This November, we experienced another inspiring night at Everyone In™: Stories from the Frontline to End Homelessness storytelling event. Gathered together in Boyle Heights—a community rich with culture—we heard powerful stories of survival and perseverance from formerly homeless community members and community leaders.

Josefina.jpeg The first speaker was Josefina Lopez, a playwright and entrepreneur in the Boyle Heights community. Josefina’s family came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a child. She always felt like she didn’t belong, and the way that Latinxs where portrayed in the media made Josefina feel insignificant. Instead of being defeated, Josefina decided to “put [her] rage on the page” and became a playwright. She is now dedicated to telling the stories of people who have been forgotten, including her own family. “When you share your story, you share your humanity, and you bridge the gap between people.”

Josefina believes that there is power in hearing the experiences of others, and that this understanding leads to compassion. “We think that homelessness is about a lack of housing... but it’s also a crisis of empathy and compassion for others...We have to have the courage to be compassionate. We have to create a world where we know the truth about everyone’s humanity...and expand the circle of compassion so big that no one is left out.”

Another speaker, Jaci Cortez, spoke about her personal history with foster care and homelessness. After a difficult childhood, Jaci experienced homelessness for two years before finding support from a local youth organization.person.jpg

Jaci says that the organization was the first place that invested in her as a person. The team helped Jaci secure a roof over her head, pass her classes—and perhaps most importantly—begin to believe in herself and others. Jaci now believes that “no matter what background people go through, they can achieve anything.” She will soon be graduating community college.

Jaci challenged attendees that the next time they see someone experiencing homelessness, they take a moment to truly connect—perhaps even to buy them deodorant—and said that what people who experience homelessness need is a hand, not a dollar.

“Anyone could be homeless, from your grandma to your kid….We all have different stories, but the main thing is we’re all human, we all deserve to have a place to live and we all deserve to be treated well...You want to make a difference, you become the difference.”

For more messages of encouragement, accountability, humanity and acceptance consider attending our next Everyone In: Stories from the Frontline storytelling event in Long Beach in February. Sign up for the newsletter to be notified of the time and location.