A lack of foot traffic on Main Street on Saturday morning, January 31, did not deter a group of homeless rights advocates who took to the lawn of Santa Monica City Hall to draw attention to the lack of shelter for the homeless.
According to co-organizer Randy Walberger of S.H.E.L.T.E.R (Supporting Homeless Existence Leading to Enabled Recovery), this first of many planned demonstrations was an attempt to alert people to the lack of shelter space, especially beds, for the homeless in Los Angeles County.
After an introductory speech by Felix Garcia of Side by Side, an organization that provides information to the homeless and teaches them to advocate for themselves, Walberger spoke passionately about the lack of places for the homeless to sleep.
“People forget that the homeless may be staying on the street by day but their night is a nightmare,” he said. Citing Martin Luther King’s crusade for freedom for all, he added, “You can’t have rights for all when you criminalize those who are unable to house themselves.”
Many of those present were homeless or formerly homeless people, who spoke of their experiences.
Nancy Trautelaar became homeless after a struggle with Lyme Disease cost her all her savings in medical expenses. But she has been working her way back to a better life through the help of services like Side By Side and Chrysalis.
Trautelaar asked that City Hall “increase the level of compassion,” and pointed out that i Cugini Restaurant had donated the proceeds from one of its Sunday “Jazz Brunches” to OPCC (Ocean Park Community Center). She explained that an i Cugini employee named “Zobig” had spearheaded the donation. “I had to go and thank her. I thought that was a beautiful gesture.”
Robert Hunt Junior stated that he is “the Malcolm X and the Martin Luther King of the homeless movement.” He handed out copies of a poem reading, in part:
“The Words ‘I Love You’ are indeed wonderful and endearing, but the 3 most POWERFUL words in the universe are…CAN I HELP?”
Jan Waldstein told the Mirror that she had been homeless since last July. She traveled from New Jersey to Illinois, and came out to Los Angeles because of the warmer climate and a sister (also homeless) who lives out here. She has survived via feeding programs, occasional stints in shelters, and has slept on the street. She said her survival was the result of “a lot of luck” and the compassion shown by some people who have offered her shelter for a few day here and there.
Lech and Josh, who wandered among the crowd doing interviews with their video cameras, were two students from Chapman College who decided to make a documentary about being homeless and tried being homeless themselves for 30 days.
They said they had slept in the storage building at 4th and Ashland that was once the SMASH school, but were asked to leave. Yes, they had also slept on the hard city pavements.
“Cardboard helps,” said Trautelaar.
For more information on S.H. E.L.T.E.R., write to Supporting Homeless Existence Leading to Enabled Recovery, 1930 Stewart Street, X12, Santa Monica, CA 90404, [email protected]