Vanessa and Kobe Bryant, with City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, celebrate… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Kobe Bryant wants you to walk with him. Of course, most Angelenos would take that opportunity in a heartbeat. They'd ask the Lakers star for his autograph. They'd pepper him with questions about the purple and gold. They'd want to pose for pictures.
But this invitation goes beyond that. For the second consecutive year, Bryant is hosting the United Way of Greater Los Angeles' HomeWalk, which is set to take place Nov. 17, beginning at Exposition Park and heading into downtown Los Angeles.
According to the organization, HomeWalk has attracted 28,000 walkers, raised $2.2 million to fight homelessness and funded groups that moved 12,000 people into permanent housing. This year, the foundation launched by Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, will match all walker donations of $100 or more.
"There's a lot of things that we must do in order to eradicate [homelessness] and take care of the root of the problem," Bryant said at a recent Lakers practice. "A lot of [the homeless] struggle with addictions and mental health and things of that nature. It's much more than putting a roof on somebody's head. There's a lot that needs to be done and a lot of understanding that needs to go into it. We try to do whatever we can to try to raise awareness for the cause."
For the last year, Bryant has done just that.
He and his wife launched their self-named foundation in the summer of 2011 and began sponsoring My Friend's Place, a nonprofit resource center on Hollywood Boulevard that offers free emergency services to homeless youth. Within the last year, the facility served 1,741 homeless people by providing shelter, food, clothing, showers, transportation and other services.
Bryant's foundation also provided a grant to Step On Second, a mental health organization that provides permanent supportive housing for about 1,800 homeless people. The funds are to help the group build eight additional housing units.
Bryant said that this past summer he visited the L.A. Mission and spent the night at skid row, which the Lakers' star considered "the place where dreams just come to die."
"I learned a lot," he said. "You go to L.A. Mission and there's a lot of people in there who have had that moment where they hit rock bottom and say it's time for me to make a change for myself because this is where I am and I don't like where I'm at. But you have to get there first. Once you get out of L.A. Mission and go to skid row, they haven't hit that point yet. So it's very difficult to assess what are you going to do for them because they have to help themselves first when they're struggling with those issues."
With the United Way estimating that Los Angeles County has 51,000 people living without homes, Bryant's work is hardly finished. But he hopes events such as HomeWalk will increase discussion about the issue and build more support for his foundation's cause.
"I would like people first and foremost to be aware of the issue," Bryant said. "That was step one for me. Become more aware of the issue, learn more about it and how people got in that situation. It varies. Some are there because of discrimination, death in the family and no one took care of them. Others made bad decisions, all of a sudden here they are and need help getting out of that situation."