On Saturday, USC students joined thousands of volunteers for the annual Carnival of Love on Skid Row, an event that aims to provide services for homeless Los Angeles residents.
Langa Tran, a sophomore majoring in accounting, volunteered at the event as a personal guide.
“I was assigned an individual and walked him through the various stations,” Tran said. “He didn’t want any clothes so we skipped that area and went straight to food where I sat with him while he ate. Then we went to get him some body soap and popcorn and pizza.”
Tran said that homelessness has always been an issue that resonated with her.
Skid Row is an area in downtown Los Angeles known for its high concentration of homeless people. Between 8,000 and 11,000 people live at Skid Row, according to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
”There are so many control factors that can lead to homelessness,” Tran said. “It makes me extremely sad to think that these people have no one they can turn to for a home, so when I found out about this opportunity I knew I had to volunteer.”
The Wayfarer Foundation has hosted the event for three years in a row and stated that last year over 1,500 homeless individuals came to the event. The foundation said that the goal is to “[transform] one of the worst places in America for four hours into a colorless, classless, beacon of light,” according to the event’s website.
“I spent three hours talking to a 57-year-old man about his family where almost every single individual was on drugs and died either by a stabbing, car accident or overdose,” Tran said. “It made me realize how easy it is for me to look at and make judgements on people based on their appearance.”
The residents of Skid Row filed in to get medical attention, mental health services, a dental checkups, foot washes, haircuts and massages. There were also multiple tents where homeless individuals could sort through large piles of donated clothing.
Susana Montoya, a resident of the Skid Row area for the past two and a half years, said that the Skid Row Carnival of Love, and the clothing donations specifically, are helping her take that next step in her life and get her where she wants to be.
“Once you reach this point on Skid Row, you just want to be wanted and accepted the way you are, mistakes or not,” Montoya said. “Getting gifts to look good and looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying ‘I’m ready,’ it’s really a blessing. I really appreciate these clothes, no one knows where they’re from, so when I look to get out of Skid Row, this carnival and clothing make me feel like I fit in.”
Benjamin Franklin Chambers said he lived on Skid Row for three and a half months with his wife and daughter, but that they are now on their way out since they have been approved for housing. Chambers related how much he enjoys the Carnival of Love and how this event along with others really helps those of Skid Row get back on their feet again.
“At first Skid Row is really really disturbing, but after a while, you see the better things of it,” Chambers said. “Even though the bad is everywhere you go, you have to overlook the bad things and focus on fighting to get out. I am so grateful and so blessed, and I am just happy to be here.”
There were also various sources of entertainment such as a live performance by Andy Grammer of “Keep Your Head Up” and a DJ, along with food, an ice cream truck, face painters and multiple carnival games.
Tran explained how the experience humbled her and opened her eyes to a world outside of USC.
“I had this interaction with a 59-year-old lady, who goes by ‘Chunkeems,’” Tran said. “She told me about how my face looked like a pie and how looking at me made her hungry. I just thought about how despite her mismatched socks and disheveled attire, we were all born the same.”
Kids ran around with their painted faces and smiles, enjoying the chance to get to just play and goof around in a safe environment.
Resident China Polite expressed the powerful impact of the carnival and how special it was that so many people were able to come together.
“This event means going global and surfacing a land that nobody sees, a land of love,” Polite said. “It’s a carnival, yes, but the event is also based upon love and giving. Everyone here is able to accept others and powerful enough to act in the name of love.”
Justin Baldoni, an event coordinator and actor in the television show “Jane the Virgin,” spoke to people, shook people’s hands and told them not to give up.
“Everything in our lives is trying to tell us that we’re broken, but we’re not. We’re not,” Baldoni said. “No matter what love always wins.”