Kobe Bryant’s missive to tackle homelessness in LA

Editor’s note: Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant was on a mission to aid the homeless way before it became chic or the trendy thing to do. In the wake of Bryant’s passing in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, an accident that also claimed the lives of eight other people, including his daughter Gianna, News4usonline will be running a series of stories on the NBA great. This article focuses on Bryant’s humanitairian efforts as he reaches out to homeless youths.  

HOLLYWOOD, CA – Jermell Foster has been living on the streets for years. Being homeless for that amount of time means having to watch your back at all times.

Survival for the 26-year-old Foster comes by scrapping for food and living one moment at a time. No minute is taken for granted on the streets, said Foster.

“When you’re homeless, you are surviving,” Foster said. “When you have the career job that is when you’re living. Homeless is about surviving for the moment. Some of the disadvantages of being homeless is that you have a lot of people out here who are just roaming the streets looking for bad stuff to get into.

“You have to protect yourself. It’s pretty viscous. I’ve seen some horrible stuff just walking. It ain’t cool. But you just have to breakthrough.”

Foster received his breakthrough when he came to My Friend’s Place four years ago to seek temporary shelter and put some food in his belly. My Friend’s Place, which is a Hollywood haven for homeless youths, have been a somewhat of a Godsend for Foster and so many young adults.

But there are thousands of other young people on the streets of Los Angeles who are not so lucky to stumble up on a shelter like My Friend’s Place.

Kobe Bryant at My Friends Place in Hollywood.

“I’ve been chronically homeless for the past five years. I came here in 2006. I was real down. My family had given up on me. When I came here, my grandmother had just passed away, so I was in a funk. Through the help of My Friend’s Place, and the caring they showed and displayed helped me to get back on the right track.”

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has gone toe-to-toe with the best players in the NBA. More often than not, Bryant has come out on top, leading the Lakers to five NBA championships and seven Finals appearances. He’s annually recognized as the premier player in the game today.

On the court, Bryant is known to be fearless, unrepentant and cold-blooded, much like the Black Mamba moniker he is associated with.

Off the court, Bryant is just as relentless and savvy, especially when it comes to helping others. The father of two young daughters, Bryant is particularly fierce when it comes to helping less fortunate children. His annual Kobe Basketball Academy has always been a pillar of Bryant’s philanthropy efforts.

Bryant has become a global icon, not just because of all-world basketball skills, but also in part because of his tireless dedication to reach out and touch those in need, much like the way he reached out to children left without due to the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina.

The same can be said about Bryant’s efforts to go beyond the borders of the U.S and make a difference.

Kobe Bryant being applauded at Staples Center before the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Los Angeles Clippers April 5, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Actively involved in charitable foundations such as The Center for Abused Children, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Bryant went out of his way to establish the Kobe China Fund to raise money for health awareness and education. So far, the initiative has raised more than $800,000.

An astute traveler, who has visited many countries and seen the best and worst of the world, Bryant, with the assistance of his wife, Vanessa, has been called to take action against a deplorable issue in his own backyard: homelessness.

Los Angeles has the largest homeless population in the country. As Bryant drives through the downtown section and other parts of the city, like everyone else, he couldn’t help but see the seedy and unsafe conditions folks were living in.

People camp out in cardboard boxes, living in quarters that consist of nothing more than a couple of old, worn blankets and shredded newspapers as he would make his drive to work at nearby Staples Center. Most of those on the streets living homeless are African Americans and Latinos.

According to statistics reported this year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, African Americans make up 43.7% of the homeless population in Los Angeles County. Latinos comprise 27.7 % of the homeless group. In the city itself, African Americans make up nearly half (49.3%) of those on the streets.

Kobe Bryant, along with wife Vanessa Bryant, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and one of the board members of “My Friend’s Place,” are looking to combat homelessness youth. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman

Perhaps even more disheartening for Bryant was seeing children and young people living on the streets. The LAHSA states in its executive report that the demographic age group of 25-54 represent the largest number of those who are homeless in the county, accounting for 62.5% of streetwalkers.

Growing weary of this problem, he and Vanessa decided to bring more attention to the homeless issue, launching the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need.

The KVBFF has been set up to focus on youth homelessness in Los Angeles as its first initiative. Funds raised by the foundation will support organizations and programs that transform the lives of homeless youth and families by helping to create permanent housing and providing resources for education and career development.

“On my way to games, I noticed children and families living on the streets blocks away from where I play and it didn’t sit well with me,” said Kobe Bryant. “I wanted to help make a difference in homelessness and what better place to start than in my own back yard.”

Bryant and Vanessa made the announcement about their foundation at My Friend’s Place, a Hollywood-based non-profit that assists homeless youth in building sufficient lives for themselves. Founded in 1988, My Friend’s Place, which service young people living on the streets from age 12 to 25, hosts up to 1,600 youth annually.

Heather Carmichael, executive director of My Friend’s Place, said the young people they bring in should get a second chance to succeed.

“There are approximately 9,500 homeless youth under the age of 24 living on the streets of Los Angeles each year. Regardless of what has brought these youth to the streets, they deserve the opportunity to realize their potential,” said Carmichael.

Foster, who considers himself to be chronically homeless, said Bryant lifted his spirits when he by stopped by My Friend’s Place to talk about the homeless problem.  It meant a lot to him that Bryant would even take the time to speak to him well and the other young people.

“It’s monumental,” Foster said. “Just by his presence was enough. It’s definitely putting a light on homelessness. This is the mecca of homeless youth. This is something that needs to be taken care of.”

This article was published in its original content by the Beverly Hills Times   

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