The issue of homelessness plagues our region and our country. Kobe Bryant, like so many others, wished to experience the stories of those currently living through it and who have gotten out. Unlike others, he brought a camera crew along to share the experience.
The Los Angeles Mission wanted Kobe to see and hear was how complex this issue is. We also wanted him to see homeless people separately from the factors that contributed to their situation.
He "came to learn with no expectations" and the four men he interviewed helped frame the complexity of their root causes of homelessness, not just the simple fact that they had no housing. Homelessness is just that - no suitable place to live.
Kobe got a chance to see and hear the real world of homelessness. What he heard were stories of family violence, gang involvement, ANGER, depression, no self respect, no job, no role models, murder, addictions and fear of recidivism if something didn't change. The roots.
The story starts when something went wrong with the dream. Nobody sets out to be homeless, sleeping on concrete, begging or stealing to get by – and stopping by a Mission for a meal. But these men found the meal can bring hope. A chance to listen to the voice that says, “I want out.” Only then, can the process of healing begin. And that is where the Mission can help.
The four guys Kobe featured in these stories found inspiration from others like themselves who "made it." They accepted the Mission’s offer of free education, employment, health care, mentoring and renewed faith in others and in God. With determination and optimism they faced (and continue to face) their demons and are moving forward. Forward with real goals. A college degree. A career where they no longer require our help. They even strive to be in a place to give back like others did for them.
Just what did Kobe find? He got a real dose of the real world outside of the Staples arena and the lifestyle of a superstar. But we hope he also found inspiration. Inspiration to start a movement to end homelessness not just on the surface – but at its roots! To belabor the basketball cliché, a realization that we all miss baskets in life, and when we do we want nothing more than someone to embrace us and tell us there is a way out.
When we hit rock bottom and are ready to learn from our mistakes ... there needs to be a coach there to help guide us through the darkness. Like the guys said, “There is someone who had confidence in me.” There are healthy places to escape like “art, writing and music.” A goal where the “end is more special.” We can no longer refuse to look at the homeless because “they are a part of our culture” or not worth the effort.
At the Los Angeles Mission our goal for 76 years has been to help. Help with hope that inspires faith and change. Help with training and education that provides new avenues for personal fulfillment. Most importantly, help with the expectation that stable housing comes first from our own efforts, and then from community if we are unable to help ourselves. Everybody needs a safe place to call home. What really matters is not simply a roof but a life with some dignity.
No matter your position on what the "best practices" of ending homelessness might be, we all agree homeless must end – and end soon! As Kobe goes on to learn even more about homeless issues from government, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, United Way or others, I hope he remembers just one theme from these men; to believe in yourself and in God. They might say it this way, “I'm not as good as I should be but better than I was.” “Life is a journey and we are not condemned to our past fouls.” “Go for the championship ring.” “Love your neighbor.”
Plans to End Homelessness make good headlines. Sure, affordable housing resources are needed to end some street homelessness. But housing alone will never be affective in the long-term unless the human needs of security, love and self worth with the understanding that there is somebody else out there who cares is part of the package.
We are happy that Kobe Bryant is involved, but my question is, if Kobe can do it, why not you? Make a difference in a child's life and you may just change the future in more ways than you know. Make a difference in an adult's life by putting them on the right track and you can help make them "unstoppable!"
More on homelessness:
Herb Smith is the President of the Los Angeles Mission, one of the nation's largest service providers for the homeless. Learn more at losangelesmission.org. The Los Angeles Mission is a member of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, North America's oldest and largest network of crisis shelters and rehabilitation centers. Learn how to get involved at agrm.org.