LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Organizers are expecting a record number of
participants in Saturday’s fifth annual United Way HomeWalk in Exposition Park,
thanks to Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant serving as the event’s
Approximately 10,000 people are expected for the five-kilometer walk,
topping the previously high of about 6,000, which was set last year, said
United Way of Greater Los Angeles Chief Execitive Officer Elise Buik.
“To have Kobe’s stature and his focus on this issue has really helped
put it on the radar,’ she told City News Service.
Buik said she hopes the walk will raise $500,000, which will be used to
support permanent solutions to end homelessness for chronically homeless
people, include veterans and families.
Bryant announced in June the formation of the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant
Family Foundation, which will initially focus on youth homelessness in Los
“On my way to games, I noticed children and families living on the
streets blocks away from where I play and it didn’t sit well with me,’ Kobe
Bryant said at the time. “I wanted to help make a difference in homelessness
and what better place to start than in my own back yard.’
Bryant’s involvement in a local issue is unusual, Buik said.
“We don’t often have local figures of his stature that are focused on
Los Angeles,’ Buik said. “They might be focused on other countries or other
cities like New Orleans. To have him focused on L.A. and to focus on a poverty-
related issue is very impactful.’
She called Bryant “very passionate about this issue.’
Los Angeles County has switched its emphasis in dealing with the
homeless to providing permanent supportive housing, where residents receive
mental health, substance abuse and health care services in addition to shelter.
“Unless you provide a homeless person with a home and address the
issues that rendered him homeless in the first place, they’re going to remain
homeless or go back to being homeless very shortly after they’ve been in an
overnight shelter,’ said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is
scheduled to attend Saturday’s walk.
According to statistics provided by United Way of Greater Los Angeles,
more than 51,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County on any given night,
more than any other county in the nation, with 25 percent to 30 percent being
chronically homeless, meaning homeless for at least a year, he said.
“Addressing homeless on a case-by-case basis is a very time consuming
undertaking because many of the homeless we have in the streets of L.A. have
been homeless for years, in some cases decades,’ Yaroslavsky said. “It’s not
easy to get them to be open to the idea of getting into a permanent supportive
housing unit. But if you don’t give up on them, in almost every case we are
able to be successful.’
In addition to the philosophical shift from temporary shelters, the
effort to reduce homelessness has also been aided by the improved alignment of
government funding — with Los Angeles County providing funding for services
and cities providing funding for housing — allowing “us to get these projects
online quicker,’ Buik said.
The county’s homeless population includes more than 9,000 veterans.
Yaroslavsky said his office is working with the Veterans Administration
to identify 120 of the most chronically homeless veterans “who have major
issues’ so they can be housed in a building on its Brentwood campus that would
be retrofit to provide health care and mental health services.
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