Renee in car

Renee talks about her situation in the car where she lives.

“It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.” —Nelson Mandela

Mandela’s quote, posted on Instagram on March 2, encapsulates the vision of @livesoflb, the blog where it appears. Lives of Long Beach is a social media movement campaign designed to ensure that every life in Long Beach is treated with dignity and respect.

This campaign is run by a team of Cal State Long Beach graduate students: Jennifer Torres, Pricilla Saucedo, Diana Portillo, Marie Bialza and Kerra Naranjo, five women who call themselves the Helping Hands.

During the final year of the CSULB Master of Social Work program, students research and address a social issue. The Helping Hands chose homelessness as their topic. They spent the fall semester assessing the area, interviewing stakeholders, and analyzing relevant data.

“It was important for us to take roles as learners and really listen to how members of the community actually perceived their community,” Torres said.

Throughout this semester, the team is meeting with unhoused individuals and listening to their personal stories. The goal is to conduct and share pictures and videos of 15 different interviews on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“Homelessness is the problem,” Naranjo said, “not those who experience it. And that is what we want our community to know.”

“In order to help this population, we need to work together,” Portillo said. “We hope to garner public support for strategies that support the humanity of all people.”

The team has uncovered a number of heart-breaking stories. Renee, a 57-year-old woman who lives in her car, said she was working full-time and studying for a Masters degree before a crippling car accident changed her life.

Renee said that pain from her injuries keeps her from working and forces her to spend most of the day laying down. In her Lives of LB YouTube video, Renee described her depression and desperation. She cried as she talked about the way people treat her.

“A lot of people walk by you and they look down their nose at you,” Renee said. “I’m not homeless by choice and I’m not a drug addict.”

Shannon, a young mom with a toddler son, said she also struggles with public perception. She said “I don’t know why things happened the way they did but I don’t want to be pitied… I want to be seen as me, not like as a widow.”

James, who could no longer pay rent after losing his job, now lives in his motor home. The veteran said his biggest struggle is finding a place where police won’t hassle him; his biggest fear is losing his vehicle.

“I am an honest, good person,” James said. “I’m not a bum.”

Torres said that her team hopes that sharing these personal stories will lead to social change.

“We want to help others become a part of the solution,” Naranjo said. “In the long-term, we hope to have an impact on the process of achieving a tax measure on the November ballot geared toward funding for homelessness in the city. As of right now, our hope is to influence the community to view homelessness as the problem and not those who experience it.”

To see the stories of Renee, Shannon, James and others, visit livesoflb on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and lives of lb on YouTube.

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