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Los Angeles is struggling, but it’s worth fighting for

Courtesy of Los Angeles Dream Center
Courtesy of Los Angeles Dream Center

My beloved Los Angeles appears to be shutting down for business. This beautiful setting in Southern California known as the City of Angels, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and majestic hills and mountains, sadly appears to have thrown in the towel. 

COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in more boarded-up storefronts than I’ve seen in any recession or even during the Rodney King riots in 1992. Melrose and Sunset, two iconic boulevards featured in countless movies and television shows, were unrecognizable as I recently drove from Inglewood to the Dream Center, the nonprofit organization my husband and I lead in Echo Park near downtown LA. Drive anywhere in greater Los Angeles and you’ll find restaurants, shops, hair salons, and other businesses that have served residents for generations still closed with no hope of opening their doors any time soon. 

As the daughter of parents who emigrated to Los Angeles from Sweden when I was a little girl, I know that there are millions of fellow Angelenos who, like me, won’t throw up their arms and surrender. This is a city worth fighting for. The fantastic tapestry of communities here is home to more ethnic groups than possibly anywhere else in the world. In California, we embrace a beautiful mix of cultures. Our sincere desire to welcome immigrants with open arms has resulted in remarkable diversity, and I’m so proud to be part of this vast metropolis that I call home. 

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But now, all you’ll see are closure signs and all you’ll hear is the waning tone of discouraged Angelenos. 

We must find solutions to the problems that seem insurmountable. Unemployment here is at an all-time high, homelessness is on the rise, and mental health needs are escalating rapidly. Those of us who are employed and have the time or resources must join together to support those at risk in our neighborhoods. 

Many churches that provide hope for hurting people – as well as food, shelter, counseling, and other practical, life-affirming services – have been closed since March. Thankfully, some are quietly and safely opening as pastors acknowledge their responsibility for tending to the flock. 

The shutdown has clearly taken a toll on the mom and pop businesses and other essential services like places of worship. But why has our stunning state, the fifth richest economy in the world, paid such a huge financial price? 

I don’t place all of the blame on our local and state officials, as I know elected leaders make difficult decisions that they believe are best for the people. Yet the extended restrictions placed on businesses is proving to be more devastating than anyone could have predicted, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable. 

Schools that children and their parents depend on not only for education but also for balanced meals, security, and social interaction have been closed for far too long. I say this not only as a parent, but as a leader of an organization that provides remote learning assistance to many schoolchildren Monday through Friday – children who have no place else to go when their parents have no choice but to work.

Courageous veterans who served our country are living on the streets, and opportunities for them are drying up by the day. Families who had homes before the pandemic are sleeping in their cars, or spending the last of their savings on motel rooms. I know this because I’ve personally met families in this situation. Domestic violence is also at record levels as some shelters, counseling centers, and churches, have been unable to provide services or support. 

My husband and I, along with the staff and volunteers at the Los Angeles Dream Center are certainly not giving up the good fight to provide free, safe housing, recovery programs, and vital transformational services to those in our community who need a second chance. Although our organization receives no government funding, the generosity of donors allows the Dream Center to remain open. We are blessed that our services have not slowed down and we even have some rooms open for those in need. 

If you live in Los Angeles, or simply love this city and remember what it once was when you visited, find a local nonprofit in your neighborhood and support it. They need financial support, but if you can’t donate money right now, offer to volunteer, sponsor a food drive, start a community garden, host a garage sale to raise funds, or tutor students. Offer childcare for a single parent, write notes to a housebound elderly person, or mentor someone who is unemployed. Inquire as to what is your neighbors desperately need.

Each one of us who has the means must get to work loving our neighbors and restoring Los Angeles to its former glory. As we say every day at the Dream Center: find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it. 

Pastor Caroline Barnett and her husband Pastor Matthew Barnett are at the helm of the Los Angeles Dream Center in Echo Park, two miles from downtown Los Angeles. The LA Dream Center, founded in 1994, turned the 400,000-square-foot Queen of Angels Hospital off the 101 freeway into a non-profit organization that provides long-term programs, housing and recovery services to individuals, families and veterans, free of charge. 

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