Kobe takes on homelessness

LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant acknowledged that he’s been thinking about the inevitable.

“My career is winding down,” he said Wednesday during his annual news conference at My Friend’s Place, a shelter and education center in Hollywood for people who are homeless. “And at the end of my career, I don’t want to just look back and just say that I had a successful career because of the number of championships I’ve won. There’s something else that you have to do with that. I don’t want to be too cheesy and quote ‘Spider-Man,’ but with great power comes great responsibility, and that’s something I’m trying to live by.

Bryant and his wife Vanessa became involved with My Friend’s Place a little over a year ago, when they were driving home after a game at Staples Center and noticed the overwhelming number of people without shelter or food on and around Skid Row. “Just a couple blocks from where I work and where I spend a lot of time there were people struggling just to find a place to sleep,” Bryant said at the time. “I felt I wanted to step in and do something to help and that’s why I teamed up with My Friend’s Place.”

The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation has helped refurbish the showers at My Friend’s Place and purchased new furniture and paint for the facility.

“Homelessness isn’t a topical or popular issue,” Bryant said Wednesday, “and that’s why you have to get your hands dirty a little, and it’s not something celebrities usually rally around.

“This is something that we’re going to change.”

Bryant has been hands-on with the initiative, spending time with the homeless, listening to their stories and providing encouragement to keep going and turn their lives around.

“Last night, I spent time at the (Los Angeles) Mission and down on Skid Row,” Kobe said, “and I spent some time with the people who are living on the streets. It was very emotional. They told me about their backgrounds, how they ended up in this position and what’s going on inside of them. You can almost see that switch go on, when they decide they want to change their life, turn their life around, and it gave me great perspective.

“It’s easy to say ‘Hey, you’re homeless; you made a bad decision, so it’s your fault.’ But in life we all make mistakes. And to let someone continue to live like that isn’t right and it isn’t fair. We all make mistakes.”

His foundation also is involved in building eight new housing units so families or individuals who spend most of their time sleeping on concrete and going without the basic amenities are able to get out of that situation.

“This way,” Bryant said, “no kid or no person gets turned away, and they’ll be welcomed with open arms and be made to feel at home. And we’ll continue to move forward and expand what we’re doing.”

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also was at the news conference, and he cited some jarring statistics about homelessness in Los Angeles.

“At any one time, there are 45 (thousand) to 50,000 homeless people every night,” Yaroslavsky said. “About 18 percent are veterans of our Armed Forces, and close to 10 percent are transition-age youth.

“It’s a national shame, a national stain on our country that we have so many people in any community that are homeless. Most politicians don’t get involved in the homeless issue, because it doesn’t get you a lot of votes. You only do it because it’s the right thing to do. That’s why having Kobe and Vanessa Bryant not only giving their resources, but their celebrity as well, to this issue makes it cool to deal with the homeless issue of Los Angeles.”

And it’s something Kobe and Vanessa plan to stay involved with for a long time.

“Absolutely. Why not?” Bryant said when asked if he would continue this type of work once he retires. “It’s going to be a long fight and we’re in it for the long haul. Everybody is going to have to sacrifice to get this done.”