Ending homelessness in Los Angeles

By Frank Salcedo, CASA Instructor at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy

Leadership students at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CASA) at Kayne Siart Campus chose to focus on homelessness, a prevalent issue in Los Angeles, for their service-learning project this year. Camino Nuevo Charter Academy educates students in a college preparatory program to be well-informed, critical thinkers, independent problem solvers and agents of social justice with awareness and compassion about the people in their community.

CASA students chose to focus their service-learning efforts on helping the homeless after examining the many challenges facing their community. Additional research helped them select PATH, specifically their Welcome Home Program, as their service-learning partner. PATH has been fighting to end homelessness for individuals, families and communities for more than thirty years and now operates in 25 cities in California and provides services in more than 140 cities across the country.

 

THE HUMAN FACE OF HOMELESSNESS

The students began to work on behalf of a most deserving client, John Yslas. John, a Mexican-American Navy veteran, had been struggling with homelessness for the past year. Thanks to a generous grant awarded by the CASA program, we were able to help furnish John’s new apartment and make it feel like home. John was happy, grateful and humbled by working with CASA. When the students shared their reasons for choosing to help John, tears streamed down his face. It was a powerful moment for the students.

John told the students that he grew up during a time when Spanish was looked down upon and even though his family is from Mexico he does not speak Spanish. He expressed his satisfaction and happiness about how more of today’s youth are speaking Spanish, are proud of their heritage and are more culturally aware. John added that he was impressed by the work CASA does.

 

Once their service-learning project concluded, students reflected on how impactful it was to learn more about homelessness through John’s eyes.  The students said that before this project they did not understood the human experience and perspective of the homeless population in Los Angeles. Even though they learned about the issue through documentaries, studying statistics and reading articles, it was a drastically different experience to get to know and work with a homeless person, a fellow community member.

The students learned a lifelong lesson about humility and the power of giving to those who have been marginalized by society. CASA hopes to continue working with PATH next year to help more people like John move into homes and they have their eyes set on eventually eradicating homelessness in their city.

UnidosUS service-learning program—Cultura, Aprendizaje, Servicio, and Acción (CASA)—works to develop culturally aware youth leaders who serve as agents of change to address issues that impact their communities. Through active engagement, students develop complex critical thinking and reflective skills while gaining high levels of academic learning. CASA is funded by State Farm. For more information, contact czavala@unidosus.org.

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