According to this year’s Greater LA Homeless Count, there are more than 4,000 transition-age youths (ages 18-24) experiencing homelessness on any given night in LA County—marking a 22 percent increase from the 2018 report.
“All of us here today are fighting hard every day,’ Sage Johnson, a peer advocate at the LGBT Center, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Homeless Security Authority (LAHSA). “But sometimes I am really discouraged by what I see in the community. We need to come together as a community. We need you all to step up.”
Storey Wertheimer is heeding that call. The senior at New West Charter High School founded Verses for the Voiceless, a non-profit organization that is using poetry to support literacy programs for homeless children in America and published their first compilation, Animals Are Out of This World, in March.
Ms. talked to Wertheimer about the books yet to come and how Verses for the Voiceless plans to continue the fight to end homelessness—with a specifically feminist approach.
What inspired you and your classmates to embark on this project?
I created Verses for the Voiceless in hopes of using my passion for writing to help those in need. Many homeless children don’t have access to means of gaining literacy, which further entraps them in this vicious cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Encouraging my peers to write poetry and draw illustrations, I blended together the talents of dozens of students to create our book, Animals Are out of This World! This book uses pets and outer space to communicate messages of love, perseverance, and forgiveness. 100 percent of the proceeds go to our nonprofit.
How did you get involved with homeless youth activism?
Since publishing this book, I have been working with the Good Shepherd Center for Women and Children in Los Angeles to develop a specific literacy program that we will be funding. This program will help provide English tutors who can help expand the children’s’ English.
Second, we wish to expand the libraries and collection of books at homeless shelters because homeless children often end up reading the same books over and over again.
Finally, Verses for the Voiceless will fund monthly writing seminars and workshops for the children at the Good Shepherd Center and beyond. These seminars will teach students how to succeed in academic writing scenarios and hopefully set them on a path for educational success.
What would you say to other students who want to get involved with homeless activism—or any activism?
It’s a cliche, but it’s true: if you really care about something and put your mind towards inciting change, nothing can stop you. Be prepared to hear the word “no,” but don’t be afraid to aim big. Contact government agencies or giant news publications and do whatever it takes to spread the word about your mission! The most incredible part of this project has been getting to build relationships with the people.
How do you think feminism has impacted your activism?
Women are undoubtedly hit the hardest by homelessness. Women who struggle in the workplace, suffer through abusive relationships or are abandoned by their husbands are more likely to end up homeless. After hearing that over 80 percent of homeless mothers report abuse or assault while on the streets, I decided to fund literacy programs at the Good Shepherd Center for Women and Children which provide women with assistance. We also hope that by providing homeless children with opportunities and resources to break this vicious cycle, we will renew their mothers’ hope.
Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming book on preventing food waste?
Of course! I’m so excited about this project: 1.3 billion tons of unused food are thrown away every year, sitting in landfills and exacerbating global warming; in 2017, my friend Cassandra Levy and I started “Food for Thought,” an initiative where we travel to elementary schools across Los Angeles, speaking about the impacts of food waste. We recently decided to expand this project into a children’s book, titled Too Good to Waste, about a set of twins who learn to turn waste into renewable material. We are going to use all of our proceeds to help provide food to those in need.
Our core purpose, in both of our books, is to help mitigate societal inequities in an accessible and kid-friendly way.