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Apodaca: This is not the time to say the poor aren't 'my business'

December 10, 2011

Every year at this time, I revisit one of my favorite Christmas stories, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

One scene never fails to stir my conscience. In it, two men soliciting donations for the poor approach the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, telling him, "We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices."

That line came to mind while I was on a recent visit to the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, where an initiative to help the homeless is giving sorely needed aid to families caught in dire circumstances.

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The effort is spearheaded by the Irvine-based Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 2008 to provide support to the homeless population throughout Orange County. The foundation was the subject of a Daily Pilot profile last summer, one of an occasional series about homelessness in Costa Mesa.

But there's another organization, working in partnership with the Illumination Foundation, which also deserves a shout-out. It's a student-run nonprofit out of UC Irvine called the Medical Initiative Against Homelessness, or MIAH, through which medical students and under grads provide tutoring, medical assistance, and other services to the homeless.

I met recently with two MIAH members at the Motor Inn on Harbor Boulevard, where the Illumination Foundation helps temporarily house homeless families.

Kimberly Truong is a second-year UCI medical student who signed up as an under grad, and is now MIAH's co-president. She was joined by Samer Kirmiz, a MIAH volunteer who graduated from UCI in 2010 with a degree in neurobiology, and is working as an emergency room assistant and a waiter while preparing to apply to medical school.

Truong and Kirmiz spoke of their awakening to the reality of homelessness that exists not far beyond the cloistered walls of academia, and their desire to do what they could to relieve suffering. To them, the choice to join MIAH was a no-brainer.

"I'm a healthy person, and I'm a young person," said Kirmiz. "If I can help someone, I should."

"It's wonderful to have their help," said Katie Rootlieb, the Illumination Foundation's director of communications and development, adding that MIAH has played a pivotal role in assisting with the youngest victims of homelessness.

In the 2010-11 school year, there were an estimated 28,091 homeless children in Orange County, 211 of whom were in Newport-Mesa, according to the Orange County Department of Education.

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