Stories from the Frontline: Hollywood

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The stories that circulate about homelessness too often have one thing in common: They don’t come from the people who have experienced it. That’s exactly why Everyone In: Stories from the Frontline at Wanderlust in Hollywood was so powerful. We got to hear from community members and advocates who have experienced homelessness, and who know firsthand the urgency of securing meaningful solutions.

We were lucky to be joined by Emma Kenney and Ethan Cutkosky, stars of Showtime’s “Shameless,” who delivered opening remarks. Emma spoke poignantly about why we can’t become complacent with the current crisis. “I am here tonight because the homelessness crisis we see across L.A. does not reflect who we are as human beings,” she said. “I don’t accept it, and I don’t think you do either.” 

Community advocate Jaden Alexander shared that he was forced into homelessness at 17 by parents who were intolerant of his gender expression. He reminded us that homelessness disproportionately targets LGBTQ+ youth, and that roughly 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+. After being connected to supportive services, Jaden secured housing in 2012. “I was able to see my own apartment right before Christmas,” he recalled. “I was able to dance again…in my own place.”

Rudy Salinas from the Center of Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood recognized the outreach workers he partners with as heroes. “To me, these names sound like Sara Vaughn…Charlie Parker…and John Coltrane.” He also applauded the audience: “You are the folks we’ve often dreamt of. You are the silent majority we need.”

Riley Gude recounted losing his ID while homeless, not being able to get a new one, and being denied state assistance and supportive services as a result. It’s an example of the  arbitrary barriers that keep cycles of homelessness going. Riley overcame many obstacles—from mental health struggles to state bureaucracy—to secure a safe and stable home. “I’m gonna say it again because I just love the way it sounds,” he announced. “I have my own apartment.”

Maria de Jesus Gomez has worked as an advocate in L.A. for 20 years, and helps connect people to supportive housing through Housing Works. With two decades of experience under her belt, she informed the audience that the crisis needs our immediate attention. She knows that “housing is a service. Housing is the first response.”

Marquesha Babers’s brilliant and devastating poem, “Home,” reflects on her experience of being housing insecure as a child. In the poem, she turned our attention to how difficult it is having nowhere to celebrate the holidays as a kid, remembering that she wanted to “pull out a box of decorations that’s been in our family for generations.” 

“I want a garden,” she continued. “I want to plant seeds and grow things besides stereotypes.”

Caleb Crowder, an organizer with Everyone In, conveyed his experience of being severely rent-burdened, with financial hardship leading to homelessness. “I fell into that bracket of over 600,000 Angelenos that are spending more than 90 percent of their income on rent,” he recounted. 

He also noted that housing injustice too often disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color. Caleb urged the audience to build power in and through community: “We must stand up and fight back.” 

“It will be difficult work,” he said, “but what gives me hope is looking out at all of you. Look at this beautiful diverse group of people who showed up today. This is powerful.”

Kyshawna Johnson dealt with structural barriers that no one should have to face. While experiencing homelessness as a college student, Kyshawna had to use Starbucks WiFi to do her homework. After being connected to supportive services through Jovenes, Kyshawna recalls: “I was able to improve my grades to all As and this past fall, I was able to graduate from community college.” This year, she’ll be enrolling at a four-year university on a full-ride scholarship, housing included.

Kerry Morrison emphasized how important it is to activate community members. “Your voice can matter,” Kerry asserted. “It doesn’t happen quickly. But I guarantee you…you will be of help to this movement to push for change.”

Finally, Elise Buik, President and CEO of United Way of Greater L.A., thanked the speakers for stories that highlight the urgency of ending homelessness in every community. That’s why “we must create supportive housing across this city, and not just in one district.”

Thank you to all our speakers, special guests Emma Rose Kenney and Ethan Cutkosky, The Corporation for Supportive Housing’s Speak Up program, The Center at Blessed Sacrament, Hollywood Community Housing, Housing Works, Jovenes, and all the community members who came out in support. 

A very special thank you to the John and Marilyn Wells Family Foundation and Target, whose support made this evening possible.

These events remind us that housing is transformative. It changes individual lives and it changes communities. That’s why we need to keep showing up, every day, until we get everyone in.