Did you know – and not a lot of people know this – that the area that is often loosely referred to as ‘Los Angeles’ is actually made up of eighty-eight cities and is the second most populous in the United States, after New York City, with a population of nearly four million? Further, that the greater LA region contains nearly eighteen million people, making it one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world.
When people say they want to visit Los Angeles, I am sure they have the same expectations that I had: that you’d find an affluent city dominated by Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Hollywood with its walk of fame, film studios and, let’s face it, lashings of glamour.
But the reality is not entirely like that.
I was fortunate to visit our Consulate-General in Los Angeles last week to get a feel for the varied and challenging work that is undertaken by staff there. Whilst I was there the Consul-General held a breakfast for ‘Unsung Heroes’, an opportunity to say thank you to a wide range of people who put in their time and expertise to ensure we can provide high quality services to British nationals – such as LAPD, the airlines and an inspirational organisation called OPCC.
OPCC stands for Ocean Park Community Center and is the safety net for low-income and homeless youths, adults and families, at-risk youths, battered women and their children, and people living with mental illness in Santa Monica and on the Westside of Los Angeles County.
It’s the largest and most comprehensive provider of housing and services to very poor people in the region, with the wonderfully simple yet almost impossible aim of:
…”making their community a better place for all of their residents, regardless of their economic circumstances or the multiple challenges they may be facing”.
I toured each of their ten projects such as:
- Shwashlock (Showers, Washers, and Lockers) where homeless individuals can meet their most basic human needs of personal hygiene to then allow them begin the process of finding a job and a home. It gets them away from trailing their meager worldly goods around 24 hours a day and means that, in turning up for work interviews, they look the part.
- Daybreak: providing a full continuum of care for mentally ill homeless women, including an arts and crafts workshop, where they can make gifts to be sold in the community shop.
- Night Light: with out-reach workers who serve the needs of run-away and homeless youths who live on the streets.
What made my jaw drop was that, in their Access Center, they feed fifty people three meals a day, every day of the year, for donations of $8,200 per annum. How? By buying bulk excess food (at a cost of 10 cents per $1 value) and working with a local hotel to re-cycle unused food.
So, 83 cents of every dollar received by OPCC goes into direct services for their clients. They don’t need billions of dollars to make a tremendous, life-changing impact on those they serve.
The project helps everyone, regardless of status or nationality and I met at least two British nationals there. With the exception of a few lowly paid staff, the whole project runs using just volunteer helpers.
As they say, they’re “…not looking for a handout or a bailout, just the support of neighbors and friends who believe as we do that a community helping others is a community helping itself”.