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.
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
“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
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
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
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.