The Los Angeles Coordinated Entry System is the backbone of the county’s services for the unhoused and it is nowhere near perfect. Even with billions invested, and policies enacted, the system still has many gaps and gaping holes. But in all the ways that this imperfect system connects, individuals are gradually being saved. And for the individuals and families being helped, It can seem as if the stars are aligning and divine intervention is happening just for them, when the many hundreds of nonprofits fill in the gaps of this imperfect system.
Last week, I learned of the Herculean effort to get 17-year-old Jeremiah Armstead to Fisk University and his family off the streets after spending in turns living in their van and Los Angeles County’s 90-days shelters for women and children.
Jeremiah said the family’s bout with homelessness was a struggle at first. In time, due to his gregarious personality and desire to make people around him smile, he formed a support network outside of his family, which was comprised of close friends and a coach with whom he could confide in and rely on.
“My mom would have to wait outside practice in the car all day,” Jeremiah said. At that time, the promising Fisk enrollee was on the varsity basketball team at Long Beach Polytechnic High School
“Basically, school started, 8 in the morning to 5 at night,” the teen said. “She’d be in the car all day, and then we still be in the car all night. There’s just stuff like that. It was just hard, you know. I didn’t want to just leave her out there by herself.”
Jeremiah says he has always been an outgoing person.
“I always felt as if I had to make people smile and stuff like that. So once like teachers or coaches started to know about what I was going through, they did everything in their power to help out. So it was just a blessing,” Jeremiah said.
The Brooks-Armstead family began the month figuring out their next steps after their time at Harbor Interfaith Services 90-day shelter for women and children was up. Without a place to sleep at night, the family of four were back to living in their van again. However, the stack of parking tickets — and with finances still too tight to even mention registering the van, it has only been an additional stressor for the entire family. The family had basically been driving around one police stop away from having their vehicle impounded.
Mindy, a domestic violence survivor, left her abuser, taking her three children with her. While there are numerous resources for domestic violence survivors, shelters providing housing for mothers with children have age restrictions.
“A lot of places for women with children don’t take big boys,” Mindy explained.
At 17, Jeremiah is 6’ft 4’’ while his 15-year-old and his younger brother, Marcus at over 6’ft in height would cause much of the world to treat these boys as grown adults rather than the teenagers they are.
It takes about 30 days or more on average to transition a family living on the street into a 90-day shelter program and there are several in Los Angeles County. Mindy and her family stayed in two different 90-day shelter programs, including Upward Bound House in Santa Monica in Special Service Area 5 and Harbor Interfaith Services in Service Planning Area 8. The biggest issue is that placement is based on priority in a Service Planning Area’s Coordinated Entry System. Because there is such a significant need and the inventory of landlords willing to take Section 8 housing is so meager, it can take time for families to get housing.
For Jeremiah’s mother, Mindy, desperation and a stepped up sense of urgency gripped her. She began Googling on her phone to find resources on her own.
“After leaving Harbor Interfaith Services after our 90 days were finished, I started Googling nonprofit organizations… like anybody that could help,” Mindy explained.
Mindy called several organizations but did not get to speak to a person until she called the Do Good Daniel’s Family Foundation and spoke to Christy Daniels.
“She was like, ‘You know what? We don’t have funds right now, but text me your information about what you need. I’m going to reach out to an organization.’”
That organization was the Sisters of Watts and the contact was Keisha Daniels, who also happened to be Christy’s cousin.
After making the connection, Christy and Keisha took Mindy and the kids to dinner at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, spent time getting to know Mindy and her circumstances and ultimately map out a plan of action. One of the first things the Sisters of Watts were able to do was put Mindy and her family up in a hotel on a short term basis. Then she was transferred to the House of Do Good, a shelter for women with children in South Los Angeles operated by The Daniels Family Foundation. The nonprofit was also able to get Mindy’s van registered and her tickets paid off, removing in one fell swoop the family’s biggest stressor to date.
After learning of Jeremiah’s desire to go to college and major in sports medicine. It didn’t sit well with Keisha that a kid as bright and ambitious as Jeremiah wasn’t going straight to a four-year university. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the benefits of physically attending school, such as access to a college counselor and meetings with an academic advisor, just weren’t there.
Keisha started making more phone calls on top of phone calls to see what could be done.
“With the struggles of them having been in a shelter and distance learning, it caused him to kind of get thrown off, not because he couldn’t do it, but because of the world going through a pandemic,” Keisha said. “I was just like, you know what if you’re saying that he’s able to keep up with work, he has good study habits. He wanted to go to college. I told him let’s go for the four-year [university option]. Let me call some people.”
Keisha reached out to Stephen Bernstein, the founder of We Educate Brilliant Minds. Keisha came to know him because of his efforts in helping her nephew get into the historically black university/college, Fisk University.
“He’s helped a lot of students,” Keisha said.
Two weeks ago, Jeremiah received an acceptance letter from Fisk. Keisha and the Sisters of Watts have immediately set to work on helping Jeremiah make up for lost time in filling out financial aid paperwork and raise money to pay the balance of annual $35,000 a year tuition. With that said, there’s more work to be done, and Keisha says she could use all the help she can get.
If you are interested in helping, visit https://www.sistersofwatts.org/ for the details as well information about their nonprofit status.