Teens Leading Change: The Housing Crisis in Our Community

Guest Blogger,
teens holding art supplies in front of the Silverlake Branch Library

Hello! We are the Teens Leading Change (TLC) group of the Silver Lake and Echo Park Branch Libraries. Our project has a general goal of learning about the housing crisis in Los Angeles, and more specifically in our neighborhoods of Silver Lake and Echo Park.

After constantly witnessing the effects of the housing crisis on people in our neighborhoods and communities, we became interested in addressing the many aspects of houselessness (such as roots, causes, effects, and potential solutions) and what we can do as teens to make a meaningful impact. Although the library provides information and resources for individuals experiencing homelessness on their website, we found it challenging to find which resources were located in our neighborhoods of Silverlake and Echo Park. Currently, our TLC group is planning public art programs at the Silver Lake and Echo Park Branch Libraries to focus on the mental health of unhoused youth.

Over the past few months, we have listened and learned about the housing crisis from multiple perspectives; we interviewed Ethan Ward, a journalist for the LAist newspaper who specifically writes about houselessness in Los Angeles. We also met with Dave Leon of Painted Brain (an organization that hosts social and community-focused art programs) who we connected through the Source (a one-stop-shop of resources and services to help homeless Angelenos transition to independent and supported living). Additionally, we reached out to Chloe Zitsow of The Hermit Crab Society, a group of young activists who focus on helping the newly housed get situated and on educating their peers on Instagram.

Below are a few snippets from the teens of our group about their perspectives and musings on the housing crisis in Los Angeles and how their personal experiences and relationships with this crisis are helping propel our project forward.

From Giazul: Having been someone of low income my entire life, I, and many others, are constantly struggling to keep ourselves afloat to avoid a very common reality shared by those with low income: the fear of losing one’s home. Being unhoused is a common fear for many people in general, but for low-income communities, this possibility is especially frightening because of the unfortunate fact that one wrong event in your life could completely destroy everything your family has spent years creating for themselves.

Personally speaking, I have witnessed one of my beloved family members struggle financially to the point where he had to resort to living in his van. My Padrino (godfather), who was, and still is, a struggling photographer and has had to go through many financial hurdles to maintain his very small home—a cockroach-ridden garage he was renting out from someone who lived near his photography studio—which eventually led to him having to give it all up because he couldn’t afford it. This wasn’t the first time this had happened to him, as he was always bouncing between apartments and locations because money was always an issue.

Regardless of my personal experience, I have always found the issue of unhoused individuals to be one of much importance, just because of the sheer mass in which these communities are prevalent in L.A. There’s a reason L.A. is ranked #2 in U.S Cities with the most unhoused people. As this project progresses, I hope that our research can help other teenagers ignite a passion for helping our communities with this issue. I hope our research proves helpful in becoming more educated about the unhoused.

From Sasha: As a student in an AP United States History class, the pieces that form the affordable housing crisis come together with increasing clarity each day. From learning about the Black farmers who were given land with a particularly high flood risk along the Mississippi river; watching the amount of land lived on solely by Indigenous people shrink with the expansionist and Manifest Destiny movements; to seeing the modern housing crisis unfold with New Deal failures, redlining, and gentrification; the affordable housing crisis has captured my attention. And as a Los Angeles resident, this is a historically precedented issue that I can see the effects of every day, and I am only increasing my compassion for those affected, disadvantaged, and unhoused by the crisis. This is why I was inclined to join the Silver Lake and Echo Park Teens Leading Change program.

Working on the project thus far, I’ve learned so much about what elected officials are doing in response to the crisis and even more about issues I wouldn’t have known to think about being unhoused. For instance, in times of drought, showers and water fountains at beaches and public parks are turned off, which cuts off water resources from people who are unhoused before anyone else. There is so much room to learn and grow in response to the housing crisis, and it’s truly a heartening journey to work on this project with other passionate teen volunteers.

From Edrick: Even though I've never been outside of Los Angeles, I've always liked strolling through the streets of the city that I call home. There's a lot to see and do in every city area. You can't go wrong with where life may lead you here, from the smallest dwellings to the tallest skyscrapers. However, not everyone can live the Angeleno dream like so many others do.

Every day, I encounter folks who have lost their homes and are stranded on the streets on my way to and from school. It's discouraging to realize that many people are unaware of the underlying reality of many houseless individuals and are therefore unable to make any necessary changes.

I once personally interacted with an individual experiencing homelessness while returning to school from a restaurant with my closest buddy. The person seemed ragged and confused by her surroundings. My buddy had some leftovers that he no longer needed, so he handed them to her. I was moved by the person’s reaction when she received the leftovers. Many people can return home for a hot supper and a safe place to sleep, while others are left to make do outside and can only watch other people enjoy their lives. That was when I realized that we, the citizens of Los Angeles, have a responsibility to support one another. This moment helped me apply these challenges to my situation, allowing me to assist and join many other like-minded colleagues in our Teens Leading Change project.

I was able to learn more about the challenges that were exploding in our community as a result of the encounter. I was delighted that I was able to share them with others who felt the same way about the tales behind them and how the simplest things can significantly influence one's life. The more ideas we generate, the more enthusiastic I am to see where our endeavor will take us.

To Conclude: As you can see, we are very passionate and determined to use the knowledge we have gained throughout our Teens Leading Change Project. We are hosting two art programs of our own in which we will address the mental health of unhoused youths, and we are very excited to see where this project will take us in the long run.

—Written by Ingrid H. and Malia M. with contributions from Giazul G., Edrick M., and Sasha R.

The Teens Leading Change initiative has funded and launched nearly 40 projects across 50 branches, including 8 projects across 11 branches that are happening now! These projects are related to Supporting Students with Learning Disabilities, Fighting Food Insecurity, Addressing Environmental Racism, Neighborhood Beautification, Financial Literacy, Addressing the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and Supporting Youth with Housing Insecurity.