The live-auction event, which brought together hundreds of top industry executives, philanthropists and government partners, aimed to raise $2 million for LAFH, which builds permanent housing and supportive services for the city’s homeless. In a rallying effort to meet the event’s goal, Jordan and Rousey, alongside families directly impacted by LAFH’s services, took the stage to express the importance of the non-profit’s work.
“I learned at a very young age that people who own less are not less than,” Jordan said on stage. “The people who we help should not be defined by what they lack. Homelessness is not an identity or the result of someone’s mistakes. It is a result of a broken system, people falling through the cracks, racism and discrimination, a lack of affordable housing, and years of unfair pay.”
The “Black Panther” star wasn’t the only one to touch on the stigma attached to homelessness. Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. Pictures and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, and actor PJ Byrne, the event’s emcee, also pointed to misperceptions of the homeless as one of the leading challenges facing the community.
“So many people look at homeless people and are like, ‘Just pull yourself up from your bootstraps, go get a job, and get off the street.’ That is not the answer,” said Byrne. “For so many people it happens because of medical bills. They get certain diseases, they’re bed-ridden and can’t pay their rent so they find themselves on the streets with their children. And sometimes you just need that helping hand to get off the streets into a home, reboot, and start your life again.”
According to Rich, who’s chaired the annual fundraiser for the past ten years, such a reboot can be made possible through an innovative model that successfully moved over 2,000 people into permanent housing in the last year. LAFH has 24 properties across Los Angeles, and a campus opening next month offering more than just housing. “I can’t stand the injustice that the stigma of homelessness brings with it which is that it’s an unsolvable problem and people are just trained to look away and people don’t think there’s a solution,” Rich said. “It’s not like a disease without a cure — we actually do know what to do so we have the model and it’s building permanent housing and matching that housing with supportive services like health care, tutoring and job training.”
Bringing together stars such as Jordan and Rousey is one way LAFH brings more attention to the city’s homeless crisis, said Mark Ridley-Thomas, the LA County Supervisor and the honoree of the night.
“I am just very proud that they are here because they get it,” Ridley said when asked about Hollywood’s involvement with the organization. “And many of them have their own journeys, their own stories. Some of those who we celebrate as celebrities have themselves been homeless.”
Rousey spoke of her own tumultuous beginnings in her speech, recounting the times she had to sleep in her car due to instability in her home life. “Like many others here tonight, I was not born into money or privilege,” Rousey said. “I spent more than enough nights sleeping in my car but I was lucky and I found a way to work myself up the economic ladder.”
The Olympic medalist ended her speech on a high note before the night’s bidding began, though. “I believe in advantageous disadvantages,” she said. “There is power in reaching our lowest lows because it not only shows us what we’re capable of enduring but also what we have the ability to rebuild ourselves from. I believe that rock bottom is the most solid foundation from which to rebuild your life”