How compassion and kinship motivate Tess’ work with the homeless

180611_WE_ARE_SANTA_MONICA_TESS-0279.jpg

Addressing the homelessness crisis is a priority for Santa Monica, and it’s also a priority for people like Tess.

Three days a week, you can find Tess sitting at the triage desk at the Access Center for homeless drop-in services at the corner of Olympic and 5th. One by one, unhoused people walk up to the desk and she asks them a few simple questions: What’s your name? How long have you been in Santa Monica? What’s your date of birth?

Asking for their date of birth, she says, is the thing that always touches her. Suddenly it all hits home. This person standing in front of her has a birthday. This person was somebody’s child. It serves to remind her: this isn’t a bad person — something really bad happened to this person. This realization spurs on her empathy and motivates her volunteer work at The People Concern.

Finding Kinship at The People Concern

It was after the untimely passing of her son that Tess began looking for a meaningful outlet. Her friend introduced her to The People Concern — an organization that serves people experiencing homelessness with a holistic system of care. The organization provides mental health and medical care, substance abuse services, and permanent supportive housing. As Tess got to know the organization, she began to feel certain that this is where she should be investing her time.

One of the things Tess emphasizes about her time spent volunteering is the sense of immediate kinship she feels with the clients at The People Concern. Whether it’s laughing at TV soap operas with a group of women, or bonding with a gentleman because he shares a name and birthday with her brother — she finds points of connection everywhere. She finds that there’s really very little difference between those experiencing homeless and those that are not — that the divide between “us” and “them” is quite narrow. She finds that in the end, we’re all just people. We like the sunshine. We like being near the ocean. We like being treated with kindness.

Putting Your Radar Out for Ways to Help

Tess’ care for the homeless doesn’t stop when she steps outside the Access Center. She often keeps bags of supplies in her car that she can hand out to people in need. For Tess, it’s a way of life, and it’s something I got to experience firsthand.

I met with Tess at Ishihara Park near Bergamot Station on a Saturday. Like most days in Santa Monica, the sun was out and there was a gentle breeze blowing.  As Tess was waiting to be interviewed for this piece, she noticed a homeless person sitting on a park bench. She walked over and offered him a bottle of water and a snack. Tess has her radar out for people in need at all times. She sees them and then she asks herself if there’s a way she can help. It’s second nature to her.

Volunteers like Tess and organizations like The People Concern are working every day to help meet the needs of the 53,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County. Volunteers and donations are always welcome.

You can also learn more about the homelessness crisis by downloading the Santa Monica Homelessness Toolkit. This practical guide contains facts about the regional crisis and resources linking people to services and ways to help. A new Volunteer and Donation Guide is also available highlighting opportunities to support local non-profits.  

And stay up to date with what the city is doing to address the regional homeless epidemic at weare.santamonica.gov.