On Thursday, Nov. 15, Jason Strauss will be joining the ranks of Los Angeles County’s 50,000-plus homeless residents — if only for one night.
Strauss, a managing partner for the Tao Group, a hospitality and entertainment firm, and three of his partners, will sleep outdoors in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York for a part of the company’s campaign that includes Tao Cares, the company’s charitable arm, and the Covenant House.
Covenant House, which has locations throughout the country, is the largest funding agency in North America providing food, shelter, employment assistance and an array of services to homeless youth.
“Our goal is to raise $50,000 for Covenant House,” Strauss told us.
The Tao Group had surpassed its goal as of Sunday and is hoping to raise more after the sleepouts.
The initiative comes during the middle of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. National Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week is held annually in the week before Thanksgiving.
“For this year’s National Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week, we are focusing on the laws passed by local governments around the nation which prevent people experiencing homelessness from doing life-sustaining activities,” states the website of the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Strauss, whose company owns a nightclub and other entities in Hollywood, toured Covenant House’s east Hollywood facility and came away affected.
“I was really touched by some of the stories from the teens and by everything that they’re doing at Covenant House,” he said. “They’re very committed to their cause, which is a great one.”
The Tao Group partners will have sleeping bags during their night out and will get a chance to see firsthand what people without homes go through on a daily and nightly basis. “I think it will be a very humbling experience,” Strauss said.
Eleven faculty members from the University of Southern California also will be taking part in the Hollywood sleepout. They will convene in a parking lot in East Hollywood with only a cardboard box and a sleeping bag and sleep outside from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Temperatures are slated to be in the mid to low 50s on Thursday night.
Despite a 3 percent drop in homelessness this year, more people became homeless for the first time, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Youth homelessness increased slightly, going from 3,233 in 2017 to 3,306 in 2018, but more youth found shelter this year, going from 45 percent sheltered in 2017 to 53 percent in 2018.
On Tuesday, the Florida Covenant House in Orlando received a $1 million donation from City Furniture, a Florida-based home furnishings retailer. The facility will be moved to Fort Lauderdale and will be named after Kevin Koenig, a late, prominent donor to Covenant House.
“Early on, my brother Kevin saw the organization’s potential to create a sense of home, safety and comfort for young people struggling to survive on the streets,” Keith Koenig, Kevin’s brother said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
East Hollywood has not benefited from the renaissance that the majority of Hollywood, especially the tourist-heavy western part of the boulevard, has enjoyed over the last decade-plus. Many of the buildings are rundown and at night its streets are populated with homeless youth and families.
“A couple of minutes away from [tourist attractions] and it’s a different world,” Strauss noted.
In the past the Tao Group has been involved in other charity events, including raising money for breast cancer awareness and clean and safe drinking water. It donated 10 percent of the proceeds of its food and beverage revenues for April to various autism-related charities.
Covenant House representatives could not be reached for comment at press time.
Strauss is aware that he and his partners will not be able to fully relate to people who have spent years on the streets after their sleepout is over.
“We don’t pretend that we’re going to gain some special perspective or insight on homelessness after just one night,” Strauss acknowledged. “For us it’s about raising money for Covenant House and drawing as much awareness as we can to the plight of homeless youth.
“I think we’re going to be very humbled by the situation.”