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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Jay Goes Home By William Hawkins

 

By William Hawkins, chair of Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) Homeless Committee

If I’ve learned anything about homelessness over the last two years, it is that there are various situations that lead various types of people to end up living on the street. Some have lost their jobs, some lost their mind while others simply have lost their way. No matter what the reason, these conditions are inhumane and this is not the way for anyone to live.  The cost is high…not only for the taxpayers who are paying for this housing and services, but in many cases it is costing those living on the streets their lives. 

While overseeing this reunification program, I’ve met all of the above and many more who have their own stories and fall into different categories. It really doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from anymore…I just want to get them home. 

Since launching the program in December 2016, I’ve had local organizations and neighbors send me leads for potential people to get reunited. We’ve been very fortunate to catch some, while others slip out of our hands. And regardless of the reasons how they got here, and what they did while here, I just stay focused on my priorities. One…To save lives, Two..to reduce homelessness and Three…to bring relief to the stakeholders of Venice. With each person we reunite with their families, we save the City of Los Angeles up to $75,000 in housing and services. That’s definitely worth the time to engage with them and the $500 or so it takes to pay for their way home. 

This is the story of Jay, who is the thirteenth homeless person to be reunited with his family this year through the VNC Homeless Committee’s efforts to reduce homelessness in Venice. 

Jay lived on the streets of Venice for over ten months. And during that time he managed to bounce off every hard edge in this fast moving current that is homelessness in Venice without encountering danger, injury or heartbreak. I have to say that I was impressed with this quiet, respectful and bright 24-year-old man from Nashville who slalomed through the government bureaucracy and the ongoing madness with the agility of a contortionist and the calm stillness of a Buddhist monk. He was never dismayed, never distracted and never defeated. He went about his life while going through the necessary motions, filling out all the forms to get assistance and services and always managing to find a way to land on his feet. He learned how to survive. 

But after fighting the good fight, Jay woke up one morning and decided it was time to get out of his stunted animation and get his life back in order. I met Jay through Safe Place for Youth last week and found him to be a sharp, easy going, gentle kid who came out to LA with some friends to find work and start a new life. After being unable to find work, he bounced from couch to couch until he ultimately ended up on the street. He would sleep at the beach, back alleys and take advantage of the golden ticket of hotel vouchers through local organizations and he utilized the coordinated entry system to its end. Jay applied for food stamps and that same day received $180 voucher to buy food and supplies and continued receiving that each month. He was never hungry and was able to get at least one meal a day at SPY and another through St Joseph. He found a routine that worked for him and used the system to survive. He didn’t use drugs, never was arrested, and didn’t spend one single night in a tent or in an encampment. 

Every time I saw him he was ready and able, recently showered at SPY, and dressed in clean clothes.  His attentive eyes and a shy smile is disarming and I saw very clearly that he had a future and could contribute a lot to society. Jay had graduated high school and had a forklift operator’s license. He’s capable and smart. This west coast adventure of his just went south. I thought to myself…this is a good kid who is completely capable of getting his life back in track. He just needs a little guidance and motivation

I spoke to his father and we talked about what we could do to make sure that when Jay came home he was properly supported and given some time to get his act together while still not letting him get away with excuses. I heard the story of a single father who worked hard to provide for his family, but  due to his work hours wasn’t able to be around much. He told me there were some motivation issues that led his son to the street and he knew he needed to spend more time with him this time around. He had tried in the past, but working 16 hrs a day as a delivery driver meant he couldn’t always be there to watch over his son. We both agreed that we’d work together to set Jay off and support him as he made his way on this new path and make sure he didn’t wander off. 

Jay told me he wanted to go back to school. So, I called the admissions dean at the local community college and made arrangements for Jay to start attending school there in January. Just a few classes to get started in subjects of interest so he could get excited about new things and get him locked in a new and positive routine. In the meantime we’re looking for some warehouse jobs to get him some money in his pocket. It appears he is way too bright and engaging to be working in a job that isolates him like that. 

As I drove Jay to the Greyhound station last night we passed the endless encampments along Alameda Street. He turned away when an older homeless woman blocked traffic after her shopping cart tipped over, spilling her belongings all out into the street. He stared at tent after tent after tent and wondered out loud “what is he doing” as a half-dressed man did stunted karate moves alone in an empty garbage-strewn lot. 

As we pulled into the bus depot parking lot, Jay looked down at his phone and said that the last thing he wanted was to end up there. We parked and headed inside to start his journey home. If he makes good choices and listens to his father, I don’t think he ever will end up back on the street. He managed to avoid all the dangers and headaches most homeless people endure. And I think it was a testament to his solemn aloofness and casual amiability that helped him survive living on these streets. I hope whatever guardian angel that guided him through this journey doesn’t abandon him now that he’s going home. 

Clearly not everyone living on these streets has stories of pain and suffering. Some can make this situation work for them and avoid the trappings of drugs, alcohol and criminal activity. But that doesn’t mean that we should enable or accept this situation either. By creating a bridge for them to get home we help get their life back on track and decrease the weight felt by the city and our community. It’s a win-win for all involved. 

We still need to put more pressure on the city still to do more about reducing the number of homeless living on our streets, Building housing is only one avenue to doing that. And that can take years and hundreds of millions of dollars. A city-wide reunification program would provide a solutions beyond “housing” that would help move the needle while serving the needs of the unhoused and protecting the investment of stakeholders. This is a vital balancing act that needs to serve everyone. 

 

Comment (1)

  1. Marie Hammond

    I applaud you, Wil Hawkins, for giving Jay all your attention and getting him back home. I believe that driving him by Skid Row was probably a real eye opener for him. Perhaps more of these kids who have come to Venice and chosen to live on the streets because it’s the place to be should be given a tour of skid row, because it’s the bottom. Fortunately, Jay had a father who was willing to help him and Jay was willing to give it another try back home.

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