Homeless Shelter for College Students Re-Opens

After shutting down for some time this year, the Mt. Olive Lutheran Church re-opens its doors to the homeless shelter for college students at 9 a.m. on Sunday, December 3, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. The shelter will serve as a home for college students who have been displaced from their homes, who can also come in to study after school. Mt. Olive Lutheran is located on the corner of 14th Street and Ocean Park Boulevard. The shelter first opened on October of 2016, before closing in April this year to renovate the cafeteria next to the church. Its completion led to the re-opening on this day.

The event started out with Senior Pastor, Reverend Eric Shafer giving warm welcomes to those in attendance by having a three-people choir sing two gathering songs before the traditional prelude. Following this were the prayer of the day, children's message, psalm, excerpt from Corinthians 1: 3-9, gospel verse, and a few more excerpts and songs. Shafer explained how the program was brought together. He also mentioned that out of the previous 50 churches, Mt. Olive became one of the few churches in the state to make it possible, in which before he introduced Louis Tse.

Louis Tse is the Director of the "Students 4 Students" program that oversees the providing of this shelter for all displaced college students, which includes those attending SMC and UCLA. When asked what motivated him to make this event possible, Tse said, "I think for me my education meant a lot to me. My co-founder Luke and I felt a kinship towards college students who were going through homelessness, and it didn't sit well with us and we wanted to afford them the same opportunities that we've had."

His co-founder, Luke Shaw, broke down the process of the renovations made in the inner complex, which included a six-bedroom set and a small bathroom. Shaw thanked in particular someone who helped them draft out the renovation plans. "When we knew we had to get some renovations to the space to bring us up to housing code, we were approached by this wonderful man named Michael Folonis who owns an architecture firm in the area, and he said 'I love to do the drafting and planning for you guys and I'll line up a pro bono contractor," Shaw said. "So Michael Folonis and his associates basically put everything together for us and did all of this pro bono work to make sure we get the space that we needed."

The service ended with a post communion canticle, blessing, sending of communion, and postlude, before the crowd moved into the cafeteria to grab concessions. They then held a ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate this event after months of work. Those in attendance included President of SMC Dr. Kathryn Jeffery, President of the Associated Students Jennifer Chen, and Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

The City Council approved to pay the fees that for the project to commence. McKeowy said that initiatives like this will allow similar projects to be easier to accomplish in the future. 

"The city council puts so much into the project, and as a result now, this shelter can be replicated anywhere and I would call on other cities to do this as well," McKeowy said. "This is not some rogue-outlaw operation, this is all to code and safe, habitable housing for students in need and we in Santa Monica shouldn't be the only city that recognizes that need."

Jennifer Chen explains that this event is connected to the upcoming GEN-C/Social Justice Center that will be in construction. "This organization is based on social justice," said Chen. "So we want to bring in resources for the people in need...when students are going through some certain circumstances in life, we will be able to support with resources, support with different things or just be there to inspire and empower our students. I think this is what our institution should provide for our students."

The shelter aims to provide college students much needed help in terms of finding new home and continue their academic careers. Dr. Jeffery emphasizes how important resources like this homeless shelter is to the community. 

"Obviously this is not a new space for all the students who have a need for shelter, for a home and a place to live, but it is a great beginning. It's the first of this kind in the country, it supports the Santa Monica students as well as the UCLA students, and I just think we're very fortunate that they recruited us," Jeffery said. "The project was led by a UCLA student. So with that in mind, I think it could've been something that was just available to them, but they included us and I think it was very special."