How a Single Act of Kindness Has Multiplied

Times Staff Writer

It was on a rainy winter afternoon 17 years ago that Jim Miller saw a woman and her three children crowd into their battered car at a Huntington Beach park and prepare to turn in for the night.

Miller took them to his home so they could sleep under a roof. He kept noticing more and more people who needed a place to sleep.

“One thing led to another,” Miller said, “and I said, ‘We’ve got to get a home.’ ”

Now Miller has 43 homes across Orange and Los Angeles counties, providing housing for 2,814 people annually.


The Shelter for the Homeless, of which he is executive director, has recently expanded to take in more than down-on-their-luck families.

It now shelters 18-year-olds who have just become legal adults and left foster care. These youths, who generally have no family to help them, are no longer eligible for county-supported housing in group or foster homes and suddenly must support themselves.

The former foster children can come with various problems. One youth who recently left the program had lived in an abandoned hotel for five months before being sheltered by Miller’s group.

“It’s like having your own kids, but more challenging,” Miller said. “The key is to stabilize them and get them a job.”


Helping the shelter do that is a $10,000 grant from the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign, which pays for trade school lessons, clothes to wear to job interviews and other accouterments of adult life.

The annual Holiday Campaign was established in 2000. Last year, the effort raised $653,000, which went to 56 charities serving Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

The agencies provide services to disadvantaged children and youths, including food, clothing and shelter; early childhood literacy programs; and services for the developmentally delayed and disabled.

They also run programs to prevent drug abuse, violence and teen pregnancy.


The nine emancipated youths cared for by Shelter for the Homeless are housed in two buildings in Santa Ana: a converted convent for the six boys and a residential house for the three girls and their children.

They have a 10 p.m. curfew but are free during the day. It might be more liberty than they ever have enjoyed before, said Kai Brandt, who works with them.

The young people have counselors who train them in everything from cleanliness to balancing a checkbook, and they are randomly tested for drugs.

The girls are helped with child care.


“Oftentimes you have a child who comes out of a group home and they have never had freedom,” Brandt said.

“When they go from super structure to no structure, that’s when they have problems.”




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