Kobe Bryant works with L.A.'s homeless

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant spent Tuesday night walking around Los Angeles Mission, a nonprofit organization serving the homeless living on downtown’s Skid Row.

He was walking the streets, looking for answers to the growing problem of homelessness in Los Angeles, which he has tried to tackle for the past year.

“I was trying to hear some of their stories and some of their backgrounds and how they got to this position,” Bryant said. “I wanted to know when that switch went off inside of them and they said, ‘I need help; I want to turn my life around.’ It gave me great perspective.”

While Bryant was there he met a 58-year-old man, who has been in and out of the mission for the past year.

“He was extremely articulate and he had a great life and he made a poor choice and ended up on the streets,” Bryant said. “He came to the L.A. Mission weighing 135 pounds and now he’s healthy and his weight is back up. He’s 58 but he’s in better shape than I am. … You get to hear their stories and you get to find out first-hand what’s going on.

“This issue gets pushed into the backburner because it’s easy to put the blame on those that are homeless and say you made that bad decision and that’s the reason why you are where you are and it’s your fault. We all make mistakes and to just sit back and watch this and to wash your hands of it by saying that’s your fault, that’s not right and it’s not fair.”

On Wednesday Kobe and Vanessa Bryant arrived at My Friend’s Place, a drop-in center for homeless youth in Hollywood, which annually serves about 1,700 individuals between the ages of 12 and 25. They were there to announce the completion of the center’s renovation, which was funded by the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.

“This isn’t a popular topic or a popular issue,” Bryant said. “It’s one where you have to get your hands dirty a little bit. It’s not something celebrities easily rally around but this is something that we wanted to change. This something we’re all going to have to fight, it’s going to be a long fight but I’m in it for the long haul.”

Bryant recalls seeing homeless people walking the streets outside the Forum at the beginning of his career and more recently at the Staples Center. He admits the epidemic became like white noise for him before he heard chilling statistics about homelessness in Los Angeles last year. According to a 2011 report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there are 51,340 homeless people in Los Angeles County on a given day.

“It puts things into perspective,” Bryant said. “At the end of the day there’s only so many interviews you can do and stories you can write. You have to do something that carries more weight and has more significance and purpose to it.

“My career is winding down and at the end of it, I want to look back and said I had a successful career because I won so many championships and scored so many points. There’s something else you have to do with that.”

As Bryant looked around the renovated center, he said realizing he was at the end of his playing career and that he had spent half his life in Los Angeles made him want to make a difference in the city he has called home since he was 17.

“Just getting older and slowing down a little bit and taking a step back, I really wanted accomplish more with my career than just scoring points in basketball and winning championships,” Bryant said. “I wanted to do something more and create significant impact.

“I was talking to my sister about this. We were talking about baseball and she’s a Phillies fan and I’m a Yankees fan and I was telling her that it kind of makes sense for me to become a Dodgers fan. I’ve never been in a city for this long. This is 17 years now. Growing up I spent about two years in a particular city and bounced. I spent four years in Philadelphia and then I came out here and I’ve been here for 17 years. I’ve become a Los Angeles-type of person and it kind of suites me well, I think.”