United Way walk draws thousands to aid L.A. County's homeless

About 12,000 people gathered in downtown Los Angeles early Saturday to participate in United Way's seventh annual HomeWalk to raise money to aid the county's increasing homeless population.

For the third straight year, Lakers star Kobe Bryant served as honorary chair of the annual 5K run and walk in Exposition Park that raises money for food, housing and support services for the homeless. The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation provides similar assistance.

There is greater public awareness now that a health crisis or the loss of a job can lead to homelessness, said Christine Marge, director of Home for Good for United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “Some people believed there is no way to solve this ... but now they see they can be part of a permanent solution.”

A jump in the number of Los Angeles County residents who became homeless in the last two years defied the national trend of a modest decline in the overall homeless population, according to federal estimates released this week.

L.A. County's homeless population rose 15% from 2011 to 2013, reaching 57,737, a total second only to New York City's. By contrast, the nation's homeless population declined 6% since 2010, to 610,042, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The annual HomeWalk has raised more than $4 million and moved 14,000 people from the streets into permanent housing, Marge said.

United Way expects at least $1 million will be raised for its campaign by year’s end with help from outside donations. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which provides funds to nonprofit organizations that focus on life improvement for disadvantaged people worldwide, plans to match donations of $100 or more from walk participants. 

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