In 2011, in Venice, California, group of dedicated volunteers began driving around a Southern California city and opening their car trunks to offer hot food, clothing, and dry socks to kids on the streets of Venice. Now, SPY (Safe Place for Youth) has grown to a professional team with a headquarters, expanded programs, and much greater impact in creating services (health and wellness, street outreach, employment, education, drop-in services, and more) and safe space for homeless young people.
The goal is to provide an empowering resource bank of services so young people can take control of their lives and not be defined by circumstances — all in a positive, non-judgmental environment. In 2015, nearly 1,000 youth received life saving support from SPY, including nearly 10,000 hot meals served, hundreds of medical consultations, 5,000 drop-in center visits, and 57 young people that exited homelessness and entered stable living situations.
As in the beginning, SPY still relies on the great hearts and work of volunteers. Check out opportunities to get involved in creating an end to youth homelessness, and also to support the deeply important work of Safe Place for Youth.
I so love this business model. I saw these unique jewelry items at a small shop earlier this year but was in a hurry, no pen or paper to write down the info, and promptly forgot about what I felt was such a cool idea. A friend just sent me an email about this great company, knowing I would really respond to it, and voila, it’s the same group. The Giving Keys is an organization, started by actress/singer/songwriter Caitlin Crosby, that creates necklaces and bracelets from recycled keys with hand-stamped inspirational words like GRACE, STRENGTH, HOPE, COURAGE, GRATEFUL, BREATHE, and more (you can also order one with your own word)…but the cool part isn’t just the funky style and conversation piece accessory…the cool part is that they hire only people transitioning out of homelessness to engrave each key. The makes-you-stop-because-it-is-so-simple-yet-profound idea is that you wear it as it inspires you, with the tacit understanding that when you meet someone, a stranger or not, who needs the message, you will give them the key, and then share your story on the website of how the key has traveled further on its journey. As you go to order yours (hello, amazing gift idea), spend some time reading stories people have posted–they’ll really touch your heart in such a great way. So effortless, so lofty, so generous, so human.
Ideas like this make the world go ’round. I truly believe that.
What seems like a million years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles the last go ’round, I spent a few weeks one summer living on Skid Row, working/volunteering with the homeless and several advocacy organizations. It was easily one of the most intense times of my life, living “on the nickel” (5th Street in Downtown LA–at the time the most violent crime-ridden street in the nation, with the worst crack cocaine problem in the world), and I, at least, had the escape option of going home. The violence, helplessness, and hopelessness was staggering (as were the flashes of inspiration and grace). While the living conditions have improved slightly (still pretty tough sleeping on the streets downtown) and crack has subsided somewhat in its rolling tide…it still sucks to be homeless. It always will.
Chrysalis is a non-profit based on Skid Row, working to “creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals by providing the resources and support needed to find and retain employment.” Theirs is a nationally recognized model in the fight against poverty and homelessness, and in their three centers (also in Santa Monica and Pacoima), they train clients how to enter or re-enter the job market. In 2010, 400 clients per day received services from Chrysalis, and just shy of 600 volunteers gave 18,000 hours, helping generate 218,000 hours of employment. I’ll always have a connection to Skid Row from my intimate, sometimes terrifying experiences there–I hope, even without taking up residence in a mission or “SRO Hotel” (often called Welfare Hotels), you’ll see how you are connected as well, and consider supporting the diligent work of Chrysalis with financial contributions, or your valuable volunteer time.
July 2013. That’s the date by which 100,000 Homes intends to find homes for 100,000 homeless individuals throughout the country. It’s not a huge number considering the statistics of the problem. Estimates are between 2.3 million and 3.5 million of us are homeless in America. Some in shelters, some living in cars, many on the streets. The sterotype of the unwashed older man is not indicative of the homeless, and families and children make up a large part of the demographic. It’s not cute hobos with red polka-dotted handkerchiefs holding their belongings on the end of a stick, but it might be your neighbor, or you, with just the next missed paycheck or medical bill.
Communities everywhere, 69 of them so far and counting, are refusing to accept that homelessness is simply part of the cultural landscape. Local teams form, define the problem for their region, source housing (a tough step, but an incredible game plan and resources can be found with the website), and place homeless in new digs, one person at a time. It is an achievable goal with small victories all the time, and a great model for how, when we don’t set for ourselves the task of fixing the entire world, we make the most earth-shifting difference.
Is there anywhere you are aiming too high to be effective? It’s not about lowering expectations, but refining our aim. Volunteer with a local team of 100,000 Homes for some great trench training in success and solving issues, seeing solutions through to the end.
Did Santa bring you that new iPhone or Android you had on your list?
Don’t just toss your old cell phone into the back of a drawer—donate it. Several fire stations around the country take old cell phones and re-program them for use by women who are residents at shelters. Other organizations re-outfit them for overseas soldiers. Look for some ideas from a previous post here.
A new idea is to donate that old cell to The 4th Bin, e-waste rescuers and recyclers. You can go to their site, print a pre-paid mailing label, send along your formerly indispensable phone or message device, and all the proceeds go to City Harvest and their programs to feed the hungry and homeless.
It doesn’t get much easier than that (and helps support you in your New Year’s resolution to clean up and get organized too).
Here’s another one for Thanksgiving…
An outdoor products company in Los Angeles is distributing more than one thousand protective tarps to that city’s homeless population for Thanksgiving. Tarpsplus.com will help keep some of the rain and inclement weather off of folks living in the streets—shelters and missions are fuller than they’ve been in ages, homeless rates have skyrocketed, and there aren’t enough indoor spaces or beds for everyone. The street is the only choice for some, and the preference for a few. Soaking wet clothing and dropping temperatures (even Southern California’s relatively mild winter temperatures) are a recipe for hypothermia. a 5’x7′ tarp can genuinely save a life.
The donated tarps will be packaged individually so they can be handed out to one person at a time. Two days before Thanksgiving (that’s this coming Tuesday), the portable protection will be distributed. The waterproof plastic material is recyclable in the same category as soda bottles.
If you are in L.A. and would like to lend a hand…
Tarp distribution day:
Date: Nov. 24, 2009
Location: Los Angeles Mission Inc. 303 E 5th Street , Los Angeles , CA 90013