By Denny Freidenrich
USC football coach Clay Helton and his wife, Angela, recently attended a luncheon hosted by WISEPlace, the only nonprofit organization in Orange County that provides housing for unaccompanied homeless women.
Having raised millions of dollars for various organizations and causes, I thought I knew every nonprofit in the county. Clearly, I don’t. WISEPlace has been helping women for more than 30 years, but I only learned about it six months ago.
When I heard Coach Helton talk about “tackling homelessness” the way he did, a light went off. What if football coaches from the Rams, Chargers, UCLA, San Diego State, and every community college and high school program in Southern California came together to tackle homelessness? It not only would capture headlines, I’m guessing their collective work would put a huge dent in the problem every city in the region faces today.
Not to be outdone or left behind, I could see the Dodgers, Angels, Padres and every baseball team from Little League to Cal State Fullerton to the majors pitching in to “strike out homelessness.” Ditto for “slam dunking homelessness” with the Lakers, Clippers, Sparks and all the terrific basketball programs offered by Boys & Girls Clubs, high schools and colleges.
Laguna Beach City Council member Peter Blake and Newport Beach mayor Diane Dixon, a USC graduate, both understand it is not against the law to be homeless. At the same time, they know it is illegal to use the sidewalk as a toilet or to steal food from a local grocery store. Both are happening at alarming rates in cities and towns from Santa Barbara to San Diego.
Counties have the responsibility of providing health care to those in need and local municipalities are beginning to build low cost housing for the homeless. But progress has been slowed by indifference and red tape.
Since its inception 32 years ago, WISEPlace has helped more than 8,000 women get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we all know tens of thousands of homeless women and men are sleeping on the streets every night. Many of them probably played sports as kids before falling on hard times. Wouldn’t it be great if today’s highly competitive football, baseball and basketball coaches and players could work together to help solve the homeless problem?
Athletes play against each other and the clock. Some say time is running out. I say the clock has just begun to tick. It’s game on now. Let’s help Coach Helton and all the other coaches in Southern California put an end to homelessness.
Denny Freidenrich, a 1970 graduate of USC, lives in Laguna Beach. He is a former congressional staff assistant on Capitol Hill.