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Kobe Bryant Joins 5,000 In Walk To Fight Homelessness

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant served as the honorary chair of the United Way Homewalk Saturday, joining more than 5,000 people in a fight to end homelessness.

The Homewalk raises funds to support permanent solutions to end homelessness, according to organizers.

This year's walk saw more attendees than any other walk in its five-year history. Elise Buik, the chief executive officer of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, credited Bryant for the record participation.


Kobe Bryant Aids Fight Against Homelessness

"Kobe Bryant has helped us reach more residents concerned about fighting homelessness and his charity has done great work with homeless children," Buik said.

Bryant announced in June the formation of the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. Bryant said he formed the foundation and decided it would initially focus on youth homelessness in Los Angeles after seeing children and families living on the streets near Staples Center, the Lakers' home court.

Bryant told CBS2 that he and his family "are extremely passionate" about giving homeless people "the support they need so they can have better futures."

"We have to do a better job of letting them know we care about them and letting them know we're here to support them," Bryant said. "There are things we take for granted on a daily basis like getting up in the morning and eating breakfast and taking a shower that are inconsistencies for them on a day- to-day basis."

Buik said Bryant's involvement in a local issue is unusual. "We don't often have local figures of his stature that are focused on Los Angeles," Buik said. "They might be focused on other countries or other cities like New Orleans. To have him focused on L.A. and to focus on a poverty-related issue is very impactful."

A figure of how much money was raised was not immediately available. All walkers were asked to raise a minimum of $100. Buik said she hoped the walk would raise $500,000.

Los Angeles County has switched its emphasis in dealing with the homeless to providing permanent supportive housing, where the formerly homeless receive mental health, substance abuse and health care services in addition to shelter.

"Unless you provide a homeless person with a home and address the issues that rendered him homeless in the first place they're going to remain homeless or go back to being homeless very shortly after they've been in an overnight shelter," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told City News Service in an interview this week.

According to statistics provided by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, on any given night, more than 51,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County, more than any other county in the nation. Approximately 25-30 percent of that population is chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for at least a year, Yaroslavsky said.

"Addressing homeless on a case-by-case basis is a very time consuming undertaking because many of the homeless we have in the streets of L.A. have been homeless for years, in some cases decades," Yaroslavsky said. "It's not easy to get them to be open to the idea of getting into a permanent supportive housing unit. But if you don't give up on them, in almost very case we are able to be successful."

In addition to the philosophical shift from temporary shelters, the effort to reduce homelessness has also been aided by improved alignment of government funding -- with Los Angeles County providing funding for services and cities providing funding for housing -- allowing "us to get these projects online quicker," Buik said.

Los Angeles city officials "continue to press for meaningful collaboration between city entities, in concert with county entities, in order to make the financing and creation of housing opportunities for the homeless, especially the chronic homeless, easier," said Peter Sanders, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's senior press secretary.

Through the efforts of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, the city provides financial assistance or service to more than 4,600 households to prevent or resolve homeless episodes, Sanders said.

The county's homeless population includes more than 9,000 veterans.

"The ultimate stain on our society is that men and women who answered the call of our country when the country needed them have now been left to live on the streets," Yaroslavsky said. "Ending veterans' homelessness has got to be one of our very top priorities."

Yaroslavsky said his office is working with the Veterans Administration to identify 120 of the most chronically homeless veterans "who have major issues" so they could be housed on a building on its Brentwood campus where they would receive health care and mental health treatment.

Another way Yaroslavsky cited to reduce homelessness is to have each of the more than 8,000 houses of worship in the county be matched with one of its approximately 8,000 homeless families through the Imagine LA organization, whose two-year program helps provides support for the family to maintain its budget and build life skills for each family member.

"There's a lot we can do, but the first thing we need to do is show the will to do it, to recognize that the issue is real, the issue needs to be addressed, that we can't sweep it under the rug and we can't turn our backs on it," Yaroslavsky said.

"For far too long we all turned our backs on and didn't engage this issue the way we are doing now. With the business community coming into the picture, the United Way, the county, the city of L.A. and many of the other cities in our county, there is now an agreement on what the solution is.

"Now we just need to show the will to implement that solution -- permanent supportive housing for the most chronically homeless among us."

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