Daniel Castilleja is a HomeWalk Champion, an advocate for housing and support services, a writer, and a formerly homeless individual helped back onto his feet by Home For Good partner, SRO Housing. Daniel was kind enough to be a guest blogger for us and share his personal story below…
My Experience & Reason…
By: Daniel Castilleja
Never judge a man till you have been in his shoes. You know that they are so quick to look away, because it’s the easy thing to do. This is what I live by today.
What I do now is volunteer for causes I believe in, and one of them is to end homelessness in L.A. and the rest of the World. When I was asked by S.R.O.to participate & represent them at the United Way HomeWalk, I was honored and excited. I raised about $700 on my own, and was told later that I was the top fundraiser for Team S.R.O. It was good to know, but that is not the reason why I asked for donations. It was to help United Way raise money to end homelessness in L.A.
I was homeless about 2 ½ years ago, due to losing my job. I slept in my Land Rover, and then eventually lost it due to not paying the tickets I would get for parking in places I could sleep at. After losing my vehicle, I found an apartment complex and slept in the stairwell with only the clothes I had on. Days went by without eating and showering. I remember how people would look at me with ugly looks and would say comments that would make me feel even lesser than I already did. A smile or a nice comment makes your day a lot better than a dirty look or bad comment.
I now live in a beautiful apartment complex called The James Woods Apartments in Skid row, owned by S.R.O. Housing. I see homeless people every day I step out of my building, and as always I smile and say good morning. I just want them to know that I’m not judging them and that I’m not like the people that don’t speak to them because they are homeless. I offer my help by doing little things like when I save my aluminum cans and pass them out, or when I have clothes, shoes or sometimes food and a little extra change, I can afford to give out.
If you knew me, then you would know I’m pretty ambitious and that I don’t give up that easily. So don’t be surprised if what I say now comes true…I believe one day everyone will have a place of their own, where they won’t have to sleep out on the street, and this makes me feel great inside!
Daniel generously dedicated his piece to everyone at United Way of Greater LA and S.R.O. Housing for their ongoing efforts to end homelessness in Los Angeles.
When first asked why I decided to participate in HomeWalk, I didn’t have a profound answer. I thought it was as simple as supporting the cause of ending homelessness, but with more time I tapped into a narrative that was buried underneath, almost forgotten. My childhood was filled with a pattern of unstable housing situations, making me wonder how different my life could have been with a consistent place to call home while growing up. As Cambodian refugees, abruptly forced out of our homeland, my family experienced financial hardship during their resettlement in the United States. This translated into various housing situations; a couple pleasant, the majority not.
When my family first arrived to the U.S. they were placed in an apartment with limited bedrooms, but plenty of people. Ten recently arrived refugees to one or two bedroom apartments was the norm. Another time, we lived in a Section 8 apartment, which were really converted military barracks. My fondest housing memory was a four bedroom house with intergenerational and extended family members in each bedroom, but even that was short-lived due to a house fire.
Although my housing transitions were excessive and at times traumatic, I was fortunate to always have a safe place to rest my head, a place that I could call home with my family around me. Not everyone is so lucky though. I know that rarely when we think of the homeless we imagine entire families out on the streets, but in reality homeless families comprise one-third of the homeless population in our nation. In honor of my family and other families similar to my own, you are in my thoughts and I walk for you.
“Why do you walk?” I walk for all families, immigrant and native,
that have no home to go to or safe refuge in times of need.
Please visit www.homewalkla.org to register or give today in support of ending homelessness in LA!
Elizabeth Ul is a new United Way intern supporting Home for Good. She is in her final year at UCLA, studying for her Masters of Social Welfare.
Riley Beres is a High School student, Actress, Comedian and Filmmaker. She is the founder of “Socks for Souls” at 501(c)(3) [filed], a non-profit being developed to raise and provide socks and undergarments to the homeless population of Los Angeles. With her friend, Jimmy Deshler, she created a documentary to raise awareness of the many faces of homelessness in LA.
One day, my friend Jimmy and I delivered cans to a shelter and I met a man who said to me, “I am homeless here in North Hollywood and I am hoping things will change in my life.” It was so sincere and gentle. I realized that man is part of someone’s family. Growing up, I was never able to meet or know my mom’s father. I had only heard stories about him. He fell under hard times and eventually became homeless. After 22 years, my mom was reunited with her father, my grandfather, and we enjoyed 5-precious years before he passed. He had, through the help of resources, re-established his life, but lost touch with her because she had moved.
So many people believe that homelessness is defined by individuals sitting on street corners due to drugs or alcohol and, yes, there is that part of the population that we see, but there are so many unseen individuals and families. There is also the issue of how mental illness, loneliness and depression can eventually lead to self-medication. My age group to 25, in particular, are a growing population, as well as families (our future generation). No one says, “When I grow up, I want to be homeless.” Not everyone has given up on society; life events happen, lack of support happens, illness happens and there are many that are just one paycheck away from being homeless. Just like the saying,” It takes a village to raise a child.” It takes a community pulling together to make a difference in the lives of others; to create change. I believe HomeWalkLA can create resources of hope, like my mom’s father experienced and the man I met at the shelter. That resources create new beginnings and reconnect families — a gift without a price tag.
Why do I walk? I walk to give others hope, a chance to start over and to encourage awareness of our growing population.
Home For Good, an initiative of United Way of Greater Los Angeles in partnership with the LA Chamber of Commerce, has been nationally recognized as one of 10 organizations to receive the Secretary’s Award of Public-Philanthropic Partnerships from The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Council on Foundations.The Secretary’s Award recognizes excellence of over 125 cross-sectoral partnerships impacting low-income communities. Read more here.
To tackle the complex issues of homelessness in Los Angeles, Home For Good launched and created a five-year plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2016. Today, we are now more than halfway towards our goal.
(From Left): HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Peter Lynn (HACLA), Director of Housing Stability, Christine Marge (United Way), Maria Funk (LA County DMH), Bill Pitkin (Hilton Foundation), Marc Trotz (LA DHS) and Vikki Spruill (Council on Foundations).
More Groundbreaking Acheivements and Recognition
$200 Million for “Housing First”
For the second year in a row, the Home For Good Funders Collaborative has aligned morethan$100million in public and private resources for permanent supportive housing, bringing the total community investment in our “housing first” model to more than $200 million. Because of this generous investment, thousands of homeless people this year will be connected with permanent supportive housing.
United Way in the National News on NPR
National Public Radio (NPR) releasedthis story, which aired across the country, on the Coordinated Entry System that we’re leading in Skid Row. It’s the latest piece of our effort to end chronic homelessness in L.A. County.
These recent accomplishments make us realize how crucial it is to continue our efforts and to give everyone a deserving home. We thank all our partners, supporters and staff for reaching these milestones!
To become involved with United Way’s work creating pathways out of poverty, take action here.
United Way’s partners from the labor, business, and non-profit sectors—along with other advocates for the homeless community—gathered at our office in downtown L.A. today for the annual “HomeWalk Heroes Breakfast.” HomeWalk Heroes are those who have raised $500 or more to help move thousands of homeless men, women and children into permanent supportive housing through HomeWalk, United Way’s 5K Run/Walk to end homelessness. This morning’s breakfast thanked these top fundraisers and invited them to make suggestions on how to make this year’s event even more successful. HomeWalk is November 23rd and discounted registration ends September 15th. Sign up here!
The President has proposed that Congress provide $2.38 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2014 for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants – a 19 percent increase over the final, sequestered level in FY 2013. Now, it’s up to us to ensure Congress follows through on the recommendation.
Please join us in writing letters to California Senatorsand your local Representative to ask them to support a funding level of $2.38 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs. Without an increase in funding, Los Angeles Countywon’t be able to continue existing CoC and ESG activities.
Representatives are likely to be voting on a HUD funding bill in the next few weeks! So, we need YOUR help to convince them to include a funding level of $2.38 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs.
What You Can Do:
Write a letter! Ask your colleagues and clients to write letters, too!A letter template is attached below for download. Tell the National Alliance to End Homelessness who you contacted! Email Julie Klein at email@example.com
Why is this important? When Should You Act?
To have the greatest impact, everyone should send letters at the same time, from now through June 30. The House and Senate are about to begin writing, releasing, and voting on funding bills, so NOW is the time to start influencing our Members of Congress so we can make sure they prioritize funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs.
The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) made a HUGE difference in Los Angeles County. But with HPRP funds gone and sequestration putting a tremendous strain on our homeless assistance systems, we need further federal investment to keep homelessness from rising, to continue funding existing ESG and CoC activities, and to implement the HEARTH Act, with its focus on proven solutions like homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing.
Want more information? Have questions? Contact Julie Klein at the National Alliance to End Homelessness at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At United Way’s Sixth Annual HomeWalk, the entire Avila family, along with Door of Hope’s Executive Director, Tim Peters, had the amazing opportunity to meet and take a photo with NBA legend and Honorary Chair Kobe Bryant!
For years, the Avilas – like many Angelenos – found themselves struggling to pay their bills and enduring unstable living conditions. They contacted 2-1-1 and were connected to United Way partner Door of Hope, a transitional living program located in Pasadena. With their assistance, the Avilas were able to become financially stable, gain full-time employment and professional training and transition into a three-bedroom apartment where the family is thriving.
The all-too-familiar story of the Avila family is a reality for more than 51,000 homeless individuals across Los Angeles County, who thousands of people walked in support of at HomeWalk 2012. The success they’re now enjoying is a testament to the impact of services and programs driven by UWGLA’s mission to Create Pathways Out of Poverty, not to mention the truly attainable goal of ending homelessness once and for all.
On the morning of Saturday, November 17, while meeting and joining Kobe Bryant on stage for the HomeWalk opening ceremony, the Avilas and Tim Peters served to represent the hundreds of local service providers who are working tirelessly each day to solve this crisis, the individuals and families who have turned their lives around and, most importantly, those who are still struggling to find a safe place to call home.
Were you one of the 10,000 people who joined Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant at this year’s HomeWalk? Take a moment to enjoy this video recap of our Sixth Annual 5K Run/Walk to end homelessness at Exposition Park:
On Saturday, November 17, roughly 10,000 Angelenos came together in a powerful demonstration of their belief that homelessness is a solvable problem. Find out why these avid United Way supporters took part in its yearly 5K Run/Walk to raise funds and awareness of the ongoing crisis.
“This is my first year at HomeWalk and I’m here because I recently had an opportunity to visit UWGLA partner, Skid Row Housing Trust, and was really moved by the experience. I never realized how many homeless people there are out there and I wanted to show my support and appreciation for what United Way is doing!”
Chong Hill, ExxonMobil – Torrance Refinery
“I work at Bank of America - a proud contributor to the organization - and as a member of its management team, I wanted to lead by example. We have three dozen B of A employees participating today because we believe strongly in giving something back to our community.”
Francisco Nunez, Bank of America
“At Bobrick, we are happy to do anything we can to help advance United Way’s mission to end homelessness in L.A. County and to reach out to those in need.”
Chris Olney, Bobrick Washroom Equipment
“We’re walking to demonstrate how grateful we are for everything we have and because we wanted to contribute in some way to this worthy cause. It’s important to realize that these days, homelessness could happen to anyone at any time.”
Sylvia Reyes, Southern California Gas Company
“Participating in United Way’s HomeWalk is our way of making the community we live in a better place. We’re here to do our part to end homelessness for good – because no one should ever have to spend their life sleeping on the streets.”
Alex Cho, East West Bank
“United Way of Greater L.A. is one of the best organizations around when it comes to getting things done. They have such a focused initiative on ending homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles, which is exactly why I believe in and support them 100 percent!”
At 6:00 am on Saturday, when it began to rain, my heart sank. I thought no one would show up for HomeWalk, but they did. By the thousands. More than 10,000. The rain was even kind enough to give the walkers a slight break for a couple of hours while the walk happened.
Favorite moment before the walk: Going to Santee Educational Complex to pick up a stack of HomeWalk registration forms. I went into a huge homeroom bustling with activity – almost 50 kids. Their teacher, a super upbeat former ad executive, corralled them. They had gone to battle to see if the boys or girls could collect more coins to donate to HomeWalk. They presented me with two massive jars – about 15 pounds each – the boys won. Nice job guys.
The teacher privately told me that seven of the kids in that class were homeless. My heart sank…until…two students, high school juniors, helped me carry the coins to my car. I asked them what they wanted to do after high school. One confidently said, “I’m going to go to the University of Washington.” The other one said, “Princeton.” I asked if they had the grades for that. They both nodded confidently.
Favorite moments at the walk: Seeing so many of you dressed for the elements early on a Saturday, pumped up for the event; the LA Clash baseball kids and the Los Rayos soccer kids coming together to run; running the last half of the 5K with my son, Hopper; the El Sereno Middle School Marching Band playing the “Rocky” theme song at the finish line; the hundreds of volunteers withstanding the elements to make sure everyone had their t-shirts and a good time. It is hard to pick just one.
Favorite text after the event: “Woke up at 5:30 am, less than 5 hours of sleep, and steady rain outside. All I wanted to do was pull my blanket up over my head. I took a moment and thought about the homeless people that might be sleeping in the rain at that exact moment. I got up, dressed and walked out the door with a smile. I met the nicest people, enjoyed the walk, and was proud to be in the company of the HomeWalk volunteers. Life is good.”
That sums it up.
I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated in, donated to, and made HomeWalk happen this year. Thanks to you all, many hundreds of men, women, and children will get off of the streets this year. A Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. There is much to be thankful for.
Brad Rowe is a graduate student in the Masters in Public Policy (MPP) program at UCLA. He is currently working on Education Policy at United Way of Greater Los Angeles as a Rosenfield Fellow.