By Morgan Stewart
On the evening of May 5, just hours before he was shot and killed by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, Brendon Glenn dropped by The Teen Project’s PAD (Protection and Direction) Drop in Center on Windward Avenue in Venice for a Purpose Life Support Group. While there, he spoke with counselors about how he missed his family and was ready to go home. On May 6, The Teen Project would have normally begun the process of contacting Brendon’s loved ones in New York with hopes of reunification. Instead, the next morning they had to reach out to his grandmother for a different reason … his tragic and untimely death just hours before. Not knowing if she would be the first call to them, the Teen Project Founder, Lauri Burns, was somewhat relieved that they already knew. Having lost her own son just a year prior, she dreaded being the first call. She was heart struck to learn that the family was planning an upcoming trip with Brendon’s three year old son to surprise him and bring him home. When the founder said the word “homeless” his grandmother gasped, “he was not homeless? He went on his first plane trip with his best friend to see California.” Lauri explained, it is all too often that the family is often unaware of the “real” situation.
The Teen Project, founded in 2007, arrived in Venice in 2012 to provide support for teens aging out of the foster care system and the large population of youth in crisis with immediate shelter. While some organizations provide on the street services, this group’s main agenda is getting the kids off the street. Over the past three years, the team has moved 158 kids from the streets of Venice, more than any other youth provider. They send them to a safe relative, supportive housing program with an adult or to a treatment program. The team calls themselves “a parent to the parentless” and will find a youth housing situation within 48 hours of someone expressing a desire to leave the streets. Lauri Burns says, “They are our kids. They look rough, but when you talk to them and hear their stories, it crushes your heart. They are young enough that they still have a chance at life.” She reflected on a young man she recently met who seemed very rough at first, but when he began to talk, she immediately recognized that he was highly educated. Over the next few minutes, she learned that his adoptive mom had recently died of cancer, leaving him alone on the cold streets in Chicago. His words to her “Any amount of good within me was derived from my mom. I owe everything to that woman and miss her dearly.”
Founder, Lauri Burns, was an abused kid who grew up in the Juvenile Dependency System, turned 18 and was homeless for 5 years. She was offered a warm bed and a grant for school and became an executive and raised 32 foster kids. She started The Teen Project to serve the large population of homeless youth in the Los Angeles, and particularly the Venice, area. At the PAD of Venice, youth are assessed and goals are set to help them get their life back on track. Until recently, The Teen Project was a volunteer-centric organization. Last April they opened an 85 bed free drug treatment and vocational school for homeless and trafficked young girls. They are supported by private donations and are hitting the streets to gain support. The Venice location is volunteer centric with over 60 committed volunteers. The team is pretty low key but, with the new center and the amount of kids they are helping, they are starting to make some noise. The goal of The Teen Project is to move all of the kids off the street.
To honor Brendon’s memory, The Teen Project hosted a candlelight vigil on May 7 right near the spot where he was shot dead by the LAPD. Members of The Teen Project spoke about Brendon and many of his friends shared memories of his good and generous nature, his love for his dog and his devotion to his three year old son back home. Brendon’s family hosted a vigil in his memory in his hometown in New York and requested that his friends in Venice send letters, quotes and poems so that his relatives could know more about his life in California. Brendon was in Venice for approximately two months and was popular amongst the kids and staff, known as “the peacemaker” for his kindness and humor. Brendon’s counselor was thrilled at the prospect of having him returning home. A prospect that would never would come to pass.
In the wake of this most recent senseless and tragic death, there is an incredible amount of anger as this local incident speaks to a much larger problem gripping this country. However, after the television crews have left and the story leaves the front pages, it is important to focus on the people and organizations that are continuing to try to help the homeless members of our community who, like Brendon, are not safe on the streets.
The death of Brendon Glenn shed light on a serious issue in the Venice community that needs to be addressed. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is difficult. Recent studies have shown that the average young person doesn’t become self-sufficient until age 26. Kids exiting the juvenile dependency system do not have this option. Cut off from support at the age of 18, they often sleep on the streets huddled together.
The team says for a fraction of the cost they are spending on resource donations (food, medical, clothing), they could get them all of the kids in their program off the streets and make permanent and positive change. While there are certainly many questions still to be answered and plenty of reasons to be angry, it is important to not lose sight of organizations within our community that are trying to exact real and lasting change for our most marginalized citizens.
Above: Brendon Glenn