Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Homeless students still find a way to graduate

By Mayor Eric Garcetti

Contributing Columnist

Behind every graduation cap that gets thrown into the air, there is a story. Last week, I joined 125 Los Angeles Unified School District students who have experienced homelessness for a very special graduation — to hear their stories, to celebrate with them and to be inspired by what they have achieved and where they are headed next.

One of those young Angelenos is someone I’ll call Gloria*. She described a decade-long battle against poverty that left her sleeping in shelters, basements, vehicles and often the streets. She held on tight to her belongings, worried that the moment she let something go, she might never see it again.

Despite these challenges, Gloria made it a point to go to school, get good grades and graduate.

Gloria’s story is familiar to the more than 15,000 homeless youth in the LAUSD system. These young Angelenos know what it’s like to live not just month to month — or day to day — but meal to meal.

The odds say these students will never make it to their high school graduation. And yet, through a combination of unyielding determination, sacrifice and hard work, these 125 students, and many more like them, earned their diplomas.

If these young people are shut out of opportunities, Los Angeles suffers. They are the future of this city. And our future got a little brighter this week when they graduated.

Los Angeles is coming together to make sure that youth homelessness becomes a thing of the past and we’re already seeing that work pay off. Last week, the L.A. Homeless Services Authority announced that homelessness in the city is down for the first time in nine years. And 2018 marks a turning point in our fight to end the crisis, as the first year of full funding from both Measure H and Proposition HHH.

We have broken ground on three HHH-funded projects so far, and we have 12 more in the pipeline in the coming months. Thanks to Measure H, the county has hired 700 outreach workers, housing navigators and anti-addiction specialists since December and we’re going to keep hiring until we reach 1,000.

We passed a linkage fee that will double our production of affordable housing, so that our most vulnerable families don’t have to worry about getting priced out of this town. And the city is spending $440 million this fiscal year on homelessness — which has increased from less than $20 million four years ago.

Alongside our work to get young Angelenos into housing, we’re also delivering opportunities outside of the classroom. From being a lifeguard at your local pool, to working in a library, the Hire L.A.’s Youth program places Angelenos 18 and older into a summer job that pays.

For students who are interested in pursuing a college degree but not sure if they can afford it, a year of free community college tuition is available through College Promise. During their academic journey, our libraries are always open to students looking to have their imagination fed and curiosity fueled through books or our library’s vast digital resources.

For Gloria, the city’s libraries were always a safe space — a place where she could complete homework, conduct research and submit college applications. And all the hard work paid off. Gloria is headed to her “dream school” — UCLA — this fall. There, she plans to be a pre-psychology major and hopes to become a social worker for young people upon graduation.

If you ask her why, she will tell you that homeless and at-risk youth like herself deserve to know “there is a way out of all the hardships.” Gloria found a way, and she reminds us all what it means to live in a city of angels.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.

The name Gloria has been changed to protect the student’s privacy.”