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Social entrepeneur makes progress helping Orange County's homeless families

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Homeless Facts

About 1,200 families in Orange County are living week to week in motels and about 28,000 children throughout the county are at risk of being on the streets.

Orange County ranks second to Dallas, Texas in the number of homeless children per population.

The facts were cited by Paul Leon, the founder of the Illumination Foundation who started the organization in 2007. He was on a journey to earn a MBA and work in the county's public health department. A class assignment opened his eyes to the risk factors leading to homelessness.

Partnerships

He said it's been tough convincing others that homelessness is a major problem in Orange County.

During the first five years of operating, local cities didn't want him to operating in their boundaries. However, officials in the cities of Stanton and Anaheim saw the violence, low grades, and growing mental illness and drug use facing adults and children and made it possible for the Illumination Foundation to open.

In Stanton, there were 60 duplexes needing renovation in a 2-block area and through the help of hundreds of volunteers the Illumination Foundation began work in 16 of those duplexes.

Paul told me the number of homeless dropped quickly in the city and the crime rate dropped 11 percent.

"We were able to paint and put in a community garden and you walk through neighborhood now and you would never know that was a problem."

Homeless Truths in OC

Paul says there are myths surrounding homelessness in Orange County that people need to rethink.

"Most of the children sleeping in the parks, on the beaches, or in the cars are Caucasians. The second-most represented group is African-American children."

He said homelessness is not caused by illegal immigration. "Many Hispanic families live 2 to 3 families to an apartment or home. They may be at risk for losing a place to live but they don't make up the majority of homeless families."

He also said homeless families are typically local residents. "We've served about 7,000 families coming through our program and the vast majority who seek our services come from a five-mile radius."

Mental health services and work with young children are among the services offered through the Illumination Foundation. Volunteers are sought and welcomed to work in a variety of ways.

Click here for an in-depth interview with Paul Leon is available or visit the Illumination Foundation website for more information.

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