Feb 06, 2012

Jake Maguire's picture Posted By Jake Maguire

"I'll Step Up!": Empowering Volunteers to End Homelessness

Noah Laracy is a regular person. He isn’t a trained social worker, a landlord, or a paid housing advocate. He’s a volunteer who wanted to do something to help end homelessness in his community. Today, with a little help and a wealth of determination, Laracy is helping homeless people find permanent housing and escape the streets of Los Angeles for good.

“I do think this is something that anyone can do,” says Laracy. “So many days, I thought, ‘What am I doing? I can’t do this.’ But, then I would think, ‘Someone has to do it. It might as well be me.’”

Laracy grew up in Connecticut and came to Los Angeles for film school. About a year ago, he began attending alcoholism recovery meetings downtown. Each time he passed the hundreds of homeless people living on L.A.’s Skid Row, he wondered if there might be something he could do to help. Then he met Beth Sandor, Los Angeles Director with the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

“At first, she didn’t quite know what to make of me,” says Laracy, “But I think she could tell I was serious.”

Sandor introduced Laracy to Richard Myers, an outreach worker with Skid Row Housing Trust. The two began hitting the streets together twice a week, as Myers worked and Laracy took careful notes. Over a period of 6 weeks, he learned the ropes of the housing placement process and began to develop the skills and knowledge he needed to help people navigate the maze of agencies and services that line the path to permanent housing. Together, the pair housed 2 people in permanent apartments before Laracy finally began taking on clients of his own.
"I'm not in a position to solve people's complicated health problems or give them professional life advice," says Laracy, "but I've learned that I can help them walk through the basic housing process. It's an incredible feeling to realize, 'Someone has a permanent apartment, in part because of something I did.'"
Since his initial success with Myers, Laracy has helped 4 new clients navigate the full process, each of whom will soon enter permanent housing. He describes five additional clients as, “in the pipeline.”

Asked about his amateur status as a volunteer, Laracy says he has depended on professionals like Myers for guidance.

“You have to be teachable,” he notes. "You have to be willing to say, ‘I don’t know. Let me ask a professional.’ But every social worker or housing advocate will tell you that we don’t have enough professionals out there doing this, so I stepped up and said, ‘If you’ll help me, I’ll try.’

Laracy’s story matters deeply for the future of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. We hear every day from concerned community members who want to help their homeless neighbors find homes but aren't sure what to do. But since this movement began, we’ve also met some pretty amazing volunteers who have done whatever it takes to help, despite their lack of resources, knowledge or experience. People like Laracy reaffirm our belief that everyone can play a part in ending homelessness in this country.

If you want to learn more about becoming a volunteer or training volunteers in your community, tune into our monthly All Hands on Deck call this Wednesday, Feb 8 at 3pm EST. Together, we’ll hear from Laracy and others on the role that volunteers can play in helping their most vulnerable neighbors access and benefit from permanent supportive housing.