The UCLA Volunteer Center is proud to count People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) as one of its community partners. In addition to making a difference within the Westwood community, PATH has collaborated with the Center on projects such as Lunches for Bunches, and on Volunteer Day 2015, UCLA volunteers assembled 500 hygiene kits as part of an on-campus service project. Read more below on PATH’s services, and meet a recent UCLA alumna working with the organization to put an end to homelessness.
The 2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count reported that there are approximately 58,423 homeless individuals nightly in Los Angeles; 43,410 go unsheltered and live on the street. People Assisting the Homeless works to support individuals in their transition from life on the street to homes of their own. PATH is the largest homeless service provider in the state of California and has over 1,000 units of permanent housing made available to clients or in development. Through active support, such as PATH’s outreach teams, permanent and interim housing opportunities, and financial and health/wellness education and assistance, PATH is able to change lives, making sure clients have the ability to stay in permanent housing long term.
After a visit to the Center for Community Learning and an abundance of previous volunteer experience, Andrea Murray, who is now a UCLA Alumna and PATH employee, made the choice to apply for UCLA’s Civic Engagement Minor and the Astin Civic Engagement Scholars Program. That same year in 2012, Andrea met Tessa Madden, PATH’s Senior Director of Development at Nonprofit Networking Night, and in April 2013, Andrea began interning at PATH as an Intake Coordinator. In her current position as Development Associate for Volunteers, Andrea now manages donation and volunteer programs for four interim housing sites and seven permanent supportive housing locations. Her other responsibilities include coordinating programs like Lunches for Bunches and the assembly of Hygiene Kits, running special events like furnishing client’s new apartments, and presenting on the topic of homelessness to audiences of all ages. Through all of this work, Andrea hopes to build relationships with community partners and cultivate lifelong donors. One event she takes great pride in is the holiday party she coordinated for 150 families. Each child received a gift and Andrea notes, “to watch each of those children get a present, and to watch them engage with our volunteer groups, was absolutely priceless.”
Since 2013, PATH has placed over 5,600 families, chronically homeless individuals, and veterans into homes, and during the past year, PATH has served 7,302 separate individuals. Referrals are made through their Street Outreach Department contracted in 20 cities including Westwood, organizations like the Veterans Administration, and through the coordinate entry system. PATH is able to make this possible with a network of facilities and programs in place, but also due to the care and understanding shown to each referral. Andrea shares an outreach scenario in Westwood that exemplifies the kindness and time spent to help clients that is essential for their success:
The PATH Outreach Team responded to a client known as “Woman with many suitcases” after receiving several calls from Westwood residents and business owners. The team offered services and temporary housing opportunities to her. The client was initially reluctant but eventually decided to take advantage of the offer. Since there was no bed available in the shelter at that time, PATH paid for a hotel. After three weeks, a bed in the shelter became vacant, where she is maintaining healthy hygiene habits. The goal for this client is to obtain a birth certificate to get an ID and Social Security card. Once those two items are completed, the team can proceed in establishing income for the client and set her up in permanent housing.
Andrea makes it clear that part of the work PATH involves fighting stigma and changing the general population’s view of homelessness. By taking the time to sit down and have a meal and conversation with clients through programs like PATHCooks, PATH hopes to open a dialogue between clients and volunteers. Andrea notes that after experiencing programs like these, “It’s no longer someone sleeping on the streets that you try to ignore. It’s someone passing the salt and telling you about their time in the Army. It humanizes homelessness. It brings home the fact that homelessness does not discriminate—it can happen to anyone.”
Whether it is through clubs or campus organizations like IMHOME and Swipe Out Hunger, or through hosting a project like Lunches for Bunches with a group of friends, it is important to learn more about the homeless population and recognize that anyone can make a difference. Through her work with PATH, Andrea notes that she has “met young mothers transitioning out of foster care, veterans unable to re-enter the workforce, adults overcoming the hardships of chronic illness. With every client I meet, the concept of Individual Blame is more and more shadowed by Institutional Blame. Like my coworkers and community partners, I do not judge them if the decisions they made are what led them to experience homelessness. Instead, I turn to the societal structures which came into play—our foster care system, our unemployment rates, health systems, mental health institutions, and more.”
Everyone has the opportunity to make an impact. Interested in how you can get involved? Visit PATH’s website for more information or search “homelessness” or “poverty” in the UCLA Volunteer Center Database. The UCLA Volunteer Center thanks Andrea and PATH for their hard work toward combating homelessness.