For 12 years, Felix Garcia lived out of a shopping cart on Skid Row in Downtown LA.
“I want to pay it forward. I have to spread the wealth.”
His mental health issues were misdiagnosed as behavior problems when he was growing up in New York as the youngest of 8 children in an immigrant family from Guatemala.
He ran away from home a number of times and later dropped out of college to start a business, then abandoned the venture and became homeless. Eventually Felix came to LA and lost touch with his family while he was living on the streets.
Thanks to local nonprofit The People Concern, Felix is getting mental health treatment. He now lives in his own apartment in Santa Monica and works to provide support to others struggling with homelessness.
“I want to pay it forward. I have to spread the wealth,” he says.
A homelessness crisis in LA
Homelessness in LA has reached a crisis level. The 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count found over 50,000 homeless people living in LA county.
The People Concern is one of the organizations working to help LA’s homeless population find permanent housing. The long-term assistance Felix received from The People Concern’s Cloverfield Services Center in Santa Monica helped him build the life he has now.
The nonprofit organization is based in Arlington Heights, but provides services throughout LA for highly vulnerable, chronically homeless people who suffer from severe mental illness. The organization’s goal is to help people transition to permanent supportive housing.
That goal is supported by grants from the Cedars-Sinai Behavioral Health Initiative, which aims to expand free or low-cost behavioral health services. Since 2012, Cedars-Sinai has granted over $5 million to more than 2 dozen nonprofits to promote access to mental health services for low-income, underinsured, and uninsured patients.
“A significant factor contributing to homelessness in our community is lack of access to mental health resources, especially for vulnerable populations,” says John Maceri, executive director of The People Concern. “It is through Cedars-Sinai’s partnership with our agency and their commitment to improving mental health for underserved individuals that we are able to provide these lifesaving services.”
Healing for Felix
Felix came to the Cloverfield Services Center seeking help to improve his life. Soon, with support from case manager Deborah Jackson, he was doing just that.
In 2011, Deborah helped Felix get permanent subsidized housing. He also received medical and mental health services—including medication to treat his conditions.
Read: Brave and Resilient
Felix has also found employment at The People Concern, where he often works in the kitchen, teaches Spanish classes, and leads drum circles. He has also taken up gardening and enjoys tending to his potted plants and working in a community garden.
Felix says he no longer feels alone in the world. He has re-established contact with his siblings and he feels part of a community that appreciates his dedication to helping others.
“This agency works wonders,” says Felix. “It brings us into wellness to prepare us to go about our productive lives.”
Grants to support mental health services are just one of the ways Cedars-Sinai is working toward a healthier Los Angeles. Learn more about our community benefit programs.