The main meeting room at Temple Akiba was ringed with tables, staffed by representatives from organizations like Upward Bound House, the Power of a Shower, St. Joseph’s Center, and Shoes for the Homeless. The room was filled beyond capacity with people who wanted to know what they could do to help with the homeless crisis. It was a good intersection.
The meeting on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019 at Culver City’s Temple Akiba had been presented as a community forum on homelessness, and the evening began with some thoughts and prayers. An introduction from the temple’s president, Dr. Ira Diamond, brought both Rabbi Zach Shapiro and his husband, LA City Controller Ron Galperin up to speak in turn.
The Rabbi reflected on this week’s Torah portion ( Jewish communities the world over all read and study the same section of the Torah, one week at a time, through the year) from Genesis and offered the concept of the holy stranger. “You don’t know, you can never know, if the person standing next to you in line, is one of them. If a homeless person on the street is one of them. Our service is in how we all treat each other.”
A prayer from Rev. Dr. Frances Rosenau of the Culver City Presbyterian Church also called in the meeting, offering her thoughts on the holiness of human kindness.
Galprin took on the huge topic of regulations and how they slowed the process down, and gave a detailed look into how the city of Los Angeles was using (and not using) the funds that the voters had approved to help. “L.A. voters overwhelmingly approved Prop. HHH three years ago. As of today, costs are way up and zero HHH-funded units are open.”
The panel of participants onstage included Chelsea Byers, Field Organizer for the “Everyone In” Campaign of United Way; Matthew Tecle, Field Deputy to Councilman Mike Bonin; Emily Martiniuk, a person who was formerly homeless; Mark Lipman, member of the Culver City Homelessness Committee; and Danny Pepper, Director of Resident Services, West Hollywood Community Housing Corps.
Martiniuk began by telling the story of how she fell into homelessness, and how government services had helped her get out, and find her way back to sanity and security. Pepper offered the City of West Hollywood’s focus through his non-profit as a way of preventing homelessness by connecting services with vulnerable populations. Tecle noted “This is what I do every day, this is the prime focus of the work I do [for Councilmember Bonin] It’s person by person and situation by situation.”
Byers took an institutional overview of how a large, long-established non-profit like the United Way created a campaign to address the homeless crisis, and Lipman spoke passionately of the prevailing economic forces that had created the problem, and were about to make it all much worse.
When the moment came for the audience to ask questions, the most basic was “What can I do? If I see a person on the sidewalk, and I get that they are homeless, ad maybe they need help – What can I do?”
Tecle offered the 211 phone call – “Just give them the location, and a description, and they will be able to send some help. If you can wait for them to arrive, you will be able to see how they operate, and they will do all they can do get the homeless person whatever help is needed.”
Dr. Diamond, known for his work with Shoes for the Homeless, said that it was truly heartening to see the room so full. “On a Monday night, with all you have going on in your lives, this is inspirational that so many people really want to help make a change.”
At the end of the night, people were encouraged to go back and speak to the folks at the tables, the organizations that took care of shoes and showers, and connect with helping directly.