Initiative Must be Taken to Aid Homeless in L.A.

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Author: Lily Rowen

When driving or walking through Occidental College’s campus, one is usually struck by the grandeur and breathtaking beauty of the buildings and grounds. The Myron Hunt-designed architecture combined with the sweeping landscape can make you feel like you are strolling leisurely through a resort, not actually hurrying off to your next class. Oxy students, faculty, staff and families are extremely lucky to be able to experience everything that such a luxurious college has to offer. Let us not forget, however, that outside the walls of Oxy, there are those who do not get to walk through paradise on a daily basis. There are those who, instead of popping into the Cooler for a convenient afternoon snack every day, have to rely on luck and the good will of others for a single meal. As we bask in the glory of our idyllic campus, let us not forget the misery facing the homeless population in Los Angeles, and even Eagle Rock.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, every five years, two to three percent of the entire United States population experiences at least one night of homelessness. In Los Angeles County, 254,000 people a year have to go through the physical, mental and emotional torture of living on the streets. What is even more shocking is that 16 to 20 percent of these people are employed, and 25 percent are mentally ill. These disturbing numbers are far too high, but we, as an Oxy community, can help to lower them with hard work and determination on behalf of our fellow human beings.

To work toward a county and country with shelter for all, we must first change our attitudes about the homeless. Whether they would like to admit it or not, many people see these individuals as the dirty dregs of human society. Unfortunately, there is a common assumption (sometimes proven true, but most times proven false) that any money given to a homeless person will go to feed their drug or alcohol addiction, instead of to nourishing their bodies. We are all guilty of making such assumptions and shrinking away from a beggar once or twice in our lives with fear, disgust or misplaced anger.

However, it is not too late to show compassion for this slighted population. Do not dwell on any negative last encounters. Instead, focus on ways of addressing a homeless person in the future. Use common courtesy and smile, as if you were acknowledging the presence of a friend. If they ask for food and you have any food on you, give it to them. If you don’t have any food on you, take a moment to run into a grocery or convenience store and buy something. It may suck a few moments out of your day, but a simple act like this could make the difference between starvation and energy for someone. After all, if you were in their position, wouldn’t you hope for a smile and a snack too?

If you would like to see the problem eradicated completely, I urge you to act on both a local and state level. Write to Mayor Villaraigosa and ask him what he is doing to work toward a solution to this problem. If you are feeling particularly ambitious, write to Governor Schwarzenegger and demand his response to the urgent situation. California’s gubernatorial election is coming up in 2010, and if you are a resident of “the Golden State,” you can use your vote as direct action in the fight against homelessness. If your preferred candidate has not made his or her position on the issue of homelessness in California clear, write to him or her, pressing for an answer.

Above all, we should remember that not only as Oxy students, but as human beings, we have a moral and ethical obligation to put aside our petty stereotypes about the homeless and simply help them. We should never forget that although these people are down and out right now, they are still human beings who feel the same pangs of pain and sorrow that we feel. Their dignity and confidence is just as injured by their situation as ours would be if we were to live a day in their shoes. So, do not forget, Oxy, about our neighbors whose homes we must rebuild with action and compassion.

If you have enough time in your schedule, try volunteering at a local soup kitchen or food pantry to learn more about the struggles that the homeless face every day. The Hospitality Kitchen (also called the “Hippie Kitchen”), which is run by the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, serves food from 7:45-12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For more information on volunteering, call 213-614-9615. In Los Angeles County, there are also the Los Angeles Mission (213-629-1227) and the Union Rescue Mission (213-347-6300, x1148), which need volunteers and donations.

Lily Rowen is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at rowen@oxy.edu.

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