By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The program is the brainstorm of brothers Daoshing and Maoshing Ni -- Dr. Dao and Dr. Mao to their followers -- the 38th generation of a family of Chinese healers that stretches back roughly a thousand years in their native China. Their father, Hua-Ching Ni, a recognized Taoist master who has authored over 50 books in Chinese and 40 more in English, immigrated to Los Angeles in 1976. His sons joined the practice in 1983. Aside from having established the university (Yo San was the name of their grandfather, who was forced to give up his own medical studies in 1966 in the wake of the Cultural Revolution), the brothers also operate a much tonier private practice, the Tao of Wellness, which caters to a decidedly more upscale clientele. Dao is one of the premier fertility experts in Los Angeles, and is rumored to have been responsible for any number of celebrity births, although he is discreet to a fault and cannot comment.
A thin, elegant man with fine gray hair and a cultivated Western air, Dao sees this program as a natural outgrowth of the university's low-cost community clinic and outreach programs at the Venice Family Clinic and for HIV patients in West Hollywood. "Chinese medicine, in this country at least, is used largely by the more educated, the well-to-do," he says. "For reasons of education or economics, it's the underprivileged who have the least access to what we offer. And yet Chinese medicine is a folk medicine, so any culture with a history of herbal remedies can perhaps more readily relate to it. That's certainly true of Latino cultures; if you boil up some herbs and make it into a tea, certain people may have less resistance to the concept because it reminds them of something their grandmother used to do. And African culture, even black culture in the early centuries of this country, has very much the same heritage -- even if much of it has been lost. We would like to re-establish that connection."
The Casa de Rosas center, site of this trial run, is a sprawling 28,000-square-foot compound in the heart of the West Adams Historical District. Established by Sister Essie West, a radio evangelist and understudy of Aimee Semple McPherson who purchased the grounds and buildings for $4,000 in 1941, it is the oldest women's shelter in Los Angeles County, and now provides 17 beds for single women over 18 without children, as well as 55 units of low-income housing. The shelter turns away seven to 10 women a day, according to executive director Stephen Knight, due to a ä lack of bed space. "Women and children are very sexy, in terms of attracting funding," he says, "but single women is a growing population that is underserved." As such, the center does what it can to subsidize its private and government grant funding, including renting itself out as a movie location -- look for it in the upcoming Steven Spielberg period drama Catch Me if You Can.
"The kind of medical challenges that indigenous inner-city populations face," says Bidhan Roy, a British ex-ITV journalist who is spearheading the effort, "are exactly the kind of things that herbal medicine is good at addressing: addiction, nutrition issues, psychological abuse, general environmental abuse. If you add up the cost to society of addiction, just in social services alone -- methadone programs, often crime and prison terms, welfare costs, the frequent recidivism -- it can easily reach between $300,000 and half a million dollars per person. A holistic approach is just infinitely more cost-effective. Our proposal doesn't just substitute one addiction for another, like methadone treatment; it solves the problem at its root causes, and at a fraction of the cost."
Shelter residents must ideally be drug- and alcohol-free, but a cumulative 90-day grace period is designed to transition candidates into detox or recovery programs, including the Yo San acudetox treatment.
Back in the semicircle, the specter of seeing a perfect stranger skewered with needles in front of them results in plenty of high spirits and open anxiety. But the effect of the treatment is definitely soporific, and as Holloway makes her way around the circle with needles, the jokes and vocal camaraderie soon fall away. Candy chants quietly to herself, others meditate or repose on couches, as the tidal rhythms of the surf find their way 15 miles inland to the unlikeliest of neighborhoods.
"Usually, our mornings are filled by who got in a fight with who last night, and how we're going to preserve our fragile peace," observes Knight, as he watches one woman after another wander off to be alone or return to their rooms. "I don't think we're going to have that problem tomorrow."