South Los Angeles, homelessness, and what it means to count.
A few weeks ago, I attended my first ever Homeless Count and joined a team in South Los Angeles that dispatched out of Holman Methodist Church. It felt great to participate in an effort to benefit my community, especially one that proved to be such a rewarding experience.
I didn’t know what to expect and was nervous about what I had gotten myself into by signing up for the Count. Was it worth the hours of sleep I’d be losing by being out, past midnight? After all, homelessness is not an issue that I’d ever taken the time to learn about, nor had I made an effort to help solve. Still, there I was, sitting in a room with thirty other volunteers- waiting to do something about it.
I was assigned to a team made up of members from the Holman congregation, an LA County Administrator, and the pastor of The Redeemed Christian Church of God. Our team hopped in a van and deployed to the neighborhood where I grew up, and where my mother and family still live. We counted homeless people near King Elementary and King Park, the school I attended and park I played in as a kid. We drove past the gas stations, laundry mats, restaurants, shopping centers, and motels where homeless people sleep- counting them, one by one. There were people living in mobile homes, tents, and make shift beds. There were people using drugs in alleys or roaming the streets aimlessly.
Although I grew up seeing a lot of homeless people, this experience gave me an opportunity to see them from a different place- a more human place. Homelessness was normal for me and I’m sure it is for others in South Los Angeles. These are the people we found asking for change outside the restaurants, supermarkets, liquor stores, and gas stations. The same people sleeping on sidewalks or bus benches- those we stepped over as we hurried to school or walked to the park. They were (and still are) so prevalent in my community, that for some, they’ve become invisible.
This was a huge learning opportunity and one that opened my eyes about my neighbors, the ones without a place to call home. The ones I will no longer consider invisible! I am so glad to have participated in the Count and want to thank United Way for leading the charge to eradicate this problem in my city!
Elmer Roldan is a Program Officer in the Education Department at United Way of Greater Los Angeles.