I'll start at the beginning. The last two years, we've participated in the United Way's HomeWalk, a 5k that raises money and awareness to prevent homelessness in Los Angeles. At last year's walk, we got recruited for HC09, and we've been looking forward to helping ever since. So what is HC09? Well, basically, every two years all the homeless people in LA need to be counted in order to get the proper federal funding they deserve. In 2007, 73,000 people were counted. That number is so large, I don't even know how to process it.
As the count started approaching, I remembered that I had signed up to be a team captain, meaning I needed to recruit just 4 other people. No problem, right? I've got tons of friends. Um. Yeah. Not as easy as I thought. I sent out roughly 200 emails asking for volunteers, and got only 4 replies - two of which were a "no." This hit me pretty hard. One of my goals this year was to help more. Give back. Make a difference in any and every way that I can. And it was hard to accept that just because I'm in a giving mood this year, everyone else may have other priorities and be giving back in other ways. So basically, recruiting was a bust. But luckily, a few people came out of the woodwork, and I met my quota. (A big shout out to Lauren, Alex, Roxanne, Russell, Catherine, Jessica & of course jen.)
Cut to the night of the first count. Jen, Lauren, Alex & I signed up in the San Fernando Valley. We drove out to our deployment center and got geared up to start counting. We sat through a short training session and lined up for our assignment. Basically, they were handing out 3 types: walking, biking or driving. Since it was the coldest day of the year, we were hoping for a driving assignment, but by the time we got to the front of the line, it was slim pickin's. We almost got sent to Sylmar, but luckily, we got one of the last local assignments. Problem is, it wasn't in one of the safest areas, so they decided to send two men with us. Fine by me!
We loaded into our cars, with the two guys, and drove to Pacoima. Now when I signed up for the count, it never crossed my mind that it might be dangerous. Homeless people don't hurt you. But I wasn't factoring in the neighborhoods we'd be walking through. Lauren mentioned right away that Pacoima was known for its gang activity. But there's safety in numbers, right? And there were 6 of us. Wearing black. Wandering the streets at 10pm. Waking up every dog on the block. And definitely turning heads. Hell, if I saw a group like ours walking down the street, I would call the police. But we marched on...
Then, a white car drove by. What are you looking at? We're volunteers. Yeah, I know it's late and we're on your turf, but we're helping. I swear. After a few minutes he drove by again. And then a third time in which he asked if we were vampires. (I wish!) Then, a girl in his car asked us what our problem was. Ugh. I don't want to get in a gang fight. Homelessness is all I'm trying to fight. Obama told me to! We b-lined for the car.
After an hour, and no sign of a homeless person, I started feeling useless. If I wasn't counting anyone, was I really making a difference? Despite the training that "zero IS a valid number," I was feeling like a failure. And then, low and behold, we spotted an RV. Is there anyone in there? I don't know... Don't shine the light in it! Well, there are sheets hanging in the front window. Surely someone's in there. Let's count it!
And that is as high as our count got. 1. I guess I should be overjoyed that our count was so low. That means there aren't that many homeless people on the streets in Pacoima. That's a good thing. But I feel like I've been taught the whole points system...you know, the higher the number, the better. I had to take a deep breath and realize that in this case, a lower number was a good thing. So we drove back to the deployment center and called it a night.
As jen and I drove home, we debriefed. The weather, the late night, the could-be gang bangers, the low tally...was it all worth it? You betcha. Even though my mind had been all over the place the whole night, I know that we were just 6 of the 3,000 people counting. I realized that I was just a small part of a greater picture. Our one RV was going to boost the count and get these people the funding they need and deserve. I made a difference. And I will keep on doing it. Oh, the things we'll do for Obama.