from left to right: Larry Williams, Yanira Losoya, Broc Coward, Marta Gamboa, Pat Welch, Molly Ann Woods, Jeff Levine, Sara Carter, Janelle Rexius

Homelessness. It’s a growing national concern impacting just about every major city. Long Beach is no exception.

Since 2020, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in the city has increased by 62 percent, according to a February point-in-time count. While data has not been readily available for Downtown, there has been a growing need in our community to support our unhoused neighbors.

One way to help has been through Fresh Start, a campaign created by the Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) in partnership with nonprofit service providers to benefit the local unhoused community. This year, the program has expanded on the success of its inaugural launch in 2021. 

Fresh Start Donation boxes placed in 38 local businesses and residential towers yielded close to 3,000 items — an increase of more than 30 percent from last year. The number of boxes placed was more than double the previous year. The added visibility led to a separate, massive donation of environmentally sustainable feminine products from Kindfully. One of the company founders based in Long Beach who is passionate about helping her community noticed the Fresh Start donation box at Yoga 108 on East Third Street. Her company had a surplus and decided to pay the shipping fee to donate two pallets – 45 boxes – of products to the cause. 

In yet another program win, Fresh Start received a cash donation of $2,218 from Solita Tacos & Margaritas, the new restaurant and bar located at 1 Ocean Boulevard. The owners wanted to reinforce their long-term commitment to the Downtown community, so they graciously donated proceeds from their establishment’s grand opening, which were provided directly to non-profit service providers. 

“It is great to live in a community that believes so strongly in providing for the care of individuals experiencing homelessness,” said Janice Friend, a member of DLBA’s Public Safety Committee and advocate for the Fresh Start program. . “We are thrilled to see such great teamwork between DLBA, its project partners, local vendors, and the community at large.”

In the 2022 DLBA Public Safety Perception Survey, 82 percent of the 850 participants indicated  they want to live in a community that provides for the care of those experiencing homelessness, consistent with results from last year. 

Fresh Start was not designed as a handout. It was an idea initially developed by DLBA Public Safety Committee members to focus on solutions and support what’s working in the community by providing much-needed hygiene products that help lead unhoused individuals to the more expansive services offered by the three program partners who receive the donations. 

”Results from this year’s Fresh Start campaign underscore our community’s desire to make a difference in the lives of Downtown’s unhoused population by supporting the good work of DLBA’s service provider partners: The Long Beach Rescue Mission, U.S. VETS, and Mental Health America of Los Angeles (MHALA),” said Broc Coward, DLBA’s Chief Operating Officer.  “We truly appreciate the support of the many local businesses and residential towers that hosted donation boxes at their locations, complementing the online program. 

Chaplain Jeff Levine, Executive Director of Long Beach Rescue Mission, weighed in on the success of this year’s campaign: “We are incredibly grateful for Fresh Start,” he said. “The donations we’ve received allow us to dignify and support those in our community who are experiencing homelessness. The Long Beach Rescue Mission provides access to showers for our community, and donations of new soap, towels, shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste give those we’re serving everything they need to be refreshed and reenergized.” 

The main mission of U.S. VETS is to end veteran homelessness in Long Beach. “Providing essential hygiene products is the first pivotal touchpoint of U.S.VETS to make a transitional impact in the lives of hundreds of service men, women and their children looking for a safe haven,” said Yanira Losoya, Development and Communications Manager for U.S. VETS – Long Beach.  “We thank DLBA for being a partner in our mission.” 

The Fresh Start program also aligns with MHALA’s goal of providing care and services to individuals experiencing mental health challenges, trauma and poverty. “The external environment over the past two years has challenged everyone’s mental health,” said Dr. Christina Miller, President and CEO of MHALA. “Collaborations like Fresh Start that connect people in our community really make a difference as we manage through what has been both a physical and a mental health pandemic.”  

Next year, keep an eye out for Fresh Start donation boxes in your favorite Downtown shops; As the program expands, it’s increasingly likely you’ll find one. Your donation of the most simple clothing and basic personal hygiene items may make a huge difference in the life of someone who dearly needs it.