A Los Angeles nonprofit named Our Children LA is charting an unprecedented course by bringing technology, information, and people of all stripes together to improve the lives of homeless youth.
For the last two weeks, our intrepid group of Wild Fundraisers has been helping Dr. Denise McCain-Tharnstrom sew up an abundant amount of content for the new website of Our Children LA. It’s been quite an experience from the get-go! From a content writer (or grant writer’s) perspective, the first task is to find a voice, something particularly challenging for this project precisely because the website expects to serve not only bigwig philanthropists but homeless teens, librarians, social workers, researchers, government officials, and one million hamburgers too. On top of that, nonprofit websites need to appeal to foundation representatives, so a certain amount of Board-approved nonprofit lingo is mandatory. And on top of that, certain sections needed to appear neutral, such as the fact sheets, whereas others needed to be calling an outraged community to action. How did we do? Well, time will tell, but we think we created content that every site visitor will find accessible and welcoming, while sprinkling in some unexpected anti-jargon to help Our Children LA distinguish itself from other nonprofits with similar mission statements.
Over the course of this project, though, what turned out to be the real challenge was learning to stomach the horrible details about the lives of homeless children and teens in Los Angeles. Both foster care and the juvenile justice system, for example, are rigged to funnel disadvantaged kids onto the streets. Other youth get thrown out of their parents’ homes for being gay or pregnant, or run away to escape abuse so vile that they actually rate their ability to remove themselves from it, even at the cost of becoming homeless, one of their proudest accomplishments. A statistic that stuck with us in particular: In a survey of homeless Los Angeles youth, 40% said they felt safer on the street than they’d felt in the home they left behind.
Through WIN, Our Children LA’s mobile app, the organization will offer these kids something innovative: Not only technology capable of connecting them with open shelter beds, open soup kitchens, and other resources, but an invitation to collaborate in and even guide community efforts to end youth homelessness. Through WIN – which stands for “What I Need,” a name Dr. McCain-Tharnstrom came up with in the shower – homeless kids and teens will be able to tell well-meaning Angelinos precisely what they need.
We’re as excited as anyone for WIN’s launch and for the first truly community-wide response to youth homelessness in Los Angeles. Judging from what’s already out there, our hunch is that what these children will tell us they need is so much more than just a roof over their heads. A roof isn’t a home. They need a path away from abuse, foster care, and the juvenile justice system. They need education and a means to heal from trauma, affordable housing and an end to being judged and vilified. If Our Children LA has its way, the voice that finally announces the end of youth homelessness in Los Angeles will belong to the children themselves.