L.A. Offers Opportunities for Students to Raise Spirits of the Homeless This Fall

Elias Kamal Jabbe

According to the USC Dept. of Safety’s website, interacting with ‘panhandlers’ and ‘transients’ is “not an uncommon occurrence in the USC Community.” Even though the DPS website tells Trojans to just “say NO” to homeless people asking them for money, students don’t have to turn a cold shoulder to people in need—many of whom contributed much to American society before their lives were turned upside down.

Los Angeles is home to Hollywood and some of the finest universities in the nation but it also claims the title of “Homeless Capital of America.” This dichotomy is reflected by our own university, a top-tier school located just minutes from Skid Row. It is both callous and impractical to ignore this reality, especially when we don’t know how they got into the situation they did or what they might have done for society before they were forced into the streets.

Many of the people who now live on the streets of the US once served this nation as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. There is currently no military draft imposed on young Americans as it was for many homeless veterans, but by helping these homeless, Trojans and other college students can symbolically serve this country from home.

Cindy Young of New Directions, a nonprofit that aids over 600 homeless veterans in L.A. every year, recently invited students to walk alongside local advocates for homeless people such as Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant, honorary chair of United Way’s HomeWalk 2012.

“College students who want to get involved should sign up for HomeWalk here in Los Angeles on Saturday November 17,” said Young, whose organization’s website highlights a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimate that over 8,000 homeless veterans live in the country.

Another member of New Directions, Christi Moore, invited students to help count the number of homeless people in L.A. in January.  Students can sign up for this opportunity or learn more information by contacting the San Fernando Valley Homeless Coalition.

According to USC United University Church Minister of Campus Engagement Katherine Schofield, approximately 82,000 people go to sleep without a home every night in Los Angeles County and an estimated 254,000 men, women and children in L.A. will experience homelessness in 2012 alone. She encourages Trojans to participate in campus activities she is organizing during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which takes place this year from November 11-18.

Volunteering on Skid Row, I was struck by the number of young faces in the crowd. Dr. Nicole Esparza, who teaches public policy at USC, explains that approximately 10,000 L.A. children are among the homeless every night. Esparza recommends that students learn more about initiatives like the Los Angeles Youth Network in order to get involved. LAYN is a non-profit that empowers homeless and abused youth to self-sufficiency by providing food, shelter, counseling, transitional housing and educational programs.

In today’s social media age, it is easy to find these opportunities online, including reaching out to the Mayor of Skid Row, General Jeff via Twitter (@GoSkidRowGo).

No matter how you decide to go about it, there are always opportunities to help empower your fellow human beings.

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