California – Los Angeles: Bruin Shelter

Louis Tse

Louis Tse graduated from UCLA’s PhD program for Mechanical Engineering in spring 2016. Born and raised in Arizona, Louis grew up volunteering at museums and developed a strong interest in engineering and humanitarian work. Having just accepted a job at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena to advance Mars exploration, Louis is spending this summer finalizing details and initiating the functions of the Bruin Shelter in Santa Monica.
 
Upon arrival to UCLA, Louis was very excited to become a part of the Greater Los Angeles community. Louis grew more involved with social issues after his first volunteer experience with the UCLA Volunteer Center, a One Bus, One Cause event in which he served at the Veterans Succeeding in the 21st Century center. His enthusiasm for service flourished and his passion was ignited when the problem of student homelessness became a personal concern of his. Louis acknowledged the amount of homelessness faced by UCLA students and forewent an apartment, living out of his car so that he could save his rent money to be put toward Bruin Shelter.
 
Slated to open in October 2016, Bruin Shelter will provide residency, nutrition, and stability for Bruins who struggle with housing. It is only the second student-run homeless shelter for young adults in the nation, following the lead of a similar program at Harvard University. The programs, though similar, differ in a number of ways. For example, Bruin Shelter has an application process for residents, whereas the Harvard program is based on a lottery system. Despite program differences, the students who run the shelter at Harvard have been tremendously helpful in providing assistance to the planning of Bruin Shelter.
 
The new program was founded by Louis and is administrated by 20 student directors who each offer energy and knowledge to the shelter’s efforts. Staffing the shelter are 50 student volunteers who cook meals, spend time with the residents, provide emotional support, and stay overnight at the shelter to ensure things run smoothly.
 

 
Additionally, the shelter receives much support from the community and nonprofit partners. “In the early days when Bruin Shelter was a concept yet to take flight, it was the unconditional encouragement of many people at UCLA who served as the rocket fuel that launched the idea into a reality – Shannon Hickman, Mick Deluca, Mike Cohn, Kevin McCardle, Maria Blandizzi, just to name a few,” said Louis. After reaching out to Kevin McCardle from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, Louis discovered one of his earliest supporters and advisors. Kevin has been president of the board of St. Joseph’s Center for over 15 years, and has worked to establish the partnership with Bruin Shelter. St. Joseph’s Center provides services to the homeless every day and focuses on helping them find permanent housing by navigating the housing search and providing “rapid rehousing” rental assistance. While most homeless services require sobriety and attainment of a job as prerequisites for housing assistance, St. Joseph’s Center takes a novel approach with the “housing first” model, which stresses the importance of consistency in addressing the root causes of homelessness. With this in consideration, Bruin Shelter has been established to provide housing and services for homeless students without neglecting those afflicted by job and sobriety issues.
 

The most impactful event leading to Louis’s creation of the shelter occurred when he visited Skid Row with friends to hand out food to the homeless men and women living there. After befriending one of the men, Louis learned that his new friend was not just living on Skid Row, but was also attending college. Louis began to acknowledge the parallels between his own life and that of this man, and he became keenly aware of how easily “had outcomes been different, [he] could have ended up on Skid Row.”
 

 
His time at UCLA has taught him a greater sense of the impact he can have as an individual. He has learned to think about things differently and to realize that as young adults and future leaders, the college-aged generation holds a special position in the world that no one else does, to be in a place where the problems of the world present themselves to you and your future is open to solving them. He hopes to inspire others to use that opportunity for making a difference to create, even in the smallest sense, a ripple effect to spur waves of change in the future. With only 12 beds, Bruin Shelter is trying to maximize its impact. Louis explains that “12 beds is only a drop in the bucket, but having a small but mighty team of people come together and say ‘we’re going to do something about this issue’ means a lot. Everyone is precious and deserves opportunity.”
 
At the start of the application process, Louis and the team didn’t know what challenges they would face. They weren’t sure how Bruin Shelter would be perceived due to the stigma associated with the label “homeless.” After the first day the application opened, however, the team received more applicants than they were able to serve. While it was unfortunate that there would not be ample room for all of the applicants, this experience brought joy to Louis and the team who witnessed the initial impact of the shelter and the community need for the service they would be providing. Through interviews with the candidates, the board heard stories of foster homes, long term homelessness, abuse, and more. Louis found inspiration in their stories of perseverance, and learning about the obstacles many of these individuals had to overcome galvanized the reasons for the creation of the shelter.
 
For any individuals interested in getting involved, the shelter is seeking volunteers to cook meals, hang out with the residents, stay overnight, and perform tasks around the premises. For more information, visit bruinshelter.com.

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