Homelessness action committee tackles community engagement

On Trousdale Parkway, students promote homelessness prevention in the L.A. area with bright, colorful posters.

These students are part of the Homelessness Action Committee, a newly formed student group working to provide services to homeless people in Los Angeles as well as raise awareness of the issue among USC students. Members of the committee have planned a second Homelessness Awareness Week this semester to follow up on the first one that took place last fall.

Angie Mendoza, a senior majoring in social sciences and NGOs and social change, heads the Homelessness Action Committee. Mendoza said the event has been helpful in raising awareness to the social issues that need to be addressed more heavily by the students at USC.

“[Our group is] building a partnership with the community,” Mendoza said. “We want everyone on campus to work together, students and faculty.”

The committee will put together various events throughout the week. Tuesday events included a hygiene kit assembly and guest speakers. On Wednesday there will be a families panel and a criminal justice panel. Thursday’s panel spotlights veterans affected by the homeless and the panel that night will focus on the Measure H campaign. The Homelessness Action Committee is also putting together a hygiene kit drive as part of their awareness week.

According to Mendoza, the Homelessness Action Committee hopes to do more than just volunteer in the community. The group also wants students to travel off campus to form a relationship with the L.A. neighborhoods. This, Mendoza said, will facilitate USC’s embrace of the community.

Jaclyn Nguyen, a senior majoring in Spanish and human biology, agreed that the issue of homelessness while working her table along Trousdale.

“There are more homeless people in Los Angeles than the student population of USC,” Nguyen said. “As a native to Los Angeles, I think that it is important we address this issue and help those in need. Homelessness can happen to anyone — if there’s anything volunteering has taught me, it’s that bad luck can hit at any time.”

Nguyen volunteers for homeless shelters in the surrounding area. She said that talking to people about their stories and how they ended up at the shelter is an enlightening experience, and emphasized that she’s met people who hold Ph.D.s living at the shelter.

Other parts of the Homelessness Action Committee use different outlets to address the issue of poverty. Late Night is a student-run, hot meal program that serves free dinner on Wednesday nights in Dean’s Cafe on campus.

Donovan Spencer, a sophomore majoring in global health and biology, plays a major role in running the Late Night program. Spencer said he started the program when he realized that some students on campus are limited by their resources.

“We dug a little deeper into the issue of students without room and board or even any form of a meal plan,” Spencer said. “Kids on campus can get really caught up in embodying the Trojan name and put all their resources into their classes and tuition, leaving little to no room for basic human needs. So Late Night gives a hot meal and provides resources and comfort to those in need.”

Spencer said that Late Night addresses a problem that for the most part goes undiscussed on campus, as many students are unaware of the struggles their peers face. Late Night hopes to help those who need help, but are too afraid to openly ask. That is why the dinners are open to everyone, according to Spencer.

“We’ve made it a point to show they have a safe space,” Spencer said. “We want all Trojans here on campus to know that they are respected, cared for and that their needs are taken care of. We want to help everyone and cooking for others is a great way to show our love for the Trojan family.”

On Wednesday afternoons, students in Late Night will grab fresh ingredients to cook dinners for that same night. Spencer emphasized the meals stray from the typical dining-hall dinners and are nutritious as well.

Amanuel Araya, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences, notes the gradual increase in attendance at dinners since Late Night started, as well as the reciprocation of gratefulness from diners of Late Night.

“Some of the kids who come through are so thankful for the event that they’ll find some ways to give back to the Late Night organization,” Araya said. “They contribute what they can to make the event even better. It’s an awesome experience to be apart of.”

Mendoza said members of the Homelessness Action Committee want to see students more engaged with their surroundings. This would be aided by the passage of Measure H, which is on the ballot on March 7.

“[Measure H] would allow more encompassing services to the homeless to be provided right here in Los Angeles,” Mendoza said. “We hope that those with questions or doubts come to the panels and events provided throughout this week to hear other opinions and insights to the issues being discussed.”