From the outside, the Dax house is charming: a beautiful, Victorian cottage with a porch, located just fifteen minutes away from two major Los Angeles colleges. Stepping inside, I’m struck by how homely it feels. A bouquet of flowers sits on the dining table. Bright, colourful artwork lines the walls painted by clients from the Depaul Los Angeles Day Centre. Every bedroom is spacious and tastefully decorated. In the kitchen, pans, plates and utensils fill the drawers and cupboards.
The house is Depaul USA’s first Los Angeles residence in the Dax Program, which provides accommodation to students experiencing or at risk of homelessness. A response to the growing problem across the USA, the Dax house will accommodate students from LA Trade Tech Community College, which has an estimated 3,500 student experiencing insecure housing, and students from the University of Southern California.
Whilst on a longer trip across the USA, I visited Los Angeles to speak at the official opening of the Dax residence. At the opening, I was joined by local government and community college officials, such as LA City Council Member Eunisses Hernandez and a representative of LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell. All spoke passionately about the critical need for solutions like the Dax Program in LA, where affordable housing is scarce.
It’s amazing to see Depaul USA respond so quickly to this local need, with the Dax house opening just six months after Depaul USA was asked to take on the project. Touring the house, the strengths of the Dax Program are clear. The house isn’t part of a faceless, mass-produced housing project. Rather, like I’ve seen at other Dax properties, the house has personal touches that make it unique. It is a place where every resident can feel at home, where they can thrive and become part of a family community.
To aid this, residents at the Dax house will receive stipends, mental health support, leadership development opportunities and access to budgeting and life-skills workshops. There is also a student appointed as a house manager who will be on hand to provide support and help the residents come together as a family. Recognising that everyone has unique talents, the house manager will help people to work together to prosper and support one another during their time at the Dax house.
Celebrating the potential of every person in this way is integral to Depaul’s values. It’s a sentiment echoed in Depaul projects globally, which provide specialist support to people in unique and challenging situations. In his opening words the LA County Representative said he had was overwhelmed by the Dax house, deeply humbled by Depaul USA’s values and commitment to those experiencing homelessness.
At Depaul, our mission is simple: to end homelessness and change the lives of those affected by it. The values which underpin this mission put people at the heart of what we do. During my trip, I saw this person-centred approach time and time again. Whilst visiting Depaul’s programme in Leavenworth, Kansas, I spoke to a young single mother of two, who Depaul had supported into a home. If she had applied for assistance via the usual routes, she would have been left behind. Instead, she now has a beautiful home, which has given her the security she needed to move into employment. She told me all about her new job working at The Sister of Charity Marillac Conference Centre, which she was very excited about.
Travelling across the USA, it’s clear that homelessness is a huge issue. Yet, it’s not an issue unique to the USA – the growing problem of homelessness is replicated on a global scale. At times, Depaul’s work can feel like a drop in a vast, stormy ocean. But this trip reminds me of how critical our work is – not only to the mother in Leavenworth and the students in Los Angeles, but to everyone we support worldwide.
Reflecting on my trip, I’m reminded of Extrat, the first resident at Dax project Holy Innocents in Chicago, which opened just days before I arrived in the USA. At the opening, Extrat spoke about what his new home meant to him: “I started to have a normal life because I got a place where I can live, I can study, and I can work on my goals.”
Extrat’s words remind me of the power a home can have. For Extrat, for the new residents of the LA Dax house, for the mother in Leavenworth, and for so many across the globe, a home is much more than bricks and mortar. A home is a place where people can move towards a new and independent future. A place of safety, security, a place of community, to be with friends and family. A place where every person can fulfill their potential.
Matthew Carter OBE, Group CEO Depaul International