Local non-profits host Homeless Connect Day in Highland Park

Courtesy of Esmé Epstein

Seventeen organizations, including Exodus RecoveryChrysalis and Recycled Resources for the Homeless, set up booths in front of the Highland Park Senior Center on Figueroa Street for the first Homeless Connect Day April 5. The organizations represented both the private and public sectors of housing, healthcare and employment assistance. LA Kitchen provided free lunch and other organizations provided free haircuts, backpacks and shoes to attendees. Monica Alcaraz, the Northeast Regional Coordinated Entry System (CES) coordinator of LA County Public Health Service Planning Area 4organized the event and Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar sponsored it. Alcaraz said that approximately 120 people attended the event, though she was only expecting 75–100.

Courtesy of Esmé Epstein

According to Alcaraz, the goal of the event was to connect homeless individuals in Northeast Los Angeles with the resources they need in order to find housing. She said that in order for someone who is homeless to qualify for most housing, they need a California-issued identification card, a Social Security Card, a signed disability form by a health provider and a source of income.

Alcaraz, a Highland Park native, was the president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council from 2012–2016. While Alcaraz was president, Recycled Resources founder Rebecca Prine alerted her of the necessity to provide more services to the growing homeless population in the area. Recycled Resources is the first shelter and non-profit outreach group in Northeast LA, founded in 2008.

“Beyond the [Highland Park] Neighborhood Council, I started to see what was really happening in my community. I saw that there weren’t any real services for the homeless provided for people in Northeast Los Angeles –– meaning Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, Highland Park and the area surrounding the Arroyo Seco River,” Alcaraz said.

Elisa McCormick, the Team Lead and Mental Health Clinician of Exodus Recovery Incorporated’s Northeast E-6 Outreach Team, was one of the representatives at the Exodus Recovery booth. She said that the LA Department of Health Services created a team in Northeast LA October 2016 as a result of the Measure-H initiative.

According to McCormick, the outreach team travels by foot, mostly around the Arroyo Seco River, and approaches those who are in tents or sleeping bags. They understand that many people do not want to go too far from their camp. That’s why Exodus Recovery seeks out homeless populations and tries to provide linkage to whatever services they might need, whether that be food, water, transportation or medical help.

“The good thing is that the resources are growing, so hopefully in the future, there will be some permanent supportive housing in Highland Park. With some people, we might not be able to help them in the next year, or in the next two years, but we’re just showing people that we’re here and that there are some services that are available outside,” McCormick said.

Nancy Martinez, community engagement manager of Chrysalis, represented the organization at the event. She said that Chrysalis is a non-profit dedicated to helping people find work through job readiness classes that cover the entire spectrum of the employment process, including the resume, application process and interview. According to Martinez, the organization also has a social enterprise component, which gives individuals the opportunity to temporarily work in street maintenance so they can get something on their resume and make it easier for future employers to hire them.

Martinez said that she got involved in non-profit work because she grew up in Watts, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles, and she believes that everyone deserves an opportunity to get out of the situation that they are in.

“The thing is, growing up in Watts, there’s a stereotype of what Watts is. There are crime and drugs, and some individuals who just don’t come out,” Martinez said. “There is a preconceived notion of what a homeless individual looks like. There are times when the people who have walked through our doors have been in college and have Bachelor’s [degrees] or Master’s [degrees] who just had difficult situations in this economy and this job market.”

Ruben Reyna, a Recycled Resources volunteer who was previously homeless, said that most people think of all homeless individuals as being involved with drugs and alcohol and they forget that people need a second chance.

Reyna said he grew up in Highland Park but, like many other people from the area, he could not afford the cost of housing. Nevertheless, he did not want to leave the area, so he was homeless for years until he worked with Alcaraz, who he met through Recycled Resources to help him find housing. As of six months ago, he has a single-occupancy room in Boyle Heights and volunteers most Saturdays at Recycled Resources. He said he loves Highland Park because it’s where he grew up and it has always been a diverse neighborhood, but that gentrification in the area has made it difficult for many people like him to find accommodations in the neighborhood.

“[Highland Park] used to have a gang element, but now that the gang element is gone we have had an influx of crimes from people who weren’t raised here. We have had people who have moved in and are causing robberies because they don’t know their neighbors. They are doing their own thing, so we have different crimes now,” Reyna said.

Many Highland Park natives want to continue living in the neighborhood but cannot afford housing, according to Alcaraz. Alcaraz said that until there are more solutions for the homeless in Northeast LA, she will continue to bring resources to the area. She is currently organizing another Homeless Connect Day scheduled for May 3 in Lincoln Park.