USC executives support homeless youth

Those who participated in the sleep out spent all of Thursday night in a Hollywood parking lot. (Photo courtesy of Laura Ponder)

As the clock struck 7 p.m. on Nov. 15, USC Chief Information Security Officer Gus Anagnos, USC Director of Finance and Accounting Laura Ponder and eight other University executives arrived at the Los Angeles location of Covenant House California, ready to spend the night in a parking lot.

They joined over a hundred other individuals to sleep outside Thursday night in solidarity with homeless youth at Covenant House California, a nonprofit shelter that provides support and services to young homeless individuals.

Over 550,000 people face homelessness every day in the United States, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Los Angeles County alone has nearly 5,000 homeless youth, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Many of the executives said Anagnos was responsible for getting them involved. Anagnos is also on the Covenant House California Board of Directors.

“Gus’s courage is contagious,” said Ponder. “He invited us to join the Covenant House to sleep out in solidarity with youth experiencing homelessness.”

The event, held annually by Covenant House California, is intended to fundraise for homeless young people by asking friends, family and others to support the Covenant House’s mission. Participants sleep out in solidarity “so homeless youth don’t have to,” Covenant House California Board Chair Paul Hanneman said.

On Thursday night, participants laid out sleeping bags in the parking lot. After sleeping out on the pavement with the other 30 teams, USC executives said they found the experience humbling.

“There [were] a couple times where I was so uncomfortable, I wanted to go home,” said Sandra Taylor, USC’s information security governance and risk management director. “But if you’re actually [homeless], you don’t get that opportunity.”

The Covenant House raised over $150,000 more than last year in the California sleep outs. As of Sunday, over $800,000 was raised. USC alone contributed just over $30,000, surpassing their goal of $25,000.

The funds are expected to go toward increasing the number of beds in Covenant House shelters — just over 200 beds are offered in California. The Covenant House California hopes to expand to 300 beds in the next three years and serve over 5,000 young people annually, Chief Executive Officer of the Covenant House California Board of Directors Bill Bedrossian said.

“[These homeless young people] are smart, they are beautiful [and] they have hopes and dreams,” Bedrossian said. “We get to be a catalyst to help them achieve those dreams.”

For all of the USC participants, this was their first time attending the sleep out.

“This [was] the highlight of my week,” Ponder said, who fundraised $3,000.

During the sleep out, the executives went on a tour of the Los Angeles facility where the board members discussed the resources the Covenant House offers to homeless youth. Alumni and current youth of the Covenant House California shared their own stories about facing homelessness and how the Covenant House California helped them to grow and thrive.

Many of the USC executives found the experience humbling.

“We were able to experience [homeless youth’s] testimony. It’s incredible,” USC Facilities Human Resources Interim Director Ana Zavaleta said. “We’re so blinded [about] what can actually happen, so I’m just really grateful.”

Anagnos said he wants to continue to be involved with the Covenant House California and future fundraisers and hopes to connect with more homeless students to match them with resources.

“I never want to sleep out on the street again, because that was the most uncomfortable experience,” Anagnos said. “It was a pretty amazing experience and I’m hopeful that we’re going to end this.”

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