By Melanie Camp
Venice stepped up to support the 1st annual Home for the Holidays benefit and concert on Sunday night, December 4. The event took place at Safe Place for Youth (S.P.Y), 2469 South Lincoln Boulevard in Venice.
All proceeds from the night will help fund the first-ever Miracle Messages Homeless Reunification Program in Venice.
The Miracle Messages program uses to power of social media to reconnect those homeless in Venice with friends and family, get them off the street and home for the holidays.
Teaming up with local non-profits, Safe Place for Youth (S.P.Y) and St Joseph’s, along with 50 volunteers, the VNC Homeless Committee spent two days reaching out to those homeless in Venice. Volunteers filmed video messages and collected names of friends and family.
Hawkins said videoing the messaging wasn’t as simple as walking up to someone and hitting the record button.
“It’s hard to walk up to strangers at all and just talk to them. It’s hard to walk up to people living this way knowing where you live, and knowing that they know you live that way and try to instantly give them some empathy and understanding that they can react to,” said Hawkins.
Starting a conversation beyond homelessness was an important part of the process. Hawkins said, with each person, he would look at their belongings and try to get a sense of their interests or even find common ground.
The team filmed nearly 30 videos. They then got to work scouring social media for the lost connections. Already the team has managed to help one young Venice homeless person reconnect with his mother overseas. She is now planning a trip to Los Angeles, to come and bring him home.
Over the past 2-years, Miracle Messages has managed to connect 90% of people with family members. Resulting in a 40% hit rate, getting people off the street, and back home.
“What’s great about this program is that it doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. It’s completely financed by donations,” says Will Hawkins. Hawkins is President of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s (VNC) Homeless Committee.
Fundraising is necessary to help cover travel costs and get those homeless back to the friends or family who can help put a roof over their head.
Sunday night’s benefit drew a big crowd of Venice neighbors. There was live music. Maia Sharp, David Poe, and Kim Michalowski performed. Even Hawkins stepped up on stage and sung.
Although he believes they could help as many as 15 people off the Venice streets this Holiday season, “it’s not going to work if we just come do this once and never do it again,” said Hawkins. What he hopes is, the Miracle Messages Homeless Reunification Program will become an ongoing part of the homelessness solution.
“You don’t have to wait for City Hall to give you money. You don’t have to keep calling your local District and saying ‘help us.’ There are programs available right now,” said Hawkins.
To help support the Miracle Messages Homeless Reunification Program email Hawkins at [email protected]
Will Hawkins belts out a tune. Photo by: Rick Swinger.