Last month George Lucas became one of 40 billionaires in the United States to pledge half of his $3.5 billion to charity, specifically to education. Education is certainly one of the most important issues that we have to consciously deal with in many of our school systems around the country. As a father, and social change agent I support all efforts that will make our communities better. However, I am also deeply concerned about the issues of homelessness around our country, and specifically on the streets of Los Angeles, CA. This "band of billionaires" should consider the homeless. Imagine how transformative a gift of that size would be in an area like Los Angeles, which has 48,000 homeless individuals on any given night.
In the 1950's Ben and Stella Weingart, who made millions in real estate in Los Angeles, started a foundation for the "down and out" people living in Skid Row. The Weingarts wanted to help the individuals that society had forgotten. Their foundation donated a building more than 25 years ago which assisted with the formation of a separate agency, the Weingart Center Association. This human services nonprofit continues to empower homeless men and women, which is work that the philanthropic Weingarts championed more than half a century ago. The type of services provided goes beyond the shelter model -- it's a model that offers transformational programs on a daily basis. Today, however, slashes to funding are limiting the impact that the Weingart Center can make.
Giving to the homeless may not be the most attractive benevolent activity. Besides passing the homeless on the street or working at a soup kitchen for a day, most of us have little interaction with these disenfranchised individuals, but that is no reason to completely disregard those who have the least in our society. We also have a responsibility to make sure all people have basic human needs such as food, and shelter.
The impact that just one billionaire could make by recognizing the graveness of Los Angeles' homeless issue would be transforming to individual homeless men and women and to our city. The Weingart Center's approach is to provide all that is needed to prepare someone for self-sufficient living. One homeless person receives an entire year's worth of workforce development and financial training, substance abuse recovery and mental health services, food and shelter free from the Weingart Center. The cost for the agency is only $16,133 but the end result is substantial -- a life is transformed.
Let's put this in terms that will certainly resonate with these billionaires. Designating significant dollars to homelessness in Los Angeles is guaranteed to generate an incredible return on investment. Our country has afforded many people to become million and billionaires. I strongly believe we have the resources to single-handedly wipe out homelessness in the nation's homeless capital, and provide a motivating example of charitable giving that could become a model for the world. The Weingart's understood the change they could foster. Now it is time for a billionaire to make the same type of commitment and to take the necessary action that will sustain such a legacy.