During their frequent trips to Downtown, L.A. for their Be Love Apparel brand and business, Kyle Finch and KamGi Chak-Finch were increasingly upset and overwhelmed as they witnessed the numbers of homeless encampments grow.
According to the L.A. Times, the number of people living on the streets and shelters of the city of L.A. and most of the county has surged 75 percent to roughly 55,000 from about 32,000 in the last six years.
While most of us have been shocked and saddened at news reports of the crisis, the Finches were determined to do something to help.
“We felt that by doing nothing, we were ignoring our empathetic human-ness and that, quite frankly, is depressing and unhealthy. Through Be Love, we serve a meal for every purchase made in our store or on our website. This is our small way of being in the service of people and love,” said Kyle.
With limited time and resources, they decided they could and would make a delicious home-cooked meal of vegetarian chili and cornbread and serve it with love to the hungry and homeless people that they saw.
“People are suffering,” said KamGi, “yet together we have the capacity to make a huge difference. The quote from Mother Teresa ‘Do Small Things with Great Love’ expresses a sentiment we feel strongly. Action rooted in love is essential. Many small acts of love eventually connect and before we even realize it, we have become part of a hopeful, impactful, and healing movement.”
The couple has received a great deal of support from the Topanga Community. “Typically, we put out a notice on Nextdoor Topanga a few days before we go downtown, and make a request for supplies that include: toiletries (wet wipes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, tampons), bottled water, ingredients for chili (canned beans, canned tomatoes, chili powder), and other nutritious snacks (peanut butter, tuna, cereal bars). Financial contributions are very helpful, too, so we can buy items,” said Kyle.
They also ask for and get Topanga volunteers to go with them Downtown to feed the homeless, which is where your reporter heard about the endeavor, asked to help and see for myself how they do it.
Firstly, I sampled a small portion of the chili and cornbread and can confirm that it is delicious.
“We want to bring new volunteers along each time we go downtown to demonstrate the simplicity of what we’re doing, hoping to inspire others to do the same or something else that is of service,” said KamGi.
The drive is timed to avoid rush hour traffic and takes 45 minutes each way. These good Samaritans visit three to four different encampments off the 10-freeway. The encampments are set up along the sidewalks until they are moved on by the police, usually at the request of local business owners. The homeless avoid leaving their spot for fear their belongings will be cleared away and they will be left with nothing.
We returned to Brigette at the end of our trip. She gave me the biggest smile, “Thank you, Claire.” It touched me that she remembered my name.
This happened to Brigette, 57, who lives in a makeshift tent on the street because her rent became so high she couldn’t afford it. She’s been homeless about a year. Her brother sleeps in the tent next to her. “I want to go to the place where they give out housing, see if that works,” said Brigette.
That will be difficult as Brigette is disabled. “My feet are messed up and getting around in my wheelchair is hard,” she said. There’s the added risk that her belongings will be cleared away in her absence, as happened before.
Brigette says that she enjoys the meal Kyle and KamGi bring every two weeks and is grateful for it. All the people we served were extremely polite and thankful.
I explained to Brigette that I was writing an article about Kyle and KamGi and she agreed to have her photograph taken and be quoted.
I asked her if there was anything she needed. ”Toilet tissue and a blanket, please. It gets cold at night,” she said. Kyle took me on a detour to buy the items for Brigette and explained that it’s not possible to do this for everyone, but I had given Brigette my word I’d be back with the items she needed.
We returned to Brigette at the end of our trip. She gave me the biggest smile, “Thank you, Claire.” It touched me that she remembered my name. While Brigette is in no way able to work a job to improve her situation, she is a human being in desperate need of help. It must have been unbearable sleeping rough in the recent heatwave.
Kyle said, “There are so many unhoused people who live in extremely harsh and desperate conditions. Now that we have been going there on a regular basis, it feels good to go back each time and reconnect with the folks we have served. We are always met with true gratitude and appreciation by people who are living in seriously desperate conditions yet still have the space in their hearts to connect and smile. It’s humbling.”
The couple sometimes takes their children, Jai, 13, and Satya,11, with them. “It’s empowering for them, too, to feel they are making a difference,” said KamGi.
While mature children are welcome to volunteer to feed the homeless, it must be noted that they do encounter people who are mentally ill and a few of the interactions might be overwhelming for some.
“There are, of course, many reasons people become homeless,” said Kyle, “but you can be sure that the vast majority have been traumatized in some way, both before and after they began living on the street. In today’s economy, many Americans are either homeless or a step away and extremely vulnerable to becoming so.”
Kyle says many of the people they feed (around 50 per trip) are elders and have serious health issues that go untreated. Most are physically or emotionally disabled. In fact, the vast majority of people we fed that morning are incapable of holding down a job and need help. More than a bowl of chili and corn bread once a fortnight is not enough, but at least the Finches are doing something to help people far less fortunate than themselves.
Volunteers should know that it’s illegal to feed the homeless. The Finches deliberately avoid feeding people on skid row as there’s a larger police presence. They’ve never been stopped.
“We agree sanitation is important, but surely these issues can be addressed without banning the feeding of hungry and impoverished people?”
“The official reason that feeding the homeless is illegal is that sharing food can lead to Hepatitis A and it is a public health issue,” Kyle said, “but advocates for helping the homeless say that the food-sharing bans that have been enacted by many cities are part of a trend towards criminalizing homelessness.
“We agree sanitation is important, but surely these issues can be addressed without banning the feeding of hungry and impoverished people? Why does the city not provide portaloos (Porta Potties) or trash bins and trash collection where encampments have been growing?”
Kyle has lived in Topanga for 20 years, KamGi for 15. “We are blessed to rent a small home in Topanga where our landlady has kept the rent affordable,” said Kyle.
Jai and Satya were born in the house, went to Topanga Elementary and now attend Manzanita School. “Manzanita is a truly amazing place of learning and mentoring. It is very much in sync with our values and hopes for our kids to grow into courageous, caring, kind, healthy and happy people who recognize their purpose, who love and take care of this sacred earth, and who take an active role in the uplifting of all in our community,” said KamGi.
For donations or to volunteer, visit Kyle and KamGi at their store, Be Love Apparel, in the Canyon Courtyard between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.