“Housing is the foundation you need to let your life take off”: How permanent supportive housing gave Les a new start

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Les has a wealth of wisdom and insight. When asked where he learned it all, he says, “I learned it in the school of hard knocks.” And Les indeed knows what it means to go through hard times. Before he found his way to permanent supportive housing, Les had spent more than half his adult life homeless. It’s an increasingly common story — the struggle against homelessness — one that Santa Monica is working hard to bring to an end.

He says of that time: “I just didn’t know how to handle things. I didn’t know what was wrong. I went through a lot of turmoil trying to figure out why I didn’t fit into this thing called ‘life’. I spent most of my life feeling like I was separated from everyone. And I just wanted to belong.”

In 1994, Les got a phone call from his sister in Houston. In her warm Texas drawl, she encouraged Les to find services that could help address his mental health needs. She truly believed that if he got the treatment he needed, he could get off the streets and start a new chapter. At the time, Les felt too stigmatized by the idea of “mental health needs” to take his sister seriously. It took him another six years before he actually followed through on his sister’s gentle encouragement and walked into a Santa Monica mental health facility. That decision changed his life.

Step Up On 2nd

Les’ caseworker referred him to an organization called Step Up On 2nd, a non-profit devoted to permanent supportive housing, vocational training, and health services for homeless individuals. It was a community that welcomed Les with open arms. As Les said, “I realized for the very first time in my life, I belonged.” Not only did he belong, he was also getting the mental health attention he needed and he was on the road to becoming permanently housed.

Something bigger was happening, too. Les was becoming hopeful. He began to realize that he was worthwhile, and that his life could mean something. Les has transformed that hope into helping others as they transition out of homelessness. At Step Up On 2nd, Les leads a weekly gratitude group and runs a learning center for those looking to expand their skills. In the community, he’s a leading advocate for supportive housing.

Supportive Housing: Bringing Hope to Many

Les admits that not everyone in the community is open to the idea of supportive housing structures going up in their neighborhoods. But talking to Les, it becomes clear how transformative they can be.

“Housing ... is so very, very important. It’s the foundation you need to let your life take off,” Les says. When individuals are given the safety and stability of having a roof over their heads, they can begin to address the other issues in their lives that may be holding them back.

And the holistic approach of supportive housing means that it doesn’t end at providing permanent shelter — it keeps going by encouraging mental health, vocational skills, and self-respect. All of this adds up to getting a real chance at starting a new chapter of life. Our very own, Santa Monica resident Les is living proof of that.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Step Up On 2nd or contributing donations, click here. The organization is doing invaluable work, helping to house some of our region’s 53,000 homeless individuals.

There are also many other organizations doing their part. For a full guide of available resources, download the Homelessness Toolkit.

And if you’d like to find out more about how Santa Monica is encouraging supportive housing for all members of our community, join us at weare.santamonica.gov.

Postscript

Les lives his life with immense gratitude. It’s infectious. Any time spent with him will have you reflecting on the “small” things in life that you, too, are grateful for.

While researching this piece, I found Les’ gratitude list, posted on the Step Up On 2nd website. He gave me permission to repost it. I hope it’ll stir up some gratitude for you the way it did for me:

“My apartment

A great night’s sleep and the mattress I sleep on (yes, it's that good)

My ceiling fan and shower (much of the world would see these as luxuries)

That I can see and read

My hearing and my music (I have a large collection)

My imagination

That I can think, speak, learn, and write

That I can laugh and smile

That I am alive, healthy, and that I am me!

My bicycle

Living in Santa Monica (a truly wonderful place)

My HDTV, digital cable, DVR, and Netflix account

Dr. Walker (my minister, a great man)

That I feel safe

That I am on the Board of Directors at Step Up on Second

My Website, LesJones.net, and the many visitors to my site

My wonderful friends”