Don’t be afraid to engage homeless people, and be sure to listen to them. If you give money or your time, make sure your donation reflects what homeless people say they need, not what you think they need. And most of all, treat the people you encounter on the streets as your neighbors — because they are. These were just a few of the suggestions by speakers at the Zócalo/UCLA Downtown event titled “What Can Everyday Angelenos Do About Homelessness?”

The participants in the conversation sought to correct misperceptions that make people fear their homeless neighbors. They also urged people in Los Angeles to channel their frustration into engaging with homeless people in ways that address real needs — and even to attack the economic, criminal justice and health systems that contribute to producing homelessness in the first place.

The panel consisted of Janey Rountree, director of the UCLA California Policy Lab, Christine Margiotta, executive director of Social Venture Partners Los Angeles, Randall Kuhn, co-founder of the UCLA Transdisciplinary Homelessness Research Initiative, and Chris Ko, managing director of homelessness and strategic initiatives at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times editorial board member, served as moderator.

Rountree, who is also a member of the National Alliance to End Homelessness Research Council, said that 80% of homeless people in L.A. County have a work history in California, and one in five homeless people are currently working. She and other panelists also noted that most homeless people live unhoused in the same areas where they once had housing.

Kuhn said that in order to do more to help unhoused people, we need a greater understanding of homelessness — both from research (there are not nearly enough studies on those who don’t go to shelters), and from thinking more about how vulnerable and exposed you can feel if you’re homeless.

“Imagine someone was in your living room and watching everything you did … every fight with your spouse, every time you talked to yourself, everything you drank. You would be humiliated no matter what they saw,” he said.

Read the full story at Zócalo Public Square.