Frontline: Stories of Homelessness, Support and Survival

Published : Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | 4:43 AM

Knowing peoples’ stories humanizes them. That is the driving idea behind United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ upcoming “Stories from the Frontline” event in Pasadena this week.

Under the auspices of its “Everyone In” campaign, the stories of people who have gone from homelessness to homey with the help of supportive housing, and the people who have worked with them, will be given voice June 27 at Pasadena’s Polytechnic Institute.

“What we find is that there’s rising homelessness across different regions like the San Gabriel Valley, the West Side, and Antelope Valley,” said Frank Romero-Crockett, impact communications manager, Everyone In Campaign. “So we want to localize this housing solution.”

By “solution” Romero-Crockett is speaking of “supportive housing,” which he defined as affordable housing that’s combined with in-house support services.

These can include mental health services, case management, counseling, or substance abuse therapy. They are all under one roof in apartment buildings ranging from 49 to 60 units or more, with ground floor communal spaces for just those kinds of interventions.

“Nine out of 10 residents who have been in supportive housing actually retain their housing,” he stated. “They get back up to stability. They’re able to eventually find employment and affordable units for living.”

And so the Frontline stories come from those who benefited from supportive housing programs.

“Attendees will be hearing stories of what drove them into homelessness, but also of what helped them get out of it through the support that they got perhaps from an agency, an organization, or safe community,” explained Crockett-Romero.

He said the outreach efforts are quite effective and that a crowd of between 250 and 300 people is typical for the events.

The stories are meant to enlighten those living in areas where affordable housing is needed and considered viable. He noted that many residents are opposed to any type of building done for their homeless neighbors, but there are still more who are on the fence or undecided.

“They support solutions perhaps in theory, but they just haven’t thought about it, of bringing this solution into their own neighborhood,” observed Crockett-Romero. “So we try to blanket a region like Pasadena with our digital efforts, advertising, working with partners to bring those undecided residents to come and hear these stories.”

It is not just the former homeless who share their experiences through Frontline. Heard, too, are yarns from those who work with them; case managers, or outreach workers, “who share stories about the volume of people they are confronted with and how they assess what services are needed most,” he said.

The event at Polytechnic is one in a series of Frontline storytelling happenings, he explained. Venice, Boyle Heights, North Hollywood, and Long Beach have all served as venues for the outreach format.

It is not something United Way is doing across the country, rather specific to Los Angeles County.

The initiative is the brainchild of two local homeless activists, Marilyn Wells and Allison Schallert. Everyone In works with local homeless service providers in organizing the events. Partners for the Pasadena event are Union Station Homeless Services, and Making Housing and Community Happen.

The goal, plainly speaking, is to enroll attendees into the fight against homelessness through the hosting service organizations.

“When we find a lot of residents who are very curious about homelessness and they want to perhaps do something about it, this is one way to really bring them into this community movement,” said Crockett-Romero. “What we typically find is that they talk to one of our field organizers, sign up, and get plugged in.”

The format is the same at every location, he explained. Free food is offered and things kick-off at 6 p.m. the dinner hour, to encourage attendance. The event is emceed by a partner working the area whom people will recognize. Festivities open with a slide show about the campaign, its successes and challenges. There are anywhere from five to seven speakers, back-to-back.

These are not repeat performances. “In every community there are new speakers that come out to share their stories,” said Crockett-Romero. “Then we have music to bring things together and keep it light for folks.”

He observed that neighborhood politics can often be loud, boisterous and uninviting.

Stories from the Frontline attempts to create a safe environment for learning. The speakers, if they need it, get training from yet another partner, CHS, which runs a program called Speak Up!, designed to help storytellers with the often terrifying task of addressing the public.

“It can be very painful to relive and share with 300 people everything you’ve been through,” said Crockett-Romero.

Everyone In: Stories from the Frontline, Thursday, June 27, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Polytechnic School, 1030 East California Boulevard. Interviewees will be available between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and after the program. They include: Elise Buik, president and chief executive officer, United Way of Greater Los Angeles; Marilyn Wells, founder of Stories From the Frontline; and storyteller speakers.

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