Living without a home can be an isolating experience. For the many Angelenos being shuffled through the shelter system or living on the streets, lifestyle changes and a lack of access to technology make it hard to keep in contact with the family members and friends they once relied on.
That’s why Kevin Adler founded Miracle Messages, a nonprofit that helps unhoused people rebuild social support networks, by pairing them with volunteer phone buddies and helping them find lost family members.
The goal, Adler says, is to address the “relational poverty” many unhoused individuals experience — while building empathy among those who are housed.
“When you get to know someone, not as a problem to be solved, but as someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, or as a friend or a neighbor, you can't help but want to be part of their journey,” says Adler.
Currently, the organization works with about 300 volunteers around the world who regularly check in with their unhoused buddies via phone calls and texts. These check-ins have made a big difference in the lives of Los Angeles residents like Kela Eddins.
Eddins lives on Skid Row, and says she and her buddy talk a few times a week about everything from work to their families and day-to-day struggles. Having that constant support, she says, sometimes prevents her from breaking down completely.
“Everybody needs somebody to talk to, and instead of just praying and talking to God, a human being is nice to chat with even if it's just … some stranger who cares,” says Eddins.
Miracle Messages has also helped reconnect hundreds of unhoused people with their loved ones, by helping them record messages and post them for family members to find.
And it also helps family members find relatives who might be unhoused — which can be difficult due to strict privacy rules at shelters.
Before reconnecting, people experiencing homelessness often also have to overcome emotional barriers like “shame, self-loathing, and not wanting to be a burden,” says Adler. But about 80% of the time, the reunifications are successful.
Adler says that while building social connections is not a “silver bullet” for solving homelessness, it can help significantly when paired with other services — like the “Miracle Money” basic income program the organization just launched, which provides monthly cash payments to a handful of participants.
Kela signed up for the Miracle Money program, and says the financial stability has been a relief.
“When my money gets low, or I have to send money home to my children so they can pay for college or the things that they need to do back home, it makes me feel good to know … I have a little help,” she says.