Cal State L.A. | Feb. 11, 2013 | Spotlight

Social work major learns from experience, makes it count

Orozco, CSULA students join the Greater L.A. Homeless Count effort

Pictured: Rodrigo Perez-Orozco.

Having to sleep in his car for about a month while enrolled at Cal State L.A., social work major Rodrigo Perez-Orozco, who sometimes found excuses to crash on a couch at a friend’s house, understands what it means to be “homeless.”

Even though it wasn’t for a long period of time, Orozco said it was an agonizing yet empowering experience to try to figure out where to park his car so he could sleep safely each night, or the next day.

Orozco, who was accepted for admission to Cal State L.A. this past fall, didn’t want to miss the opportunity to further his education, so he moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco with the limited money he saved.

“I had enough for tuition and books, transportation, and simple meals, but I couldn’t afford to pay rent for the entire quarter,” he said.

In a way, he made CSULA his home—spending most of his time studying in the library or hanging out on campus until nightfall.

Fortunately, this winter, he was able to receive financial aid, and subsequently found a reasonable place to live in North Hollywood.

When the opportunity for members of the CSULA community to participate in the 2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count arose, Orozco was intrigued and sought out more details at the informational session held on campus last December. He responded to the call by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) for 5,000 volunteers to assist with the local census effort.

The count, conducted every two years, supports, creates and sustains solutions to homelessness in Los Angeles County by providing leadership, advocacy, planning and management of program funding.

According to the 2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Report, more than 51,000 individuals were counted as homeless in the county, with about 34 percent of them age 55 and older.

Pictured: CSULA Golden Key team at Homeless Count site.

2013 Homeless Count participants (back row, l-r): Robert Ortega, Paula Rincon, Leroi Abelarde, Nathan Salgado, (front row, l-r) Vanessa Lam, Chessa del Rosario, Jessa Canos, and Ruel Ramirez.

Pictured: EPIC student volunteers pick up toys and food collected from various offices and departments on campus.

Map of areas that the CSULA Golden Key team was designated to scout out for homeless men, women and children.

“In order to make difference in the lives of homeless men, women and children in Los Angeles County, we need to know who they are and where they are,” said Maricor Garaniel, LAHSA volunteer coordinator. “The 2013 Greater L.A. Homeless Count is an opportunity for everyone throughout Los Angeles County to play a tremendous role in ending homelessness.”

On Jan. 29, Orozco and other CSULA student volunteers were assigned to various Homeless Count checkpoints throughout the county. Orozco, who attended an orientation at the Centro Maravilla Service Center, was paired up with two other volunteers to canvas two areas within East Los Angeles.

Orozco, who was supplied a flashlight, a map and a tally sheet, said, “My team was able to identify eight homeless individuals in total. We saw men pushing carts and digging in to trash cans in the neighborhood late at night. We also found a van parked on a residential street with all the windows covered, like someone was living inside.”

That same evening, a group of CSULA students from the Golden Key International Honour Society also participated in the homeless count at St. Paul’s Church in Monterey Park.

They included nursing majors Chessa del Rosario, Vanessa Lam, and Nathan Salgado; public health major Jessa Canos; and microbiology major Mariah Paula Rincon.

“For the first area indicated on our map, my team did not see any people in vehicles, tents or make-shift shelters that indicate signs of homelessness,” said del Rosario, who is the service director for the CSULA chapter of Golden Key.

While canvassing the area, the CSULA students were stopped by two policemen, inquiring why they were out after dark. Once realizing the students’ mission, the officers helped direct them to where homeless people might be, but that area wasn’t within their grid.

From there, del Rossario and her team headed to the second area they were assigned.

“There, we noticed a van parked in one of the plazas,” del Rossario said. “We saw boxes and a food tray inside, and noticed that it had expired registration, which means that more than likely the vehicle was used as a shelter.”

Overall, the Golden Key members all left with a great sense of fulfillment. The cold, windy weather didn’t hinder their efforts.

“We all knew that to participate in such an event is truly rewarding and will help us identify the homeless people who need assistance from federal, state and local officials,” said del Rosario.

Orozco said, “It was an eye-opening experience. Most importantly, I learned how much services are needed for the homeless—not only for those who are elderly, but for youth and families, too.”

Orozco, who is first in his family to attend college, hopes to complete his bachelor’s degree and pursue a career in social work. His goal is to help provide services and opportunities to those underrepresented—whether it be the homeless or the undocumented in the community.

“I want to encourage those who are going, or have gone through, my similar struggles, and help them find guidance and support,” he said. “I like helping to find solutions to problems.”

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