LA River School

Lending a hand

Homelessness has been a problem for the past centuries. But what are people doing about it? In my filmmaking class, we had to do a documentary of someone near our Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood. I decided to interview John Urquiza, a volunteer at All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park who works in a homeless shelter, and told he me all about his experience volunteering.

The shelter is only opened during the winter, I personally find that great because the people won’t be in cold or rain.. It opens it’s doors on November and closes on March 31. It continues this cycle yearly.

It’s open for anyone who needs a place to stay. The church also occasionally provides food. Although the church only can provide those seeking shelter at night, they also get to see a movie once they’re there to wait while the food is ready.

Not only does Urquiza volunteer in the shelter, but he’s also a photojournalist and likes to know about people’s lives and the reason why many of them have no homes.

Thanks to people who volunteer their time and donate, they are making these people’s lives much better by lending a hand. This shelter not only provides a place to stay but there’s another volunteer who works for an agency that helps homeless people find homes.

Urquiza has been trying to combine his interest in photojournalism into the homeless shelter with his project. The project focusses on the documentation of gentrification.

“I made the correlation between homelessness and gentrification. What we saw in the Arroyo Seco it went from two to three homeless encampments to nearly 75 at its peak. I started interviewing those people and trying to figure out a migration pattern for them and ended up well-embedded with the homeless advocates here in the area,” he said.

I find this staggering how Urquiza has not just volunteer but has involved his own job and passion for photojournalism into this issue. When I was interviewing Urquiza, he showed me very powerful pictures of people who are homeless and explained to me their stories.

“I volunteered mainly to be close to the photography aspect of it but, It became very personal when you realize a lot of people who I’ve met here are within that six degrees of separation from me,” he said. “There are people here that are so close to us we don’t realize they’re our neighbors, their people, they’re not what everyone thinks the homeless people are”.

I personally have volunteered and it’s a great experience that I want to continue doing when I’m older. Helping others in need is something unexplainable because you never know when you personally can be stuck in a situation as difficult as what they are going through. Seeing other people lending a hand makes me see that we all have to help each other out whether we’re from a different country, culture, color, race etc. We’ve all been in need of something once in our lives and we know how it feels.

Now image people without homes, or support from anyone. They’re completely abandoned. We can all volunteer in our community to help these people by simply volunteering a little bit of our time in a shelter near you. One can learn many experiences by doing something simple as this.