Hillsides Community Blog

From Awareness to Action: A Journey of Understanding the LA Homelessness Crisis

By Cristian Bojin

 

Portrait of lonely teenage girl on moody winter day

Each night I get to be home with my beautiful wife and 5-year-old daughter. Often, as my wife and I are tucking our daughter into her cozy bed, we tell her how much we love her. This is normal for us, and we are grateful. Our life is not perfect, but each night we have a warm place to lay our heads down after a fruitful work day. Each night we have dinner together as a family, which is our favorite time because we get to tune out everything else that has captured our attention throughout the day and focus on each other.

Until recently, my wife and I didn’t think often about the many homeless individuals living on the streets of Los Angeles. Aside from handing out a dollar or two when we see someone homeless at an intersection, we have not done anything to help them.

I am a communications major at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and for the last few months have been interning with Hillsides’ communications department. Through Hillsides’ Youth Moving On (YMO) program for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood, Hillsides serves youth ages 16 – 25 in the community, many who are homeless.  My first assignment for my internship was to research the state of homelessness in Los Angeles County, with a focus on transition-aged youth ages 16-25 (TAY).

Through my research, I have learned that the homeless population in Los Angeles County has grown significantly. According to the most recent count conducted by the city of Los Angeles, the 2017 LA Homelessness Census, during the last 10 days of January, 2017, there were 57,794 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County. This number represents a 23% increase from 2016, when the number was 46,874.

Often youth are hit the hardest by homelessness.  According to the same 2017 census, 5,983 youth experienced homelessness on a given night in Los Angeles County, which represents a 61% increase from 2016.  Based on national statistics, it’s likely that a large percentage of these youth were transitioning from foster care.  According to a National Youth in Transition Database survey, 19 percent of 19-year-olds report having been homeless at some point within the past two years, and most of them were formerly in foster care.

In Pasadena, where our YMO program is located, conversely, the homelessness rate has decreased significantly since 2009. There were 1,004 homeless people on the streets of Pasadena in 2009, according to the annual count conducted by the city.  Now that number is closer to 570, which marks a 56% drop in homelessness.   The city has taken many measures to improve the situation, such as partnering with non-profit developers and Union Station Homeless Services to build and operate permanent supportive housing developments for formerly homeless individuals and families. One such development, Marv’s Place, houses over 60 people, including more than 30 children.

Despite the increase in homelessness in Los Angeles County, however, there have been positive developments in the greater Los Angeles area as well. County voters approved Measure H last March, which provides a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fight homelessness. In addition, the measure is set to distribute $350 million to Los Angeles County fight homelessness.  Measure HHH, which was overwhelmingly passed by Los Angeles voters in November 2016, allows the city to build 10,000 new units for homeless people over the next 10 years.

Learning all of these statistics, as well as realizing the challenge the city and county face trying to resolve the problem, has made me realize that we all need to be more involved. I don’t have any big solutions to solve homelessness, but for now, one easy thing I can do is refer any homeless youth I encounter to Hillsides’ teen drop-in center, the Peer Resource Center, where they can get a meal, a shower, and referrals to housing. I also plan on volunteering with my family at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. It’s a start to ensure that just like my family, others throughout Los Angeles are able to go to bed at night in a warm, cozy place with a roof over their heads.

 

Cristian Bojin was born in the Eastern European country of Romania.  As a child, he learned English from watching movies and listening to music. He moved to Los Angeles in 2008 at age 25. The next year he began working at Wells Fargo Bank as a part-time teller. Today he is a customer service manager 2, leading a team of 10 at a Wells Fargo branch in Whittier.  Cristian is also finishing up a communications degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills, where he will graduate this May.  In the fall, he will start a master’s degree in professional communications at California State University, Fullerton.  He hopes to transfer to the Wells Fargo Corporate Communications department this year.   

 

 

 

Can You Help A Determined Young Man Find a Job?

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO

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We all get to a point in our lives when we realize that nothing is free and everything requires hard work and determination. It is an especially poignant moment for our residents on our Pasadena campus to come to this realization, signaling the kind of awareness and sensibility that will help them transition to independence. I got to witness such a moment recently when one of our residents, who will soon be graduating from our high school program and turning 18, solicited my help in finding him a job.

One of only a few youth who have been at Hillsides for several years, I’ve seen him grow up, shed weight, grow in height, and advance academically.  He’s matured into a shy yet determined young man with an easygoing personality. As he prepares to move on after graduation, he’s anxious to get a job and save some money to help him become independent.

When I asked him about his plans after graduation, he mentioned his interest in engineering and how he hopes to attend an engineering program at Citrus College.  Listening to him, it was hard to believe that this was the same child who arrived at Hillsides easily overwhelmed, impulsive, and vulnerable.

Hesitantly, he asked if I could use my contacts and assist in finding him a job. Any job would do, as long as he could get into a work place and begin to save some money for his future. We have a wonderful workforce development program run out of our Youth Moving On (YMO) Peer Resource Center.  We have partnered with dozens of businesses and organizations that offer youth jobs and internships after the youth go through an intensive job training curriculum developed with the expertise of Columbia University’s School of Social Work.  However, in case this option doesn’t work out, especially as this young man wants to start working immediately, I am asking anyone who might have an entry level job opportunity for him to contact me.  This blog doesn’t usually serve as an employment service, however I want to ensure we can help this resident move along a pathway toward greater independence. I can be reached at jcosta@hillsides.org.

Young people like our residents have been in the news these days, taking to the streets, raising their voices, and calling for change and action. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of gun control, their idealism and determination are inspirational. Whether it be calling for social change or seeking a job opportunity, these young people inspire us because of their belief that something better is possible and within their reach. Let us align with them to make their dreams and hopes be realized, whether helping a Hillsides’ resident find a job or a young advocate create a safer world.

We are also looking for more businesses and organizations to offer jobs and internships to youth through our workforce development curriculum.  If your place of work is interested in partnering with Hillsides, please contact Joshua Mathieu at jmathieu@hillsides.org.

Why this event is a time for action

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO

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Students at Hillsides Education Center (HEC) commemorated the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida shooting in solidarity with students from across the country with a memorial that recalled those who perished that day. As the students approached the gathering place for the memorial they became quiet and assembled in a circle to read the names of those who died and to share some information about each one. Naming the attributes of each victim made it poignantly clear how much alike they were to our own students.

The memorial at HEC was different from many that had been televised with individuals expressing position statements. Rather, this sobering event reminded each of us that violence is all too common in our lives. Gun-related violence is a symptom of a culture that has grown numb to the ever-present risks to our well-being that we experience daily. For many of the students at HEC, who themselves have been bullied and marginalized at times, the shooting in Parkland surfaces many emotions.

Lupe Gonzalez, the HEC director, had a simple message for our students: You are safe here, and together we will support one another through whatever challenges come our way. She can make such a promise not because metal detectors have been installed or armed personnel employed, but for the reason that all of us at Hillsides are committed to the safety and well-being of students and staff. Violence is mitigated by understanding and reaching out to those most vulnerable. Violence is thwarted when threats are addressed with a conviction that hope is possible. Violence is eliminated when resolve to change for the better is the driving force for action.

Much needs to be done to assure our children that they will be safe. The sobering looks on the students’ faces at HEC certainly help me to remain dedicated to addressing the ubiquitous violence that characterizes our society. Each of us has a role to play to create a safe environment for our children. The nature of the dilemma is overwhelming and so it is easy to avoid the issue, leave it to others, or abandon any hope that the situation can change. Accepting what some are calling a new normal is to somehow acquiesce to unspeakable harm to our children and many others who are vulnerable. This, of course, is not acceptable. This is a time for action, inspired by our youth and dedicated to their well-being. We must act to make them safe.

Five Ways to Find Everyday Spirituality in Your Life

By Rev. Robin A. Rhodes

Wooden path near a forest lake

Everyday spirituality is a good topic for this half-way point through the Christian Lenten season of reflection. Many of us have been on the journey of attending to our physical, social, emotional, and mental self-care. Like the other dimensions listed, our spiritual life is an essential part of our wholeness and well-being. Our spiritual life is a very unique exploration of the ways of living that our whole selves – hearts, minds, and souls – through time, work to bring into relationship all that we love and know with all that we do and support in the world.  This is the common human search for the ability to surrender and trust our beliefs and choices that will offer us the wonderful transformative creativity to be attentive to and recognize the spiritual ways that continue to enliven our daily lives.

The spiritual dimension of our life is the search for meaning and purpose and the peace of mind and joy, which becomes our deepest responses to all our relationships and responsibilities in our human life.  With this in mind, here are my favorite and the simplest ways to add spiritual self-care to your life.

  • Discover your communities of grace. Good support is available in communities that are committed to living out spiritual values together while honoring each person’s unique path. They do not have to be traditional places of worship; for example, the 12-step programs encourage a spiritual path through their fellowship and commitments. Communities of grace are gatherings where you are known, accepted and loved, and where you find safety in the midst of your life journey.
  •  Accept progress, not perfection. Changing our lives from habitual ways to disciplines of self-awareness is not always comfortable.  When I was younger I struggled year after year to give up drinking for Lent. The experience of failing led to the spiritual insight that I could not do spiritual work without spiritual help. In Alcoholic Anonymous’ Big Book, which explains the organization’s 12-step process to recovery, there is a great sentence about the initial doubt that arises when someone is faced with the recommended spiritual disciplines of the 12 Steps. It says, “What an order! I cannot go through it!” Then there is a paragraph that follows with the encouraging wisdom, “No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is we are ready to grow along spiritual lines. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”  Then this portion of Chapter 5 goes on to explain “that God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” Each day we can practice being gracious with ourselves on our path toward spirituality.
  • Live each day with the commitment to increase your spiritual self-care. I start the day by saying, “Help!” This is my honest effort to connect with God. Then, throughout the day I pay attention and stay open to the spirit’s presence, recognizing and delighting in the infinite ways the spirit communicates.  I know that I am connected when I recognize that I am praying; when I recognize that I am in the presence of wonder, awe, and beauty; when I recognize that the ordinary and mundane is somehow infused with holiness; and when I sense a real awakening to peace and wisdom. Simply paying attention is a very informative and lively spiritual practice.
  • Create meaningful rituals. The definition of a ritual is when the ordinary is infused with more vibrancy and meaning. Here are just some of the ways that we add ritual into our daily life. At these moments, we can recognize this connection to be with what is best in ourselves, and we can appreciate that we are taking good care of our spiritual selves: reading daily meditation verses and stories, writing verses and letters, appreciating the beauty of nature, singing songs of joy, sharing with others the journey’s gifts and challenges, trusting others with our  truth, staying in the peaceful moments with gratitude and humility, saying prayers, sitting quietly and appreciating the new day with the morning tea, being creative, being with children, friends, and animals, teaching and learning, doing sitting meditations on our loving-kindness toward all humanity and nature, being of service to the poor in spirit, offering care, marching for justice, laughing and having fun, being physically attuned, and expressing love by greeting each other with the blessing of a smile.
  •  Reflect at day’s end.  Another favorite spiritual practice for me is called The Examen, which was a daily exercise taught by St. Ignatius, a Spanish Basque priest and theologian. The Examen process invites us to look back over the day with an open heart and to remember the moments with a set of questions. Here are some examples of the type of questions: When did I sense the most belonging today/the least belonging? When did I feel the most alive today?  When today did I not feel the love of life? When was I aware of the presence of God?  What moment would I want to invite the presence of God back into for reconciliation?  With such questions, we pray into the events of the past day and we pray to look forward to tomorrow.

When we coordinate our physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual care, we progress toward the human goal of being able to live life fully engaged in the connections that matter to us. The life of the spirit has inoculated us from the alienation, hopelessness, and loneliness of modern life.  Spiritual care reminds me of that airline warning to get our own oxygen mask on before we can help others. But once we get that spiritual mask’s life-giving oxygen flowing, then we are available to be present for whatever the day brings. Fully alive, fully connected to self, others and the spirit, we are able to be engaged in the life of the heart.  We are able to live more courageously with the hope of a better, kinder world tomorrow and of our participation in this future.

Rev. Robin A. Rhodes is the chaplain at Hillsides.  She is a deacon in the United Methodist Church. She lives in Claremont with her husband, Paul Buchanan. She is usually humming Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

A New Approach to Handling the Unavoidable Trauma of Life

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO

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Trauma is an unavoidable part of life. The critical issue is how to address it in such a way that its potential lingering effects are mitigated. The stories of the children, youth, and families we serve are filled with many instances of trauma. The removal from home and whatever triggered that disruption, living with the risk of harm, unable to feel safe, multiple moves, absence of familiar elements like school and community events — all of these are sources of trauma.

What we have learned over four years of practicing trauma- informed care at Hillsides is that our ability to be sensitive to traumatic events is important to treat the client effectively. An example might be something as simple as making sure that rooms and hallways are well lit. Often during the summer, staff sometimes shut off lights to keep places cool, but for a child who associates dark places with harm, a walk down a poorly lit hallway can be traumatizing.

Sometimes we focus so much on a client’s behavior that we fail to ask what triggered the behavior. Asking the question “Why?” often reveals the reason for a reaction or specific behavior and creates a moment to address the root cause of a disorder, helping to determine a way to provide some relief. As important, incorporating this kind of an approach to treatment helps the client appreciate our awareness and commitment to creating lasting change.

Aside from the benefits that trauma-informed care has for clients, we have also made a commitment to bring this approach to our interaction with staff who, in dealing with the traumas clients experience, often find themselves reliving traumas themselves. An organization must remain sensitive to staff-related traumas and provide support for employees for caregivers to remain effective.

Becoming a trauma-informed care organization has transformed Hillsides and made us more effective in fulfilling our mission.

I want to encourage as many people as possible to become familiar with these three words that carry such an impact. A 60 Minutes segment on treating trauma featuring Oprah Winfrey that will be broadcasted this Sunday, March 11 at 7:00 p.m. should provide some thought-provoking information and hopefully help us all to lessen the impact of trauma and create supportive communities of hope.

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