Less than a year ago, Helen and Bryan Lopez were living on the streets of Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. By day, they probably looked like any other young 20-something couple enjoying an afternoon by the ocean.
At night, they would wait until after dark to use the outdoor showers before going to sleep in their car.
“We didn’t want people to see us shower,” Helen says, “because we would take our shampoos, our sponges … we didn’t want people to notice that we were homeless.”
Now they live in a sprawling four-bedroom, Mediterranean-style home in Marina del Rey, just a couple of miles from where they were once homeless. But this isn’t a rags-to-riches story. Their change of fortune was thanks to a tiny program run by a local nonprofit that places young homeless people with hosts willing to take them in for three to six months – with the goal of transitioning to more permanent housing.
The Lopezes were placed in the home of Marlene and Michael Rapkin. Marlene, who’s 67, is a retired attorney; Michael, 68, still practices law part time.
“They’re just giving people,” Helen, 22, says of the Rapkins. “They’re … helping us succeed in life.”
The program – called Host Home – is a new approach to helping LA’s homeless population. And though other programs in the Los Angeles County have been met with fierce resistance from some neighbors who don’t want shelters nearby, residents involved with this one are not only embracing homeless people in their neighborhood, but they’re also opening their homes to them.