An effort between several local organizations to build community between Long Beach’s housed and unhoused community members, Project Dignity, began on Valentine’s Day of this year.
Each group on its own focuses on activities such as resource fairs or cleanups, and together, they began discussing with each other the increase of unhoused people and people suffering, said Pam Chotiswatdi, founder of the Peer Education Community Center. Chotiswatdi’s organization, along with Care Closet LBC, AOC7, Beacon for Him and Long Beach California East Stake, Church of Latter-day Saints, are the partners behind the effort.
“We all have our individual agenda, but we wanted to bring what we do individually together at the park,” Chotiswatdi said. “We started with, ‘Maybe we can bring some conversation.’”
From that Monday onward, members of each group began building connections with people in MacArthur Park, during what became known as “Mondays Matter.”
That first Monday, the groups arrived with cookies, hot chocolate and coffee. In the following weeks, they showed up with more items, including clothing, feminine hygiene products and water, serving 30 to 40 people throughout February, Chotiswatdi said.
By March, the groups began to discuss organizing further, and how to bring food and water regularly, Chotiswatdi said.
With help from volunteers and food donations from the Church of Latter-day Saints, along with the Long Beach Green Room—which funded lunch every other Monday—among other community partners, the effort began to develop beyond the initial collaborative, said Chotiswatdi.
By May, as the weather started getting warmer, AOC7 had looked into how to bring shower trucks to the park, eventually settling on WeHope, a company that provides a mobile shower and laundry service, Chotiswatdi said.
However, figuring out how to fund the truck regularly was a different matter, Chotiswatdi said.
While AOC7 and Care Closet LBC were able to fund the first two weeks, the collaborative went ahead and booked 12 weeks.
“We’re like, ‘All right, let’s do this for 12 weeks. We’ll figure out funding after two weeks. We’ll just figure it out,’” Chotiswatdi said.
On June 20, the first shower was offered, along with resource tables providing supplies and connection to resources, which were also an opportunity for volunteers to gather data.
“We hope to share what we learn and what we hear from our unhoused community and translate it, translate that distance,” Chotiswatdi said. “Our government’s programs and our governments are detached from what’s happening on the streets. While we help with basic needs and basic hygiene things, we also maybe help in giving them some sort of voice.”
The collaborative reached out to City Councilmember Suely Saro’s office in District 6, and city officials began attending various Mondays, Chotiswatdi said.
Collaborative members were initially unsure of how the city would respond, Chotiswatdi said.
“Sometimes it’s chaotic. There’s lots of people there. Sometimes people are having mental issues and there are outbursts,” Chotiswatdi said. “But no one’s really at risk. It’s really contained.”
Luckily, city officials from District 6 as well as from LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office were impressed—so impressed that Hahn funded the next 10 weeks of the shower truck that had been already booked, Chotiswatdi said.
“They see us establishing a relationship. We know them by name. They know us,” she said. “Having that relationship makes that environment less unpredictable.”
Over the next 10 weeks, the collaborative organized lunches thanks to its community partners, including Long Beach Green Room, Long Beach Rescue Mission and East Stake LDS, Chotiswatdi said.
Organizations such as His Little Feet began contributing socks and shoes, and community members would bring clothes and donations for the collaborative to source underwear, deodorant and other hygiene items, Chotiswatdi said. In recent weeks, masks and COVID-19 tests were also donated.
“And then we just started talking to people, asking them what they need,” Chotiswatdi said.
Popular requests are for items such as tents and pet food, and the collaborative has provided items such as reading glasses or sunglasses, Chotiswatdi said.
Project Dignity has also made relationships with local outreach groups and medical teams, and at least one person from the Multi-Service Center is usually there to connect to people, Chotiswatdi said.
“It’s been really successful just getting people together where they’re at and then bringing resources to them,” she said.
Although resources and supplies offered have varied over the months, meeting people where they are has had better outcomes than telling people to go to a specific location, according to a Project Dignity statement.
“It’s easier for people when you have that relationship, to want to go seek services that you don’t know about,” Chotiswatdi said.
Project Dignity now serves an average of 80 people each Monday; one Monday in August gathered 113 people.
“Everyone is different and has a different story of trauma, everyone has a different path for treatment,” Chotiswatdi said. “As a society, we’re just not there yet to provide those choices for people and those kinds of treatment—I think we’re getting there. We just don’t have the infrastructure yet.”
In September, Project Dignity announced that Hahn agreed to fund another 14 weeks of the program, spread out to two Mondays a month from October until April.
“The connections we make with people—giving water even—they’re so happy to get the basic five-minute conversation,” Chotiswatdi said. “We know it’s a Band-Aid.”
Chotiswatdi hopes to see the city create better infrastructure to support its unhoused community, including rehabilitation infrastructure and assisted living for people that have been unhoused for so long they are unable to work full-time, she said.
“We’d like to keep this going as much as we can until our society builds some better systems,” Chotiswatdi said. “On the grander scale, it looks so small, but it’s really significant on a person who’s unhoused on the day-to-day.”
In the meantime, Chotiswatdi hopes to get a mental health truck or medical truck that could provide testing, as well as a way to provide haircuts, she said.
“Project Dignity being there on Mondays brings dignity and hope to unhoused people,” Chotiswatdi said. “It looks like society cares, there are people in the community who care about their needs.”
Learn more about Project Dignity’s Mondays Matter program and make a donation at https://www.lbpecc.org/projectdignity.