I spent some time with the Homeless Outreach Program in Los Angeles. Here’s what’s remarkable about that: every member of the staff is ex-homeless. You’re not allowed to be on staff unless you were homeless. And the interesting thing is that Mike Neely, who is ex-homeless himself and who started the Homeless Outreach Program, has created this incredibly tight culture where most don’t make it, but those who do get to wear the yellow shirt.
I tried to get a yellow shirt. He said, “You can’t have a yellow shirt. You weren’t homeless and you didn’t earn your stripes by holding a responsible job as every member of my staff has. The governor asked for a yellow shirt. The President asked for a yellow shirt. You ask for a yellow shirt. You don’t get a yellow shirt. The only people who get the yellow shirt are the people who actually made it here.”
And most of the people who join, don’t. You know, they fail. They don’t get to stay there. But then there’s this core group of about twenty-two that he’s assembled, I’m sure some of whom are going to eventually leave, but most of whom are this core group of people who somehow have made the shift from no responsibility for their own lives to a sense of responsibility for their lives, then a sense of responsibility for life to a sense of responsibility to their comrades in this thing called the Homeless Outreach Program, which is in Skid Row, Los Angeles. I got a tour of Skid Row at midnight and you’ve got this homeless population, the vast majority of whom will never get it. But these twenty-two that he’s got on staff were part of a small kernel of people who got it. And they watch out for each other, they handle the responsibilities of this little operation, and they wear the yellow shirt.
I look at that and I say, “You know, if you can find the small set of people who could be part of this group that’s doing this neat work out of the Skid Row homeless population, I think you could do so in South Central L.A. and rural parts of Georgia. It’s just rare but there.”