Christmas is defined as an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, which was observed by the early church on Dec. 25. One of the most popular of the celebratory customs of the holiday is gift-giving, symbolically tied to the story of the presentation of the gifts by the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus. That story has been tied together with another, that of Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Christian bishop with a legendary habit of secret gift-giving.
Billed as “the most wonderful time of the year,” Christmas, for some of the homeless on L.A. streets, is just another day that might be highlighted by a free meal at a shelter or a visit by a church, handing out socks.
But spreading hope is more than just a seasonal effort for volunteers at B.A.R.E. TRUTH, Inc. This local organization provides mentorship, independent living assistance and wellness services to impoverished individuals and families year round. The group’s name is an acronym for balance, ambition, respect and encouragement.
“Each letter means something personal to me,” said B.A.R.E truth Founder Joseph Bradford III. “We want to create opportunities for people.”
BARE’s goal is to help the unfortunate attain healthy, purpose-driven lives, ultimately changing the economic and living conditions of local communities.
On frequent Sundays for the past nearly seven years, BARE has mobilized its teams to make a difference in the streets of Los Angeles. In addition to handing out food and clothes, they work to connect donors and the people providing services with the people who need them.
The organization takes donations from local businesses and uses them to fight hunger and housing shortages. Bradford said that during the holiday season, there is always an influx of people and churches making donations, but he is trying to get people to do that regularly and become more personal to the homeless.
“I need to talk to them,” he said, noting that he tries to humanize those who have been dehumanized. “We may not be friends but we’re friendly. Your church has no connection to the people in need at all. You can’t connect with people if you see them once a year. And they know it too. They say ‘I don’t’ know you, so I’m not going to take nothing from you.’”
The need for assistance in the streets has especially increased during the pandemic.
“It’s made a huge difference,” said Bradford, noting that BARE used to go out once a month distributing sandwiches to the homeless. “I’ve actually stepped up our efforts, though we lost a lot of volunteers when we started going out. More people are nervous about their own safety.”
During the pandemic, volunteers now visit the streets every Sunday.
“Because I know a lot of other efforts have stopped,” Bradford said.
His group mainly visits skid row downtown, as Bradford has partnerships with a few of the shelters there. They also visit the ReFresh Spot stations in the area. “They’re open 24 hours where people can go shower, use the wifi and people can wash their clothes.”
Bradford welcomes volunteers — there are a few hundred regulars now, though not everyone works every week. Many of them heard about his efforts through social media or through partnering organizations that work downtown.
Clothes donations are also welcomed.
“We need more men’s clothes and shoes and now that it’s getting colder, we need coats, jackets and blankets,” Bradford said, adding that personal hygiene supplies are also needed, as well as long pants, shoes, umbrellas and sleeping bags. Lysol wipes and cleaning supplies are also needed for those who are given housing.
The organization does not have a storage location for donations, so donors should call (213) 262-9645, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to for more information and/or coordinate donation drop offs to the distribution skid row site on any Sunday.
Bradford is originally from Kansas City, where his family was forced into homelessness when he was 13. The family of six lived in various shelters for a period of time.
“I didn’t think that people cared enough,” he said, noting that he felt others were judgemental of his family. “My mother was young, with five kids before she was 21.”
Today when Bradford believes that instead of claiming ignorance and allowing the homeless to continue in their struggle to survive, just a little care and effort can really change their lives.
Bradford moved to California in 2008 after attending college. He lived in Hollywood, when he started sharing his food with people he saw living outside. He then invited his friends to do the same.
“Most of them always said ‘no’ but then I kept doing it,” he said, explaining that he later went to his neighborhood 7-Eleven stores and pizza places asking for leftovers for the homeless. “Eventually, they started giving me food — pizzas and burritos.”
Fast food is preferred over the healthy variety, Bradford explained.
“People don’t want to sit there and learn the benefits of an arugula salad,” he said. “They’re going to throw that in the street.”
Today, Bradford’s focus is on providing housing. While researching homeless advocacy programs and working for a property management company, he gained contacts in the field and started to make a plan to help the homeless.
“Just working for them — for me it was like a paid internship,” he said of his job. “Then I could figure out the rules in California housing—where they were getting the money from, who they were partnering with, other nonprofits. I let them send me to different trainings.”
After learning more about serving those with substance abuse issues and the mentally ill, Bradford struck out on his own.
BARE’s Transitional housing caters to those recovering from economic hardship who often graduate from a shelter to lesser crowded living situations. The organization provides professional support, educational materials and a stable living environment.
“Right now I have multiple shared housing where we house formerly homeless individuals,” Bradford said. “We move them out of shelters and give them a place to stay.”
BARE is a 501c3 organization, and in addition to acquiring funding through partner affiliations and community donors, it takes donations from local businesses and uses them to fight hunger and create housing.
Bradford also frequently applies for philanthropic, company and community grants.
“And covid changed that too,” he said. “People are in their homes working, they’re not in their offices. It kind of slowed down some of the grants. It’s not easy. We have people who donate monthly to the organization and we partner with a lot of programs in the city. They actually pay for clients’ rent.”
Volunteers are always needed and support can come in many different forms. Bradford admits that he needs a lot of people with more money than time. He also values connections to other community groups.
“I believe that in my heart, everyone wants to help, they just don’t know how,” Bradford said. “Everything helps, it’s just figuring out what’s the best way, understanding what that community needs.”
He explained that people in the street need food and warm clothes, while those who have gotten housing need cleaning supplies to keep their living space nice.
“We all want something different,” he said, noting that solutions for L.A.’s big homeless problems are slow in coming. It’s not going to happen overnight.”