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United Way’s HomeWalk raises $1.1 million for homeless

LOS ANGELES — More than 10,000 people participated in the 12th annual HomeWalk in downtown Los Angeles May 18, billed as the nation’s largest public event to end homelessness.

More than $1.1 million was raised, with additional funds expected through May 31, Melissa Gersh, the interim director communications and content for United Way of Greater Los Angeles, told City News Service.

The 5-kilometer walk to raise public awareness and funds to end homelessness was held in the spring for the first time. It was shifted from the fall to allow for full participation from the Los Angeles Rams, one of HomeWalk’s sponsors.

Rams head coach Sean McVay, the team’s cheerleaders and mascot, Rampage, participated in the walk’s opening ceremony.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the 2017 and 2018 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and punter Johnny Hekker, both four-time Pro Bowl selections, also participated in the walk.

“This is a lot bigger than football, and what is special about the Rams organization is that our players are doing things that are a lot bigger than themselves,” McVay said. “Andrew Whitworth often says that you never regret doing something to help someone else out, and that is why we are so proud to gather with so many here today to help the 53,000 people suffering from homelessness in Los Angeles,” 

“Thousands of homes — safe, stable homes — are how we are ending homelessness,” said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles in her address at HomeWalk opening ceremonies. “We see these solutions changing lives every day. And we know we need to do more to catch up to and get ahead of the crisis we see on our streets and in our communities. 

“Ten thousand strong today at HomeWalk 2019, we are pushing for solutions. We are walking, marching, running and moving forward — and bringing thousands more people in along the way,” Buik added.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jon Huertas, a cast member of the acclaimed NBC drama “This is Us,” and actor Cameron Boyce also participated in the opening ceremony.

HomeWalk is part of United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ Everyone In Campaign, which seeks to end homelessness across Los Angeles County by providing services to those needing it most and helping provide people experiencing long-term homelessness with short-term and permanent housing solutions.

The HomeWalk was held 13 days before the planned release of the results of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority point-in-time count of homelessness. All indications are that this year’s homeless numbers will be up, perhaps dramatically.

“This is a deepening and dynamic crisis,” Ridley-Thomas said May 14 as he joined his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to underline the county’s determination to find permanent solutions for thousands of people living in encampments on city streets and empty lots.

“We are contending with serious headwinds that threaten to hinder our progress, but we will not be deterred,” he said.

In the previous 11 years, HomeWalk has raised more than $8.6 million. This year’s $1.1 million was raised thanks in part to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Challenge — which matched every $5,000 a person or team raised with another $5,000. 

Peter Laugharn, President and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced that HomeWalk attendees unlocked the foundation’s match challenge of $500,000.

“We know that housing ends homelessness and for the last 25 years we have been champions of the philosophy that we will succeed when housing comes first,” Laugharn said. “United Way of Greater Los Angeles has been an awesome, essential partner in this work for almost a decade.”

Other sponsors included the Annenberg Foundation, Anthem Blue Cross, ACCO Engineered Systems, AEG, JPMorgan Chase & Co., SoCalGas, CBS 2, KCAL 9, Starbucks, Torrance Refining Company and UPS.

“Through HomeWalk, we are making a positive difference for the men, women, children, students and veterans who suffer on our streets any given night in the communities where our employees live and work.” said Sharon Tomkins, SoCalGas’ vice president of strategy and engagement, who serves on the board of directors for United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

“SoCalGas broke our fundraising and participation records this year due to the hard work and heartfelt support of SoCalGas employees,” Tomkins added.

Los Angeles County had the second-highest number of homeless residents of any region in the nation in 2018, according to a report released in December by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The data was taken from point-in-time counts conducted in January 2018, which found the Los Angeles region had 49,955 homeless residents, behind only New York City, which topped the list with 78,676.

Los Angeles also had one of the highest number of unsheltered homeless living outdoors, in abandoned buildings or other locations not suitable for human habitation, compared to sheltered homeless living in emergency shelters, safe havens or transitional housing. 

In New York, which had one of the lowest rates, only 5% were unsheltered, compared to 75% percent for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles also had the largest number of individuals with chronic patterns of homelessness in the nation at 12,782, 15 percent of the national total, and the highest percentage of chronically homeless individuals staying outdoors, at 94 percent.

Staff and Wire Reports