Stories hold the key for homeless advocate Marilyn Wells

| August 1, 2019 | 0 Comments


Stories can speak volumes.

Just ask Marilyn Wells, an advocate for the homeless with impressive academic credentials. Wells was so moved by one woman’s talk that she started a formidable speaker series.

“I was listening to her,” Wells explained last month, “and I thought this woman is the key. People need to see somebody who has received housing and the benefits of supportive housing…

“They need a storyteller. They need somebody who is going to move our hearts.”

Wells, Hancock Park, signed up as a volunteer that night, four years ago, with event host United Way’s Everyone In.

She then teamed up with another local resident, Allison Schallert, and their Stories from the Frontline was born. The speaker series’ inaugural event in Feb. 2018 drew 400 people to The Ebell of Los Angeles.

Speakers included Los Angeles First Lady Amy Wakeland Garcetti, Councilman David Ryu and former and current homeless men and women who told tales of resilience and hope. Subsequently, six more such events have been held, including in Koreatown, Venice and Hollywood, and many more are planned.

Wells lines up speakers for the venues, and with fellow Frontline members, shows up at City Council meetings to help sway public opinion in favor of building homeless shelters in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Progress in housing

Wells blames a lack of understanding on the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) pushback in some parts of town where shelters are proposed. “They don’t really understand who homeless people really are, and how they recover, and that they get their jobs back, and their kids to school and their lives back.”

The good news is that recent efforts by Stories from the Frontline, by United Way and by other homeless advocacy groups have resulted in actual housing being built, including in areas where public sentiment was not too keen at first.

One site is breaking ground in Koreatown, Wells told us last month. Another is planned in Councilman Herb Wesson’s district office parking lot.

When council members were told to put homeless housing in their backyards, Wesson took on the challenge: “Okay, fine. I’ll put it in the parking lot,” he said.

Neighbors Lifting Neighbors

And that’s how it should be, says Wells. Helping people in our communities, even bringing someone into our homes, is not only doable but part of the solution. To that end, the program Neighbors Lifting Neighbors, with local service provider Alexandria House, recently was launched by the John and Marilyn Wells Foundation.

Wells grew up in Denver, Colo., where she attended a pubic school financed with new oil money; it had a 1,200-seat theater and produced lavish productions.

Her future husband, John, and she both participated in the school theater (in “Godspell” and “Cabaret”) but only knew each other from afar.

In 1980, she and her actor boyfriend and John and his then-wife moved to Los Angeles. At parties, she and John were the quiet ones, making dip in the kitchen. “We were the wallflowers of the party,” she laughs.

They got to know each other and eventually married; the couple have two children, Madison, 21, and Jack, 18.

“They’re both artists. Which is terrific,” says the proud mom, lithe and limber from a dance background in her youth. Her husband writes, directs and produces films and he co-chairs their Foundation.

After getting a master’s degree in psychology, Marilyn did her doctorate dissertation on domestic violence and child abuse at Pepperdine University.

She served as a consultant and fundraiser and on boards at the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, Five Acres in Pasadena and the Episcopal School Los Angeles. She was Board chair for Grace Center and St. James’ Episcopal School.

Wells saw firsthand how domestic violence affects people from all walks of life, and she learned a lot about homelessness, as many victims of abuse end up without homes and jobs and the cycle repeats itself.

Progress, she says, has come about not from the experts or law enforcement but at a grass roots level by women who had been abused, much as in addressing homelessness.

“It is so impressive to me that the people who are formerly homeless either get a degree, or go and do outreach or work in that area of homelessness or domestic violence. And who better than people who are experiencing homelessness or domestic violence?”

And who better than Marilyn Wells to help them get their stories out?

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Category: People

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