There are currently 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in the United States today, and more than 174,000 of them are people with families and children. College students are also massively impacted by this crisis. According to an L.A. Times article, one in 20 students in the University of California system alone are unhoused. Since the pandemic, these numbers continue to rise, along with the stigma and misconceptions surrounding homelessness.
While these numbers may be disheartening, organizations and activists continue to find ways to curb the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. One of these people is Tyrone Stokes, founder of Dope Spot Studios in Pomona and has helped Lee Ballinger (co-founder of A.U.E.H) in invaluable ways, who spoke to us about Artists United to End Homelessness (A.U.E.H.). A.U.E.H. uses the voices and support of artists to increase awareness around homelessness and push toward ending it. Organizers put on shows and events to gain support and educate the broader community about this crisis.
Why artists? It’s no revelation that creating and performing art helps to build social-emotional skills, which creates a strong sense of empathy and compassion in artists. In children specifically, socio-dramatic play (pretend play) strengthens social competence and the ability to understand others. Artists have a special ability to feel empathy — and often want to help. By using their talent, they have helped A.U.E.H. in invaluable ways.
I recently spoke to Stokes about the organization’s work.
How did you become involved with Artists United to End Homelessness?
I attended an open mic that was held in Pomona. It’s called “A Mic and Dim Lights.” They don’t host this event in Pomona anymore; they host it in L.A. now. They hosted this open mic in Pomona at the dA Center of the Arts. It’s an art gallery in downtown Pomona. There, I saw Lee Ballinger go up and do a poem. Then, he also spoke about Artists United to End Homelessness. It was something that he was in the beginning stages of starting. It seemed pretty interesting to me as far as artists playing a part, playing a role and doing something for a greater cause. I talked to him to see how I could get involved, and I’ve been pretty much involved ever since.
What are some common misconceptions that you believe Artists United to End Homelessness is helping to change?
There are a few. There’s a good number, I think, of misconceptions just about the actual causes of homelessness. We’re able to show people what those actual causes are by actually speaking to the unhoused via our art and the different things we do to give the unhoused a voice. I think some other misconceptions regarding the unhoused is [that they are not] willing to work or not taking the steps necessary [to work]. And then…how a lot of people may see shelters as housing. We try to help people see that that is a misconception. Shelters should not be considered housing. I think one of the big ones that we always go back to is how to actually end homelessness rather than manage it. I think that’s a big thing because a lot of what we hear from people involved in this issue is they don’t have actual solutions to ending it. They open more soup kitchens, they open stuff like that, and it’s usually seen as more charity work rather than solutions to end homelessness, and I think that’s another misconception that we try to tackle as well with our work.
Artists United to End Homelessness is using its platform to create pressure in politics to do more to end homelessness. Have there been any accomplishments in this area that you are especially proud of?
I think one of the biggest things we have done was to participate in an event called “100,000 Poets for Change,” and during that time, we hosted several different events in different areas where the focus was on our mission to end homelessness. I think by doing that, we spread our message pretty quickly. We were able to recruit a lot of artists to our cause and get the attention of some of the individuals in the arts sectors of various communities. So, I would say, I think we’re most proud of that particular event because it was a success. We weren’t sure how it was going to work. We didn’t come together as a team to do one big event — we just kind of all spread out from different various places: L.A., Pomona, Ontario, the O.C. We hosted community events at all these different places, and we were able to gather as many people as possible to have discussions on homelessness and ways to end it. I think it was a really great turnout and a really good vision for what we were trying to do.
You held a symposium at Cal State Fullerton. Why is this message important to spread in the setting of young college students?
I think it’s important because there’s a high percentage of the unhoused community that are college students, and a lot of people don’t know that. I personally have a friend who I went to college with…her entire senior year she was homeless, and I didn’t know it. And we were friends, too. So, I was heartbroken at that and questioned why she didn’t say anything.
I think it’s very important, because you can be on campus walking around and not know that some people are actually unhoused and don’t have the support that they may need. And they’re going through that personal situation while also trying to graduate and get a degree at university or wherever they’re at. [It’s also important] to get people to start thinking about what’s going on in their community at that age in general because the unhoused are also a part of the community; they’re our neighbors. They’re not second-class citizens.
There are organizations and people who are trying to make an impact and create change. I think [college] is a perfect time [for students] to start getting involved within their community, so I think that’s why it’s important that we do let them in on what we’re doing.
How can people support Artists United to End Homelessness? Are there ways to donate or spread the word?
One of the best ways is to go to our website. Once they go there, we have a statement that specifically reads, “Take the people without homes and put them in homes without people,” and we want to get signatures on there and artists advocating for that statement.
On our website, there is also a tab that details the 14 steps that we’ve created to be taken to end homelessness. I would encourage them to look through those steps and ask themselves what it is that could do to make an impact or at least get involved. Other than that, I would say to reach out to us and let us know what you do and what you are inspired by, what your passion is, artist or not (and any kind or art as well). We’re very vigilante as far as people reaching out to us and bringing artists in and other individuals who want to be involved. There are a lot of different things that they can do, so reach out to us on our contact page.
To learn more, visit aueh.org.