Handle with Care Helps WeHo’s Homeless (and Connects with Them)

Members of the Handle with Care group on Santa Monica Boulevard

Who knew that going for drinks in WeHo could make such a difference? Kellan Martz, the comely, 30-something lawyer and founder of Handle With Care probably hadn’t a clue. “We were walking after happy hour, [me and] some friends of mine, and we saw several homeless people asking for money,” Martz tells me via Skype. “So we said ‘why don’t we do something?’” He and his friends then came up with the idea of putting together care packages for the homeless, and “Handle With Care” was born. 

Kellan Martz (Photo by Kristine R. Surla Photography)

A non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the homeless community throughout Los Angeles with a focus on WeHo and Hollywood, Handle With Care provides care packages to homeless individuals, filled with foods, personal care items, and resource guides. In addition to distributing care packages, Handle with Care volunteers offer friendly “hellos” and conversations with homeless people. Not only is this a nice thing to do, it may also lead to the group’s stronger impact, as its members cultivate trust with homeless people who are wary. (According to Martz, many homeless people distrust outsiders and for good reason.)

“We’ve started to make connections with people where they trust us, and you can then have a bit of a longer conversation, instead of just ‘here’s a care package, have a great day — [you can say] ‘there’s a resource guide in here. I don’t know what you’re really looking for, but there’s resources on here for treatment, there’s resources on here for health care.’ Because then we can create a bridge to those other services, which are really going to be the ones that get them on their feet and off the street,” Martz explains. 

Packing the bags at Hi Tops on Santa Monica Boulevard

By telling the homeless about the resources available, Handle With Care opens them up to opportunities — from healthcare to work, to transitioning off the streets. Handle With Care also advocates for public policies that support homeless individuals and promote affordable housing. To this end, Martz has made it a point to educate volunteers in his organization. “As we grew, I really wanted to have our volunteers learn about homelessness,” Martz tells me. “So we implemented training so people can start to learn the ins and outs of homelessness.” 

Their first speaker was an L.A. County mental health worker who spoke about how to talk to the homeless and the common types of mental illnesses homeless people have. “What I really hope comes out of these trainings is that the stigma lessens and then these volunteers can kind of be homeless ambassadors,” Martz says. By gaining knowledge, Handle With Care volunteers can be a voice for homeless people, bringing up specific issues at city council meetings, for instance, or even just educating family and friends. “It’s not just volunteering to give bags to the homeless and make them, but to also have volunteers that are knowledgeable and compassionate about this issue.”

Handle With Care currently meets monthly to create care packages. At first, it had only 10–15 volunteers, now it gets 30–40 each month. “We started our first event doing 20 care packages and now we’re up to well over 100,” Martz says. It once held the events at the board members’ apartments, but since they’ve grown, they now convene at High Tops, a gay sports bar on Santa Monica Boulevard, to put together the care packages in an assembly-line fashion. Once the bags are created, they distribute them by foot or car, in Hollywood/West Hollywood. 

As WEHOville has reported, West Hollywood’s homeless count has jumped by 31% since last year. Martz has been working with the homeless since he moved to West Hollywood five years ago. “It’s gotten worse,” he tells me. “The only benefit is that we’re finally seeing the government recognize it for what it is — that it’s a crisis.” Homelessness has become such a problem, according to Martz, because of the expense of housing in the City of Angels. “Everyone knows that to rent a place in L.A. is very expensive, and once you fall down the path of being evicted or not having somewhere to stay, it’s really hard to get back on your feet.” 

Compassion was instilled in Martz at a very young age. Martz grew up in Washington State in a little town called Wenatchee, where his mom was a mental health worker. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, his family would cook extra food and spend a portion of their day distributing plates to those less fortunate. “I think we were just raised to always look out for the person who didn’t have a voice, who was always down and out on their luck,” he tells me. “It’s part of how we were raised — to care about others as much as you care about yourself.” Lessons, that by the power of his example and organization, he’s clearly teaching now. 

A full time lawyer, Martz works on the housing commission and also Handle With Care. In his spare time, which one would guess is slim, Martz plays kickball and dodge-ball in WeHo’s gay sports leagues. He also likes to hike, and after this interview, he’s off to vacation in Europe: A well-deserved break, no doubt.

Martz isn’t interested in being seen as heroic — he’s not looking for praise for all he does. When I remark on all he’s accomplished with his mission, he parries credit to the other members of Handle With Care: “I couldn’t do this without the board we have and the volunteers, it’s all driven by them. It’s not just me. I’m the president and I have a lot of experience with homeless issues, but our board is just as amazing as the things I do.”

Martz has high hopes for Handle With Care and the impact it can have to help the homeless.

“We want to take it to be an organization that’s beyond just once a month, so we’re having as much impact as we can throughout the month instead of just a single day,” he says. He’s also excited about growing Handle With Care outside of the Golden State. “We’ve also talked about and would love for this to grow beyond L.A. so we’ve had interest from our friends that live in other cities to start chapters there and that would be phenomenal,” he enthuses. “I think to see this take off and grow to other cities really shows that people do care, they just don’t necessarily know how to help the homeless.” 

So how can we help the homeless and become involved with Handle With Care? “Predominantly, it’s coming to our events and making the care packages, delivering them or donating supplies or money. Those are the key areas where we’re always looking for extra.” They even have an Amazon wish list, which consists of items that will be used for care packages. 

To get involved, head on over to it Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/handlewithcarela and join the group; that’s where most information is shared. Likewise, you can visit http://www.handlewithcarela.org/ and find it across other socials with the handle @handlewithcareLA.


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Donovan
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Donovan

I’ve volunteered with them and had a blast! It was both fun and extremely rewarding. This was my first experience interacting with homeless people directly, so I was a bit nervous but the other volunteers were great and helped me. It broke my heart seeing people living on the streets and I was happy to give them a bit of joy and help. It also changed my mind after the fact, since I’d always made wrong assumptions about people on the streets. I realized many aren’t on drugs and are just down on their luck. Thank you Handle With Care.

Emily
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Emily

Thank you for doing something for the homeless instead of just complaining and criticizing, like some of the comments here. I saw these volunteers out in the community a few months ago and chatted with them briefly, so I know they are doing good work. Keep it up. The homeless problem will just keep happening if we don’t all get involved in some way.

Dismayed
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Dismayed

This organization is suspect. An event asking for volunters was posted on the City of West Hollywood’s web site. It stated that Handle With Care had an event at Kings Road Park this past April. I went to the park with great enthusiam. Much to my dismay, no one was there. I contacted them via email about this situation because they have no physical mailing address or even a phone number. Questions posed to them via email took forever for them to respond to and no name was ever attached to any communication. Plus they never addressed some of the… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
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Alan Strasburg

I don’t make it a habit of commenting on those who hide their critique in anonymity, but I find it irresponsible of WEHOville to continue to give forum to those who make unsubstantiated claims cloaked in anonymity.

Dismayed
Guest
Dismayed

The post is factual, accurate and valid. I use an anonymous handle due to my visibility in the community as I do not want to be harassed, especially at public events.

Bern
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Bern

Free hand sanitizers and condoms don’t solve the homeless problem. They need socks not a slurred, but warm!, hello as you walk home from the bars. How about you Handle (THE FOOD) With Care and get plastic gloves for your “volunteer”.

WehoFan
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WehoFan

The homeless are in need of mental health services not care packages.

08Mellie
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08Mellie

100%. They need hospitals, not housing and not hand outs. Well intended but will not move the needle in improving this dire situation.

Ham
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Ham

have never seen these people.

Emily
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Emily

I have seen them out and about. I chatted them up once and saw the packages they were delivering to people. It was pretty cool actually.

Joshua88
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Joshua88

Who knew? Thank you for bringing us this marvelous story.

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest

I have NEVER seen them on the street in West Hollywood, but I will keep looking everyday.

Admirable
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Admirable

It’s admirable that you care for your fellow man.
Do you have any metrics to offer that would indicate how many folks you have connected to real time solutions and or moved out of their street circumstances? And if so, would you kindly share the steps and time frame of an individuals journey?

Vigilant
Guest
Vigilant

Dear Mr. Martz,
Still awaiting your answer regarding the metrics of your results.
Thanking you in advance.

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

This is really inspirational. Sometime leaving it to the professionals takes the element of community connection that exacerbates the sense of isolation and abandonment felt by the homeless. Keep up the good work.

Alan Strasburg
Guest
Alan Strasburg

Kudos Steve Martin, for “getting it” and recognizing the simple beauty of community engagement and action, which doesn’t scream out to be seen, and doesn’t need to be measured.

Emily
Guest
Emily

Steve – thank you for a positive comment here and I agree with you. I saw these volunteers in Weho a few months back, stopped to talk to them, and enjoyed what I saw.