St. James’ Church shines light on Stories from the Frontline

| December 4, 2019 | 0 Comments

FRONTLINE workers to combat homelessness spoke at St. James’ Church. From left to right: Marilyn Wells, Amy Perkins, Rob Krueger, Angela Sanchez, Tommy Newman.

Angela Sanchez was 16, a junior in high school, when she and her father experienced homelessness. The memories are sharp: it was the beginning of the 2008 recession, one week shy of Thanksgiving. The Sheriff’s officers stood in the doorway of her family’s home, red eviction notice in hand, asking, “What are you still doing here?” Ten minutes later, the locks were changed and Angela and her father, a middle-class architect, were homeless. Not knowing where to go, where to sleep, or where they would find their next meal, Angela and her father spent the next two years living in a car, in motels, in shelters and on the streets. During this time, Angela continued to go to high school, her friends none the wiser that she was homeless.

“I wish there had not been a stigma attached to being homeless,” remembers Sanchez, who lived in daily fear that her friends or teachers would find out.

It’s people like Sanchez that Stories from the Frontline wants you to know.

The organization, started by friends and homeless advocates Marilyn Wells, of Hancock Park, and Allison Schallert, of Larchmont Village, was born out of a motivation to get residents involved in solving the affordable housing crisis after hearing a formerly homeless woman share her own personal journey.

“Hearing someone be so open and vulnerable really opened my eyes,” says Wells, founder of Stories from the Frontline and The John and Marilyn Wells Family Foundation. “I realized that if people heard these stories, it might change things. So I decided to start a storytelling program.”

One of the main goals of Stories from the Frontline is to use its storytelling events to educate the public about the importance of supportive housing and support services within the community.

Three-day event

Angela Sanchez, the former homeless teen, is now an author who holds a Master’s Degree in Education from UCLA. Sanchez, along with other formerly unhoused storytellers and homeless advocates, were given the opportunity to share their powerful stories at a November three-day event at St. James’ Episcopal Church, titled “Understanding Homelessness in Our Community.”

On the first night, Nov. 18, over 200 neighbors from Hancock Park, Hollywood, Korea-town and Mid-Wilshire came together to hear stories, learn statistics, and participate in a Q&A discussion (moderated by Wells) to learn more about the housing and homeless crisis.

Day two, Nov. 19, featured a “Civil Society Day” for the children of St. James’ Elementary School, who participated in a workshop on homelessness with Sanchez. The workshop is the first of several planned for students at schools throughout Southern California.

Then, on Nov. 24, Sanchez connected with even more locals at Chevalier’s Books on Larchmont while signing her children’s book, “Scruffy & the Egg,” based on her experience of being homeless.

The choice of St. James’ to host the event, where both Wells and Schallert’s children attended school, was a targeted one.

“In order to solve this crisis, we need to get people focusing on communities and how communities can help,” says Wells. “One of those ways is to get local churches involved so that they can reach out to the people in their own communities who can help spread the word.”

Working with the United Way, Wells and Schallert have coordinated storytelling events in Long Beach, Torrance, Venice, Boyle Heights, North Hollywood, Pasadena, Hollywood and Mar Vista. All events focus on the importance of supportive housing.

Supportive housing

“Supportive housing offers a myriad of different opportunities for people to get help with job training, substance abuse, mental illness, and other things that may have caused the person to end up experiencing homelessness in the first place,” says Schallert.

“Supportive housing looks like any other housing,” explained Tommy Newman of the United Way, and who grew up in Windsor Square, gesturing to a slide show of low-income housing. “It provides dignity but still mimics the architecture of the neighborhood.”

Wells and Schallert are encouraging homeowners to think outside the box – for instance, turning their ADU (accessory dwelling unit) property structures into affordable housing units with the help of a supportive service agency. Several incentive programs are asking homeowners to do just that.

“Refurbishing your garage is a way to increase your property value while helping someone at the same time,” encourages Wells.

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