California, the richest state in the United States, has more than 150,000 homeless people. Of those, four out of ten are in Los Angeles. “When you move through the different neighborhoods of this city, you can see thousands of tents under bridges, parks and even on the sidewalks of residential spaces. It’s practically impossible, if you live here,” says Damian Mazzuta, an Argentine who immigrated to the United States 10 years ago and is currently residing in the city. Or you come to visit, don’t you face this reality.”
One winter’s night, when Mazzotta went out to dinner with his son, he saw someone sleeping in the ventilation grill downstairs to get some warmth. His pain bothered him. And this annoyance became a trigger for response.
At the time, he was working for La Opinion, a Hispanic news outlet. There he met Mel Telekertney who, as a consultant for Monday Night Mission (MNM), contacted the media to ask for publicity about the initiative, which focused on distributing food to the homeless at night. Mazuta was interested: He got close to a night and ended up volunteering for a year. One of MNM’s strengths was the social media community: about 20,000 people came together to help.
With nearly twenty years of corporate project delivery experience, Mazzotta wondered how he could put his skills to work with these people and add even more value. So that was one day Tillekeratne was asked to formalize an organization.
In 2017, Mazzotta co-founded the NGO End Homelessness California (EHC), whose first initiative was The Shower of Hope Program, a mobile hygiene proposal that in 2019 became the largest operation of its kind in the United States, serving tens of thousands of people. . Homeless people.
The initiative is to create spaces where people can shower, eat and have clean clothes. At each point it arrives, with a trailer, it runs for four or five hours so that people have time to sit back, relax, and communicate with social workers or the health system. On some occasions, they come from lawyers to hairdressers. Everyone has about 15 minutes to shower.
How does the project scale?
To launch the model, the founders held a fundraising event to purchase the trailer and the truck it drives. It started with four portable toilets, volunteer work, and donated hygiene products. “With this starting point, we were able to show how the program works to local government authorities. With the results, we have already created alliances to make it grow,” Mazzuta says. After some time, government organizations, foundations and companies joined in to support the initiative.
One of the first associations was with the Sagrada Familia in South Pasadena, which fed the community every afternoon. EHC sent the trailer to the site. “We have links and cooperation with churches of different denominations and the result is always positive,” adds the program reference.
Another important alliance is with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “The truth is that the first approach to the homeless person is challenging. Anyone who spends a few days on the street begins to suffer from trauma and cognitive and social disturbances. When given the opportunity to shower and participate in an activity in which they feel cared for and confident, they are more willing to receive other services. ‘, says Mazutta.
After nine months of work, it was possible to show the results, especially to the local authorities, to ask for funding. After that, the number of trailers can be increased and staffing begins. 30% of the organization’s employees were the first homeless and were program users.
“A person who is left homeless basically loses everything and has very few resources to get up. The opportunity to belong to a social group or an activity allows you to have a life-changing goal. For example, when we asked one of the people who attended the program if he wanted to work With us, he was initially embarrassed to explain that he had lost documents and that he did not know how to read. We are helping her with her problems and today she is one of the most committed to the project,” says Mazzuta, who recounts the experience in the book A Drop of Dignity.
Trust and daily communication
Today the organization operates at more than 25 locations each week, with a nine-trailer structure and mobilizes more than 200 people per week among staff and volunteers. It reaches between 2,000 and 2,500 homeless people per month.
Rising housing costs and huge income disparities mean that want is no longer limited to those outside the work system. “A lot of people who attend our programs have a job, but their income isn’t enough to make ends meet,” Mazzuta says, adding, “You see a lot of change. We meet people who are temporarily homeless because they couldn’t pay rent at the end of the month or lost their jobs. They come close to spending those days.” The exact moment. There are also those who find themselves in this situation chronically.”
But in addition to that, the organization End Homelessness California discovered another problem. The city of Los Angeles has more than 6000 people who live in their cars. For this reason, an initiative was created that provides two parking lots, spaces from 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM, where there is food, bathrooms, security and someone who helps people connect with social services and, ultimately, with shelters or resources to improve your situation.
In 2020, the organization launched a new shared housing program and comprehensive support for college students insecure for housing, called Hope Housing for Students. “The initiative arose because a university contacted us to tell us that some of its students were sleeping in their cars to study and asked if we could implement a program like the one we did in the parking lot. We went with the counter-proposal of Hope Housing for Students,” Mazzuta says.
Today this program has three houses in which 30 students live. Currently, the NGO is in talks with the government to pilot this idea and expand it to 100 students.
In parallel, the organization has developed an app and website that geolocates places and organizations that provide essential services to the homeless or individuals who need access to basic needs, such as food. “These initiatives allow us to tell people that there are people in their community who want to connect with them and who want to help them. It is very important to maintain regularity so that the homeless can build trust and daily contact with these spaces,” explains Mazzuta.
Reflecting on the organization’s future, he says, “Our goal is to provide a minimum level of immediate dignity while there are no conditions for housing. We hope this service will no longer be necessary, and we no longer have to provide it because people have a place to live.”
This note is part of the Solutions for Latin America platform, an alliance between INFOBAE and RED/ACCION.
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