By Michael Wamback
The spirit of Venice was alive and strong at the first annual Street Store, held on Saturday November 22nd at the First Baptist Church. Venice’s homeless population was given the opportunity to receive a hot shower and meal, a haircut, some clothing and the opportunity to be part of an event that treated them like human beings, rather than “undesirable” to be swept out of sight.
The Street Store project was the inspiration of Sylvia Dell Andersen of getzentv.com. Sylvia had seen a video of a Street Store held in South Africa, and thought there was no reason it couldn’t work here in Venice. She approached several charities, who were reluctant to embrace the concept. Sylvia finally hooked up with Alison Hurst of Safe Place for Youth (SPY) and Bishop Designate Horace Allen of First Baptist Church in Venice. They immediately embraced the idea, which quickly blossomed.
Homeless persons began lining up for the event two hours before the door opened. Once inside, they found an army of volunteers offering many different services. They were each given tickets for a meal and shower, as well as an item of clothing and pair of gently used shoes. There was a DJ and other musicians to provide a festive atmosphere to the event. They could get a haircut if desired. The Venice Family Clinic was on hand to administer flu shots, and Animal Wellness Centers provided vaccines for their pets. San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission was on hand with their portable showers. Other event sponsors included The Animal Advocacy Museum, Toni R. Price – Lash Factor Inc., Crown Plaza Hotel, The Beauty Bus Foundation, UCLA’s Creative Minds Project, REMO Recreational Music Center, Hav a Soul, Dog for Dog, Unleashed by Petco, Drippin’ Nectar Body Products, Badan Aromatherapy, Veggie Grill, Green Peas Casual Food, Hunter Best Cleaning, Momentum Biosciences, Dream Sweets Banking Co., discountmugs.com and Tofurky.
In addition to these organizations, support for the event was given by professionals from the entertainment industry, including model and television personality Bonnie-Jill Laflin, actress Alexandra Paul, actress Debra Wilson, author Laurel House, actor Billy McNamara, celebrity chef Rawsheed and actress Christina DeRosa, who all appeared and participated in the event.
Homeless youth is a big issue in our communities – but one that often goes unrecognized. Deneisha, from Safe Place for Youth, explained that homeless youth tend to do a better job of blending into the crowd, and are often considered the “invisible homeless.” She indicated that there are as many as one to two million homeless youth in America. A recent Los Angeles survey indicated the number of homeless youth (18 – 25) in Los Angeles to be approximately 4,700 on any given night. Last year, Safe Place for Youth provided services for 784 homeless youth in Venice.
Pastor Allen and SPY have been working tirelessly on this issue for the last three years. SPY operates a drop in center for homeless youth out of First Baptist Church. Here, the youth are able to get a hot meal, medical services, counseling services, clothing and other much needed support. SPY, with five staff and approximately fifty volunteers, provides case workers who assist the youth in everything from getting an ID to finding permanent housing or a GED. Spy also operates a street outreach program, that goes into our neighborhood three times each week – connecting with the homeless to make sure they are safe and to direct them toward services.
Thanks to Safe Place for Youth, a substantial number of homeless youth have been able to transition to permanent housing.
SPY operates on private funding, and has just recently obtained their first foundation grant.
The Street Store is being planned as an annual event each November, which is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and California Runaway & Homeless Youth Month.
While SPY is having success in reaching our local homeless youth and assisting them in transitioning to education and permanent housing, homelessness in general is a problem which continues to grow. And it’s a problem which can’t be solved by simply pushing the homeless around from street to to street. America continues to profess to be a “Christian Nation”, and as such, must work to take care of our most vulnerable members. Proverbs 29:7 says “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern.” In days where the news runs stories of Hawaii State Rep. Tom Brower smashing the belongings of homeless people with a sledgehammer while dressed in an Armani Exchange cap and gloves, and then running for office on “Christian values”, it’s easy to think that we’ve lost our way as a country. Stopping by First Baptist Church to participate in and be witness to the great work that Safe Place for Youth and Street Store are doing, truly reaffirmed the good that lies within the hearts of many Venetians.
For more information, please visit the Safe Place for Youth website at http://safeplaceforyouth.org and http://getzentv.com