members about the plans for Umeya, and what the development means for the neighborhood.

“The Umeya project itself is in a location that is special to both the Little Tokyo and Skid Row communities. As a place, it’s an opportunity for our two communities to connect and show solidarity with one another,” said Grant Sunoo, Director of Community Building and Engagement at LTSC.

Adopt-a-Block drew to a close with the smell of barbecue lingering in the air. As we packed up, one attendee shared with me that tomorrow, after a long wait, he would be moving into a nearby permanent supportive housing unit. With audible relief, he declared, “I’m ready to be home.” I reflected on what the Umeya project will ultimately bring to individuals just like him.

Adopt-a-Block represents only a portion of LTSC’s ongoing commitment to responsible development. And with additional housing projects in the works, efforts like these will continue to engage communities in bringing about the positive change that they deserve. 

Visit LTSC’s website to find out more about the Umeya project, as well as our other affordable and permanent supportive housing projects.

* Megan recently completed her internship, so we are currently seeking applications for this role! Apply here.


LA county arts & cultureAdopt a Block is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.

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