Volunteer: Start by checking out the local service providers’ websites. Most of them welcome any help they can get from the Downtown community. The Downtown Women’s Center (dwcweb.org), at 325 S. Los Angeles St., makes volunteering simple and fun by offering opportunities for volunteers to prepare or serve meals, throw birthday parties for their clients and fundraise. It even caters to nine-to-fivers.
Chrysalis, an organization that helps formerly homeless people find employment, has volunteers assist clients in job training tasks, such as resume help and mock interviews. Contact (213) 806-6335 or changelives.org.
Also check the Union Rescue Mission’s online volunteer job board for updated postings about available volunteer positions. Visit urm.org. And remember, while many people flock to the Skid Row missions to serve food on Thanksgiving, the Downtown missions can use your help the other 364 days of the year.
Get to Know Skid Row: Every month, a group of local police officers, service providers, city officials, business leaders and Downtown residents take a Wednesday evening walk through Skid Row, getting to know each other and the homeless population there.
If you live or work nearby but don’t feel comfortable walking east of Los Angeles Street by yourself, it’s a good way to see firsthand the conditions people live in, the progress that is being made, and to meet active players who can help you make a difference. For more information, visit centralcityeast.org/SkidRow/walk.htm.
To get an even more intimate feel for life in Skid Row, you can schedule an overnight visit at the Union Rescue Mission shelter, located at 545 S. San Pedro St. The mission sets aside several rooms for volunteers, who can stay one to three nights while serving meals and helping with other duties. Contact Alex Cornejo at (213) 347-6300 ext. 1149.
Be Civically Active: If you live or work Downtown, you are already closer to City Hall than many Angelenos ever get. That means you can swing by council meetings, planning sessions and community redevelopment events. Visit and let your elected representatives know that you want homelessness to be a priority.
Hold up a second, you are probably saying. How do I know when these meetings are, and if there will be any items relating to homelessness?
Keep up by reading city agendas at lacity.com and articles about Downtown in local newspapers. Check out the Planning Department and the City Council for hearings on residential projects. For instance, if you’d like to see an affordable housing component in a market-rate development, let the officials know by either speaking at meetings or writing letters.
David Robinson, a director at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, an organization that advocates tenants’ rights, said that making change takes persistence.
"Call council members and the mayor every day and ask them what they have done to increase affordable housing,” Robinson said. “Ask them what they have done that day to help solve homelessness.”
Learn: Knowledge is power, and it’s important to stay on top of the news - not only for yourself, but also so you can inform others with accurate and helpful information. Since solving homelessness is an overwhelming and complex issue, keeping up with current politics and theories can help you decide how you want to help.
Several recent studies on Los Angeles’ homeless debacle also suggest solutions to alleviating the situation. The website bringlahome.com lists many of these reports and articles, which discuss current strategies to deal with homelessness.
Also check out beyondshelter.com for information on affordable housing policies in Los Angeles, as well as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority for official city news on homelessness (lahsa.com).
Several local blogs also keep up with homeless issues. Joel John Roberts, CEO of People Assisting the Homeless, posts regularly at lahomelessblog.org. The Los Angeles Mission blog, penned by the mission’s president, Herb Smith, is also a good resource, at losangelesmission.org.