Larchmont Living's Monthly Spotlight on Local Businesses and Residents
Q&A with Marilyn Wells, Co-Founder
Stories from the Frontline
Marilyn Wells, Psy.D. is a philanthropist and advocate for people with lived homeless experience. She works tirelessly toward ending homelessness in our communities by galvanizing neighborhoods to embrace supportive housing.
Q. You and another long time Hancock Park resident, Allison Schallert, founded an organization called Stories from the Frontline, which seeks to provide housing solutions for LA college students, primarily those attending community college. Talk about the important work your organization is doing.
A. We host informative evenings featuring individuals who have experienced homelessness. The speakers share powerful stories of strength and perseverance. Audience members witness the impact of homelessness on the individual and the struggle people face to find a safe and affordable place to call home. Our events focus on different populations of people who have experienced homelessness, such as college students, young adults aging out of the foster care system, families and the elderly. Our mission is to shine the light on the incredible organizations that are doing the hard work to house people and to raise awareness of the importance of building affordable housing in all neighborhoods. Our goal is to inform our neighbors of the
successful efforts we are making and to encourage them to support legislation to streamline housing in Los Angeles.
Q. Homelessness is a problem that affects nearly every corner of Los Angeles. While everyone agrees solutions are needed, the immensity of the problem is overwhelming. How did you decide where to point your efforts? Is there a particular niche of population you prefer to support?
A. Stories From The Frontline was created to educate and galvanize our neighbors to support all types of housing across all of Los Angeles. Experts agree that the answer is simple: building an adequate amount of affordable housing will solve homelessness. This year we are focusing our work, alongside others, to help young adults who are experiencing homelessness while attending college, many of whom are transitioning out of the foster care system.
One in four college students and one in five university students are unhoused and 50% of foster youth either enter into homelessness or are incarcerated. And of the ones that make it to college, only 3% of foster care youth graduate. By supporting this population with housing and other basic needs, we believe that these young people have a stronger chance to complete college and to raise themselves out of the cycle of poverty. We know that those who have better job opportunities, and more stability can, and do, impact their communities - uplifting their entire community.
Q. One of the organization's that you support recently converted an unused sorority house on the UCLA campus into a home for 54 unhoused college students. Talk about how that came about and how the students have benefited.
A. Dr. Sam Prater, the founder of LA Room & Board (LARNB) masterleased an empty sorority house to house students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, (some of whom had aged out of foster care). Utilizing funding from private funders and government programs, Opportunity House has housed 54 students for the last 2 years. Opportunity House provides 3 square meals each day, tutoring, mental health services, financial literacy and mentorships. Some students have graduated and are employed, and many are giving back by mentoring the incoming residents.
LARNB is currently preparing to open three more locations: one in Boyle Heights which will house 70 students, and two in Hollywood which will house 25. LARNB’s mission statement says it all: “Student success begins when homelessness ends”.
LARNB has also assisted our organization, Stories From The Frontline, to relocate five modular ‘containers’ on a church parking lot in South Los Angeles. Each modular contains three dorm rooms which will house 15 college students!
Our project, Sunnyside 5, is opening in January 2023 funded by private donations, philanthropic dollars and a generous grant from Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell.
Q. For those who read this newsletter and want to get involved in some capacity, how can they help the mission of Stories from the Frontline?
We are always looking for people to help with our events and for businesses to provide sponsorships. We also need venues for our events: you can host an evening in your home, in your place of work or at your church.
The overwhelming feedback we get is gratitude for the first hand stories, hearing housing solutions that work, and learning how we can all engage. We often ask for people to share our efforts with others by reaching out to their mailing lists to ask others to spread the word about upcoming events, or to support legislation for housing by calling or emailing our city, state and federal representatives.
Finally, the student population always needs professionals to mentor students.
We are happy to organize tours of the student housing and other affordable and supportive housing. Please sign up on our website www.storiesfrontline.org.
Q. Based on my experience with your organization, it seems like mentorship is a key facet of the mission. Talk about how important mentoring is for the community you are serving.
A. College students, especially former foster youth, have not been exposed to many fields of study
or professions. Studies show that students choose their major based on the environment they
come from. Many of our students have often only been in contact with adults who are teachers,
social workers or police. LARNB needs professionals who can volunteer their time to talk about
their professions and the route they took to get there. One 2 hour evening will offer fresh
perspectives that can open the students’ minds to what is available to them.
Q. You've lived in Hancock Park for many years. What do you love about the neighborhood?
A. Our family loves Hancock Park. Madison and Jack are still close with friends from kindergarten at St. James’ School. Parents in the neighborhood feel comfortable with the kids riding bikes and walking to and from their friends' homes. The kids feel safe because the community of parents know them and keep their eye out for them. We love walking or riding our bikes to Larchmont. It’s nice to meet people for coffee, lunch or dinner and to run into people we know. I miss some of the old stores, like the post office and the hardware store. Our location can’t be more perfect - it’s easy to get almost anywhere in LA. We can get to the Hollywood Bowl easily and we love how easy it is to get Downtown.