About 1,300 people participated in a meaningful dialogue about Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness at the 24th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit, and vowed to work together — as a community — in search of solutions.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas described homelessness as “one of the most profound issues of our time,” pointing out an estimated 44,000 people live on the streets or in temporary shelters on any given night.
“One out of every three homeless persons lives in the Second District — over 14,000 men, women and children,” he said. “The most vulnerable — those with mental or physical disabilities, drug or alcohol addiction, women without family support — are the hardest hit.”
The summit coincides with the national observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas recalled the legacy of the legendary civil rights leader.
“Dr. King’s words implore us not to harden our hearts in despair, cynicism and bitter resignation in the face of these challenges,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “He reminds us that it is our moral imperative to learn more about the homeless problem and to challenge ourselves to creatively respond and alter the systems causing homelessness in the first place.”
Actress Pauley Perrette, a longtime advocate for the homeless and star of the world’s highest-rated TV show, NCIS, also urged help for the homeless, saying we all “share a common humanity.” Although best known for playing the role of forensic scientist Abby Sciuto, she is also an ardent social and civil activist, involved in many charitable organizations.
Founded in 1992 by then-Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Empowerment Congress is a national model of civic engagement and forerunner of the neighborhood council movement. It is a dynamic partnership among neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions and community leaders, built on the core principles of participatory democracy, reciprocal accountability, and intentional civility.
This year’s summit had the theme: Empowerment Matters: Building Stronger Communities. Speakers at the plenary session included California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
Other speakers included Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Songhai Armstead, A Community of Friends CEO Dora Gallo, architect Michael Maltzan, Marquez Community Strategy founder Mercedes Marquez, and civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray.
The plenary session was followed by workshops on such issues as preparing for El Niño, the relationship between law enforcement and young men of color, mass transit as a vehicle for economic development, and the state of social justice in Los Angeles.