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UCLA Magazine Fall 2003
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Fall 2003
City Of Angels
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The fact that the clinic is always here, at the same spot every Wednesday evening — "If we ask them to show up, we better be damn sure we are here for them,” one student says — has earned it the rare trust of the street population and is essential to its success, and a large number of the same faces return week after week. It is evident that for many, the few hours they spend with these young students is as much about being acknowledged and offered a compassionate, attentive ear and kind words as it is about having their physical health needs met.

"I think the most therapeutic thing for our clients is that they have the chance to build relationships with people,” says Tran Janco, who this past May received UCLA's Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award — the highest honor given to students by the university for community service — for organizing a drive to put together and distribute winter-survival kits for the homeless, each consisting of a blanket, poncho, hat, gloves and two pairs of socks. "We are out here every week, and though a few hours a week is not very much, we try to provide a safe place where they can come to obtain help, get treatment and have someone willing to talk with them about whatever is going on in their lives and about their aspirations and their frustrations.

"It's not so much about our being able to really empathize with their experience, because most of us can't, we haven't gone through anything like what they are dealing with,” Tran Janco says. It indeed is a world away from her own experience growing up and attending private schools in an affluent Orange County, Calif., community.

"When you grow up with privilege, there is a moral responsibility to give something back, to try to help other people who are less fortunate,” Tran Janco says. "What is happening here is about a level of caring, about the willingness to listen and to accept them and to say, ‘Maybe I can't understand fully what you are going through, but why don't you tell me about it? Why don't you let me know? Help me to understand a little bit better.' So many people living on the street just really want that opportunity to have someone listen to them and to care about what they say.”

Paul, dressed in red swim trunks and a blue T-shirt, his white sneakers carefully set next to his chair, is quick to agree. "Their positive energy feels really good, and they really care about the people down here. Their being here, it helps a lot. Where else are you going to go to get this kind of help? Nowhere.”

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