2,500 take part in United Way’s annual HomeWalk

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Wave Staff Report

LOS ANGELES — For 13 years, the annual HomeWalk 5K in downtown Los Angeles has been the nation’s largest annual event to end homelessness.

For 2020, it went virtual and COVID-safe with “HomeWalk at Home,” presented by United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Rams. Across the region, participants shared their experiences on social media using the hashtags #HomeWalkatHome and #ItTakesAllofUs.

More than 2,500 people registered to walk, run, ride or hike “alone but together.” Many participated as part of teams sponsored by organizations and all were connected to the countywide movement. Teams such as East West Bank had a socially distanced hike at Eaton Canyon Park, followed by a virtual closing ceremony that brought participants together across the region with elected leaders, sports figures and an inspiring choral performance.

“The pandemic has made it harder than ever before to live outside, but it’s also rallied us to end homelessness as our communities need us now more than ever,” said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles in her address at the virtual closing ceremony. “Just two weeks ago, voters supported Measure J to invest in care and racial justice instead of trying to arrest our way out of this problem. In the last six months, we brought more than 8,000 people inside to keep them safe during this pandemic. Today we are walking, running, hiking and riding forward — and bringing thousands more people in along the way.”

The closing ceremony included special appearances by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; CSH Speak Up advocates La Rae Cantley and Marlon Pryor, who told their stories about experiencing homelessness; and a powerful musical performance by the Urban Voices Project.

Many members of the Los Angeles Rams participated such as head coach Sean McVay; Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff; defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth.

“This year has proved to be challenging on so many levels,” McVay said. “We are proud to team up with United Way of Greater Los Angeles to make a difference and help our homeless neighbors who need our support now more than ever. We cannot sit on the sidelines while 66,000 Angelenos suffer on our streets. It’s going to take a sustained team effort to power all of us to help prevent and end homelessness.”

“From within the shadows, we always turn to the greatest sources of light,” Garcetti said. “In this moment of crisis, United Way walks with the most vulnerable towards a new day — and HomeWalk reaffirms our commitment to the mission of ending homelessness in Los Angeles.”

Over the past 12 years, HomeWalk has raised more than $9.7 million. This year’s virtual HomeWalk has  raised at least $550,000, thanks to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Match Challenge, which doubled the amount raised.

Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, spoke during the closing ceremony.

“While this year’s event may look a little different, I can still feel the energy of our shared passion of ending homelessness,” Laugharn said. “The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation believes that housing ends homelessness. We shall succeed if housing comes first. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles has been an unmissable partner in this effort.”

Donations are being accepted and matched until Dec. 31. To donate please go to Donate Now at HomeWalkLA.org.

Throughout the day, approximately 121 teams comprising 2,608 people participated in “HomeWalk at Home.”

Once again, the top fundraising spot was won by SoCalGas, with more than $140,000 in contributions and more than 900 registered walkers and runners. This year’s top individual fundraiser was SoCalGas’ Denita Willoughby, who raised more than $85,000 to date.

SoCalGas employees have raised more than $2 million for HomeWalk since 2007.

“The pandemic has magnified inequities in our communities, and it is crucial that we support those who are struggling — even though this year we are not able to walk physically side by side,” said Sandra Hrna, vice president of human resources and diversity and inclusion at SoCalGas and a board member at United Way of Greater LA. “If you’re able, please support the effort to end homelessness via HomeWalk. Those struggling against homelessness need you now more than ever.”

Other top fundraising teams included East West Bank, MWest Polaris, Home For Good, Warner Music Group, Korn Ferry LA and City National Bank.