March to End Homelessness
by Thom Severtson
Students organize community action on homelessness; activist and celebrity lead student march through downtown Los Angeles as first step to resolving worst conditions on the streets
It would have been a sobering experience for anyone: a tour of the conditions for homeless in downtown Los Angeles. The predicament of hundreds who live on the streets each year leaves many feeling grim if not powerless, regardless of intentions.
Students and supporters marched through streets of inner city Los Angeles to raise awareness of the homeless issue.
For 80 enthusiastic, charitably minded youth from The Islamic Center of Southern California, however, the experience only strengthened their resolve to act toward changing those conditions.
They took on the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles, in a way they can fulfill the priority role their faith places on charity.
Through a contact at the Center, the young organizers had earlier asked long-time homeless activist and advocate Ted Hayes to take them to skid row where they felt they could do some good.
During the holy days of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Moslem year, Hayes showed the Islamic youth a street’s-eye view of the homeless. They observed scores of adults who nightly wander the pavement, the tents and cardboard boxes that serve as “home,” and the battle against cold fought with fires set in steel drums on the sidewalks.
The situation was beyond random, individual acts of charity, the students determined, but rather demanded the attention of charitable, government, social and business organizations working together. They came up with the idea of organizing a march against homelessness, with the objective of first raising awareness of the
Students placed dozens of phone calls, e-mails and letters, and within a few weeks, they had rallied their first support and set the date for April 21.
Assisted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the young organizers pulled together all aspects of the march. They gained additional assistance and support from the NAACP,
government officials, the Church of Scientology, First AME, the Covenant House home for runaway youth, and Justiceville — the “dome village” for the homeless organized by activist Ted Hayes.
On April 21, the students’ initiative paid off, with their vision realized.
Activist Ted Hayes and actor Edward James Olmos led the march.
Hundreds of high school and college students traveled downtown, joined by concerned citizens, religious and social groups, and government officials. They converged on the south lawn below the steps of City Hall, where the Mary Lind Foundation Choir and Kids on Stage for a Better World from Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International performed.
Ted Hayes and celebrity human rights advocate Edward James Olmos led the march for three miles through the worst sections of downtown Los Angeles. Hayes guided them through the rough territory, rattling off facts and anecdotes about the men and women who live and die on the streets of one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
By the end of their trek, the marchers knew they had seen one of the darkest aspects of their society.
"Here they are, men and women, even children who have no place to go but the street. This is real,” said a student.
"Absolutely no one should have to live like this,” said another.
All those who participated in the “One Thousand Students March to End Homelessness” had similar realizations, which is just what the students from the Islamic Center wanted to accomplish.
Councilwoman Jan Perry (9th district) commended the youth for organizing the event and for bringing attention to the homeless issue in L.A..
Since the march, the students at the Islamic Center are planning actions they feel will make the biggest difference to the scene, according to Omar Ricci, their advisor at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
"They see that the issue is one that is receiving inadequate attention,” he said. Drawing upon the awareness, support and resources they have acquired so far, the students are “determined to work out how to make that difference.”
Judging by their ability so far to mobilize response, they will.