I meet incredible people everyday on this job. But those who work with the homeless in Los Angeles often stand out. Karen Hamza was homeless once, but when she finally got off the streets, she vowed to help the homeless who have pets. She started Angel Hands for the Homeless, Inc., a nonprofit organization and once a month, she holds events for these folks and their cats and dogs at a local park with the donations she receives. And she manages to do all this without a car. The car she lived in finally puttered out, and she hopes someone will help. In the meantime, here’s my story (Daily News, 2012):
NORTH HOLLYWOOD – She sees a little of herself in each one.
In the woman who lives in her car with a Calico cat in her arms, or in the thin, young man who sleeps in the park, with his trembling, wide-eyed Chihuahua close to his chest.
Karen Hamza was once a little bit of both of them. She was a lone woman living in a car with a dog, and like many of the homeless, she needed more than a hand. She needed the knowledge of where to find the hand that could pull her up, and out of homelessness.
“When I was homeless, there was nothing for me,” said Hamza, a petite woman with long dark hair with hints of white.
“I didn’t know where to find food banks or shelters.”
So after a year of sleeping in her 1988 Acura Legend, Hamza found a tiny, affordable studio apartment in North Hollywood, and immediately sat down to compile “A Resource Guide for the Homeless in California and the United States.”
It took her more than a year to complete the 112-page book that includes everything from where to find food banks and soup kitchens to pet services and mental health programs across the nation.
“I knew there was a need out there,” she said, “I worked on it nonstop. I know that it was God who helped me, because I couldn’t do it myself. It had to be God-guided.”
For the last three years, Hamza has sought out the homeless across the San Fernando Valley and in downtown Los Angles, handing out the soft-back books for free so they can use the information to find services.
“People have told me that it’s helped them get off the streets,” she said. “They still call me.”
As she worked on the book, Hamza also created Angel Hanz For the Homeless, Inc., a non-profit organization that seeks to fill what she saw as a gap in services for homeless people with pets. Angel Hanz assists with everything from extra kibble to finding shelters that accept animals to groups that will foster dogs or cats.
An estimated 4,700 people are homeless in the San Fernando Valley, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, but no hard data exist on how many have pets, only anecdotal stories.