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Column: Tired of homelessness? Here are some opportunities to take action

Homeless center
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, center, talks with homeless people at The Center at Blessed Sacrament Hollywood.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The mayor of Los Angeles was chatting up folks at the drop-in center behind Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood on Wednesday morning when a homeless guy approached.

“Hey, what are you doing next Tuesday?” Brian Rabon asked in a familiar way, as if they were pals.

“What am I doing next Tuesday? I don’t know,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Why, what’s going on?”

“Come back here for our grand opening,” Rabon said, extending a personal invitation. “We’re having jazz.”

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The big event, which is actually scheduled for Tuesday, May 31, is the re-opening of the elegantly remodeled headquarters of the Center at Blessed Sacrament. The nonprofit, which has been operating out of temporary bungalows for several months, does outreach, provides daytime services and lines up housing for homeless people.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, talks with Zantria Alanti, 39, while meeting homeless people at the Center at Blessed Sacrament Hollywood.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, talks with Zantria Alanti, 39, while meeting homeless people at the Center at Blessed Sacrament Hollywood.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

Garcetti ventures out now and again on homeless reconnaissance missions and invited me along on his latest. Plus, he wanted to address my May 11 column, in which I listed five ways to curb the spread of homelessness and said we needed someone to step up and lead the way.

“I think there’s been leadership, unequivocally,” he said defensively. He told me he speaks almost daily with L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas about strategies for more funding and better coordination of efforts in the face of rising homelessness counts.

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The city and county have good plans on paper. In one of many initiatives, the mayor is launching a financial incentive plan for landlords who open their doors to homeless people with housing vouchers.

We all need to keep the heat on public officials to follow through on their promises, but there may never be enough funding for housing and services to counter a tsunami of forces. We live in a region with low wages and high rent. Great weather draws people from all over the land, and many of them are driven into the streets  by poverty and the self-medicating addictions that often accompany untreated mental illness.

As I’ve said, private citizens can do something besides throw their hands up in frustration. Whether motivated by compassion or by irritation with the spread of homeless encampments, I suggested they donate to or volunteer at one of the many nonprofits that assist people on a daily basis and often, quite literally, save lives.

One thing people can do, Garcetti said, is stand up for proposals like Councilman Mike Bonin’s pitch to provide housing, storage and bathrooms in Venice.

“They can say yes,” Garcetti said, when some neighbors are saying no.

Garcetti has initiated what he’s calling the Welcome Home Project, trying to recruit 100 Angelenos to host donation parties and collect household supplies for homeless people who will soon be moving indoors. For more information, check the project’s website.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, embraces Anthony Hereford, 58, while meeting homeless people at the Center at Blessed Sacrament Hollywood.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, embraces Anthony Hereford, 58, while meeting homeless people at the Center at Blessed Sacrament Hollywood.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

After my May 11 column, I had lots of emails from readers who wanted more information about how they can get involved with a nonprofit. I recommended Lamp Community and Ocean Park Community Center, PATHStep Up and Housing Works, and in Orange County there’s South County Outreach.

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In Long Beach, US VETS is a first-rate organization. In Sylmar, there’s Hope Gardens, and the Downtown Women’s Center is one of the most highly regarded nonprofits in Southern California.

The mayor’s office also works directly with L.A. Family Housing in the San Fernando Valley, Hope of the Valley, HOPICS in South L.A., Safe Place for Youth in Venice and St. Joseph Center in West L.A.

Most of those websites list information on how to donate and what kind of volunteers are needed. Hope Gardens, for instance, is looking for help with child care, gardening and meal service. The Downtown Women’s Center needs volunteers to prepare hygiene kits and sort donations. And this is just a partial list; email me if you want more suggestions.

A lot of these organizations are thrilled to have visits from musicians and artists, and I haven’t met many volunteers, of any kind,  who didn’t feel enriched by the experience or inspired by the stories of those struggling to survive bad breaks and hard times.

The day I visited the Center at Blessed Sacrament with Garcetti, I bumped into Kerry Morrison, who’s been in the middle of multiple efforts to assist the homeless in Hollywood, with special focus on those who are severely mentally ill. She’s also on the board of the center, and said volunteers have initiated meditation, yoga and arts programs.

Mayor Garcetti right, walks with Isabel Avina while touring the Center at Blessed Sacrament Hollywood.
Mayor Garcetti right, walks with Isabel Avina while touring the Center at Blessed Sacrament Hollywood.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

“People will come in and say they want to run a current events club, or a book club, and here’s the key thing: It’s one thing to go down and feed people on Thanksgiving Day, and wait until the next year to do it again,” Morrison said.

“The hard part is being there for a person over a sustained level of time. To say, ‘I’m going to come and play checkers with you every Tuesday at 11,’ and to be there the next Tuesday and the next. That is powerful, and it’s part of a relationship and creating consistency in someone’s life who has no consistency.”

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The center’s website says volunteer event planners would be more than welcome. The center could also use a hand from hair stylists, plumbers, photographers,  accountants, mechanics, dentists and doctors.

I’m sure that Brian Rabon, who invited the mayor to the grand reopening May 31st from 9-11:30 a.m. (6636 Selma Ave., next to the Hollywood YMCA), would welcome one and all. The remodeling was funded in part with an assist from City Councilman  Mitch O’Farrell.

Garcetti, by the way, volunteered his services in a pinch Wednesday. A homeless woman named Natalia told him her phone was on the fritz.

“Tech support,” he said, monkeying with the innards to fix the problem.

Natalia sang him a song and talked to the mayor about being homeless.

By week’s end, the mayor’s staff had found her a place to stay.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Twitter:@LATstevelopez

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Get more of Steve Lopez’s work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez


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