Benefit CD aids homeless in south Orange County

Jessica Seftel

Nelson Mandela once said, “We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” People of Orange County, every age, gender, and socio-economic condition, must join together to help the homeless improve their life and life’s conditions.

Living where we do is a great privilege. There are many around us that are less fortunate and struggle every day to meet basic needs. What residents here in Orange County don’t realize is that homeless people are here in the community, and have little outside assistance.

The problem with homelessness is that when we see someone on the streets, it’s normal to shy away and ignore the situation. But we don’t know the true story behind those suffering eyes because there’s no interaction among us. Laguna Beach local and Saddleback College associate English instructor Scott Hays decided to stand up and make a change.

Hays speaks very passionately about the project he conceived to raise consciousness and education in the community about the homeless. He produced a CD titled Shelter Me, a remarkable compilation of songs written to defy the stereotype that all homeless individuals have experienced abuse or mental health issues. This anthology encompasses several musical genres including rock, folk, blues and country.

According to the OC Partnership’s Web site, there are approximately 35,000 homeless people in Orange County, nearly 25,000 are in families with children. However, there are less than 70 emergency and transitional shelters with 3,400 available beds.

“The Orange County homeless population includes families and individuals representing every race, age group and community in Orange County. Often, persons that experience homelessness are negatively portrayed as panhandlers asking for money. On the contrary, Orange County’s homeless population consists of working families and individuals. Many live in cars, parks, under bridges, motels, and in homeless shelters trying to maintain their dignity while they struggle to survive. As a result, most homeless remain hidden,” according to the Web site.

Along with Hays, the Friendship Shelter organization in Laguna Beach also lent a helping hand and the recording got started.

Friendship Shelter is a private non-profit organization whose mission is to help the homeless regain self-sufficiency and become more productive members of the community.

They provide housing, meals, case management services and counseling to help the homeless rebuild their lives.

Lariat: “For residents in Orange County, what do you feel is the typical stereotype of a homeless person?”

Hays: “We see these peo­ple living on the streets or laying on sidewalks, and automatically give this title of homeless. Until you’ve made some sort of personal connection and placed a name to a face, there’s no true background information. When you see them around, understand that there’s a person there, and he or she has a story to tell.”

L: “It must have taken a lot of time and commitment to create a project like this, so how did this generous nature come about?”

H: “My true inspiration is Holland, one of the homeless musicians I met from the very beginning. He is phenomenal, and over time we’ve developed a close relationship. After that, I decided to pick up the phone one day and make a call to the Friendship Shelter in Laguna Beach. They were all for my idea, and things started moving along from there.”

L: “I read on the Web site that the Friendship Shelter organization contributed enormously in the making of this CD.”

H: “This wouldn’t have happened without the Friendship Shelter. They offered their support services, wrote letters, and would help me. Now that the CD is out, everyone has stepped up and continued working on upcoming events. In November, we’re doing an Art Walk which will promote and market the Benefit CD. All the proceeds of course, go back to the Friendship Shelter.”

L: “From the thirteen songs, are all the artists homeless or was there any outside help?”

H: “No, not all the songwriters are homeless. A couple are written and sung by Holland and another gentleman by the name of Jelani Diaz. The other songs are about the issue of homelessness, and I retained the support of various musicians and songwriters from Orange County. The best part was that all of these individuals were so quick to step up and offer their services.”

L: “Listening to the CD, it seems like the songwriting abilities of each musician is extremely unique.”

H: “Totally agree with that! I tried to bring together the best songwriters I could find. Both Holland and Jelani have this astonishing talent, and I got their songs on the same Benefit CD as these other musicians who are making a living out of it. It was interesting to make the comparison between songs.”

L: “Do you believe the lyrics contain messages about the seriousness of homelessness?”

H: “Absolutely. I always refer back to Holland’s song, “Ain’t It a Wonderful Life” when he says, “I’ve been living out of my car for so long, I forgot what love feels like.” If you truly listen to each song, you’ll see that the messages are very powerful. As a writer, I’m all about the depth and meaning behind the lyrics.”

L: “Without the fame and fortune aspects of a new recording deal, what is the most rewarding thing you believe this project can receive in the long run?”

H: “I saw a certain amount of rise in self identity in the homeless musicians that we’re involved. Jelani Dias is now back on his feet with a job. Holland has a roof over his head, and is still playing his guitar everyday. Watching the level of knowledge and desire to help support our cause rise in the community is the most rewarding thing I will ever experience. Many people who had no idea about the Friendship Shelter or Benefit CD are now donating time and money everyday to make improvements.

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