By Alex Cordero
Local organizations recently joined forces in Pasadena to discuss their common vision of ending homelessness across Los Angeles County. The event titled “Everyone In: Stories from the Frontline” featured local residents from the Crown City who shared their stories about overcoming homelessness with a crowded auditorium at Polytechnic School. But, there was one story not featured on the flyer that I was fortunate enough to discover with a simple smile.
Heidi Esparza, a single mother of five had been homeless for a total of 10 years. She was invited to the event by a representative from Everyone In, a coalition of nonprofit organizations coming together to demand housing for homeless people across LA County. She was invited to share her story but she shared with me that at the time of the invitation she didn’t feel ready to tell her story because she was still recovering from the mental trauma of being homeless and was focusing on recuperating.
Esparza has been living sustainably for only six months. When I asked her how she was able to finally find a place to call home Esparza’s story shocked me.
“I was so fed up and it was all due to an accident. I was at my wits end and I fell from two stories back in December and my friend let me recover at her place and her sister knew somebody that was renting a room. And, I went there and after that my kids came automatically right after the first couple of months; my two youngest kids came to live with me.”
Esparza now rents a home in which she assists and shares with a senior citizen as part of her job with In Home Supportive Services.
She began to open up about her struggles of being a single mom living on the streets as we both enjoyed complimentary cheeseburgers and fries.
“It was just so hard with all five of my kids and trying to get through it; and then trying to go to work and give them structure. And I was just all over the place.”
Throughout this phase of Heidi’s life with her children she encountered rejection, discrimination and a lack of compassion for being homeless. All of her children are close in age and when her boys reached a certain age they were not allowed in shelters. “Boys at a certain age are not allowed to be with girls in shelters,” she shared. During this time it was extremely difficult for Esparza to find shelter for her and all her children as she was most often turned away because her boys were already considered old enough to not be allowed among women and children at shelters.
I asked Esparza, if she had the opportunity, what she would tell a local government official about what he or she can do better to help homeless individuals. She told me that she would like to see more government officials out on the streets getting to know the people living on the streets and be more hands on.
“They need to see for themselves how actually it is [sic]. And it’s not just the government either it’s the community as well that needs to come together and fight for the homeless people rights [sic]. I know there’s [sic] a lot of people that are on drugs are homeless but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help as well. You don’t know where they come from and you cannot always judge a book by its cover.”
Esparza went on to express her abundant relief that she does not have to worry about finding a place for her and her children to sleep anymore. As she became more vulnerable she began to cry and continued, “I’m so thankful that I’m over it. It was so hard. And that’s why I want to start helping people. People need to have compassion and open their minds and not discriminate just because there are less fortunate people out there.”
We wrapped-up our conversation and followed the people inside the auditorium to find seats where we could sit together and waited with anticipation for the event to begin.
AJ Gibson, author, speaker, perspective coach, and celebrity TV host was the emcee. Throughout the evening he introduced several formerly homeless people that once lived on the streets of Pasadena. Real life stories of despair and hopelessness turned into redemption and positive outcomes all due to local organizations in the Crown City.
Organizations like Union Station Homeless Services were among the highest praised by the speakers. You could feel the eagerness and inspiration inside the auditorium to join Everyone In on their vision to end homelessness in LA County.
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“The stability of a home ends homelessness.” ⠀ ⠀ President and CEO of @launitedway Elise Buik hit the nail on the head. We cannot end this homelessness crisis until we build enough supportive and affordable housing in L.A. County to meet the need of our over 50,000 neighbors living outside.⠀ ⠀ And while tonight’s @storiesfrontline2018 event was about solutions, it was also about community, learning, and humanity.⠀ ⠀ @_ajgibson opened up the evening by opening up about his struggles with mental health. ⠀ ⠀ Shawn spoke about trauma, addiction, and ultimately finding support.⠀ ⠀ Dorothy shared her story of finding housing after nearly losing her life to homelessness.⠀ ⠀ Keith shared his music, and his perspective on the power of loving life and not giving up.⠀ ⠀ Hector showed us the power of finally finding stability through services.⠀ ⠀ Cynthia showed us why she—and others who have experienced homelessness—would be great neighbors. ⠀ ⠀ Jill told us how to fight for—and secure—supportive housing in our communities.⠀ ⠀ Finally, Teresa, our #EveryoneIn organizer in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, shared her commitment to finding solutions and invites you to join our team (which you can, on our website in our bio 😉) Thank you to all our speakers, to @ushsnews and @csh_innovate, the John and Marilyn Wells Family Foundation, and all the community members who came out tonight. Much more to come. ⠀ ⠀ 💙
Elise Buik, the first female president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, recognized all of the organizations in Pasadena advocating for affordable housing such as, Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG), Pasadena Tenant Justice Coalition (PTJC), First Baptist Church (FBC), Union Station, and the Corporation for Supportive Housing.
“The city is so lucky to have amazing partners and resources and we at United Way and Everyone In are so proud to be your partners in this work of ending homelessness.”