California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Bringing awareness to homeless living on Skid Row

    “My whole life was able to fit in the trunk of a car,” said Giselle Gallardo, a junior biochemistry major at California Lutheran University. “Basically, for me, homelessness meant living out of a car and sometimes with some friends.”

    Gallardo was homeless for nearly a year while in high school. She said it was “just the perfect storm” after Gallardo’s mom lost her job and her dad’s hours were cut, leaving them practically penniless. Less than two months later, they were evicted.

    Her family would sleep in a Wal-Mart or Carl’s Jr. parking lot and use public restrooms to get ready for school, she said.

    Gallardo said her family got back on their feet when her dad’s friends started giving up their overtime for him, and her mom found a job through church connections.

    In the midst of National Homelessness Awareness week, Gallardo is planning to take a group of Cal Lutheran students to serve the homeless people living on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles as part of an outreach project.

    “Skid Row represents the way we exile homeless people. You never see homeless people because they are always pushed to the side. Everywhere that you don’t see homelessness, this is where they’re at, they’re all on Skid Row,” Gallardo said. “In the United States, something like that isn’t supposed to exist. Skid Row isn’t supposed to exist, but it does.”

    Gallardo, who is a resident assistant in New West, started her outreach project as an RA program. Residents were invited to help organize care packages for homeless people. The care packages include sanitary napkins, water, sandwiches and different types of snacks.

    Ellie Barker, a sophomore who is also an RA in New West, joined Gallardo’s project after attending the program.

    “I had never experienced anything like that. It made me very vulnerable. I was actually holding back tears almost the whole time,” Barker said.

    According to the 2016 Homeless Count and Subpopulation Survey for Ventura County, 1,271 homeless people were recorded in Ventura County. Of those recorded, 61.1 percent, or 777 people, were unsheltered.

    According to the survey, 37 people out of those recorded were between the ages of 18 and 24. They represent 5.2 percent of the total 709 homeless adults recorded in 2016.

    “Those that have lost their job or have just one or two bad circumstances happen, all of the sudden they find themselves without being able to afford housing. Even if they can afford it, it’s not available,” said Suzanne West, the community relations coordinator at Ventura County Rescue Mission.

    The survey said Thousand Oaks has the third largest homeless population in Ventura County, with 104 recorded homeless people.

    “I think one of the challenges specifically for Ventura County is housing because housing is so expensive. It’s very, very difficult for someone to find a place to live,” West said.

    John Saltee, the director of the Ventura County Rescue Mission and Lighthouse for Women and Children said they “provide refuge, which is food, clothing and shelter for the poor.”

    Additionally, the Rescue Mission provides a “faith-based, 10-month recovery program that includes vocational training, education and job placement,” Saltee said.

    West said that what people can really give to homeless people is love and honest care. Giving food, money or blankets to homeless people “makes their homelessness more comfortable,” Saltee said.

    “If you’re going to go to talk with them, it’s not bad to take a blanket. But go with the purpose of getting them to a local rescue mission because that’s where they’re going to find the real help,” Saltee said.

    Barker said that seeing Gallardo’s interaction with the people on Skid Row helped her to open up.

    “I thought I was going to be scared or threatened by people and I actually didn’t feel threatened at all,” Barker said. “If they want a hug, we’ll give them a hug and if they want to pray, we’ll pray with them.”

    Gallardo is planning to take a group on another trip to Skid Row Dec. 2.

    Rissa Gross