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Homeless statistics revealed at UCI

Nonprofit and health officer say working to keep families housed keeps children in school.

March 08, 2010|By Tom Ragan

Orange County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, has about 17,000 homeless children, according to a study unveiled Monday at UC Irvine.

“There’s this feeling that because people are wearing $45,000 watches around here and because reality TV shows are based here that we don’t have a problem with the homeless,” said Paul Leon, executive director with the Irvine-based Illumination Foundation. “Well, I’m here to tell you that we do, and it’s a big one.”

More than 50 students, many of them interested in social service and public health, attended the seminar, hoping to learn more about the nonprofit foundation and how they could possibly volunteer their services.

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“So you want a master’s degree in public health?” Orange County Health Services Health Officer Eric G. Handler asked the audience of students. “If you really want to do good work, you don’t really need a master’s. All you need is passion and leadership. All you need to do is create awareness and create partnerships. Once you do that, you’re on your way to helping the homeless.”

Founded in fall 2007, the Illumination Foundation has gone from a $200 to a $3-million operating budget.

Soon, it hopes to reach as high as $5 million in donations.

Its goal is to keep homeless children in school year-round by providing for the parents. The key is to make sure the families have affordable housing, which, in this case, is provided by two motels in Santa Ana and one in Costa Mesa.

“If you shine a light on the problem, people will help out,” Leon said, adding that so far this year 87 children have stayed in school year-round.

Leon and Handler started working with the homeless three years ago.

Since then, they’ve been up to their necks in work. Helping the homeless has become somewhat of a passion, they say. The root cause of the problem, they say, is the sad state of the economy coupled with the lack of affordable housing in Orange County.

For example, it would take nearly 125 hours for a minimum-wage worker to afford the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment.

The foundation was established within the UCI Health Care Executive MBA Program as a nonprofit public charity organization. Today, the governing board consists of community leaders in medicine, nursing, social work, information technology and education.

Most of the money comes from private donors and hospitals, Leon said.

Rosa Canizares, 24, of Spain, was impressed.

“We’ve got similar problems in my country,” said Canizares, who plans to return to her home country in May.

How To Help

For more information how to donate or about Illumination Foundation, go to ifhomeless.org.


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