The Youth Count was an engaging and helpful way for us to get involved in combating homelessness in Los Angeles. Through an initiative orchestrated by Safe Place for Youth, or “S.P.Y.”, we helped to survey homeless youth in the Venice area so that SPY and other organizations could better distribute funds and resources. After a short information session, we divided into pods of four to five, were given a map and a handful of subway gift cards (a reward for completing the survey), and headed out into Venice. Emily Heaps and I were in a pod with Ross, an man volunteering on one of his rare days off from work and Brett, a Texan by birth and Californian by choice who was a client of SPY himself. I quickly realized that the homeless young people I surveyed welcomed the opportunity not only because of the subway gift card but because of the rare opportunity for connection and conversation.
One incident stood out. I was surveying a woman who turned out to be a fellow Coloradan who was selling special rocks outside of a coffee shop, which turned out to carry the logo “Tom’s”. A man walked out of the store, coffee in hand. “I didn’t know Tom’s made coffee,” she told him. He kept walking. It was a rude gesture and certainly something I would have at least commented on if it had happened to me. She made no remark and her facial expressions didn’t show signs of annoyance, rather begrudging acceptance.“That was rude,” I remarked. “Yeah, it’s something you get used to” she replied, “we’re invisible”. The exchange reminded me of my time spent with Worthy of Love, the organization which throws birthday parties for the children of skid row. Addressing homelessness doesn’t even resemble an easy task. We almost never have the means and resources to provide food, shelter, health services, career advisement and so many other essentials. Sometimes, the time of day will do.