Ever since its launch, the Hollywood 2.0 program has sought to include the voices of lived experience, continually casting its light on, and drawing inspiration from those the program is designed to support.
In the fall of 2022, H4WRD hosted a screening at Hollywood’s Broadwater Theater of "Orchestrating Change", a documentary about the world's first orchestra comprised primarily of musicians living with mental health conditions. The well-attended screening featured a Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards, and helped bring greater attention to the H20 program in its infancy.
It is H20’s three focus groups with the community’s most vulnerable, however, that proved most impactful to the development of the program in its first year. These focus groups reflected H4WRD’s commitment to cultivating trust with each of these populations, while ensuring we created safe spaces for their voices to be heard. H4WRD’s role in the focus groups was to prepare with our co-facilitators, provide gift cards for the participants, and to record the results of each group and share follow-up notes with the H20 workgroups.
Focus Group #1: Transition Aged Youth (TAY)
In November of 2022, Hollywood 4WRD partnered with facilitators from the Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership and My Friend’s Place to speak with, and gather input directly from a group of TAY about their lived experience finding housing (Place) and education/work (Purpose) in their lives. The TAY population has always been a special focus of H4WRD. Because so many youth without the skills and life experience to live on their own come to Hollywood each year – drawn by the weather, the perceived glamor, and the promise of a better life – they often face additional challenges that can lead to an unsheltered existence on the streets.
The 16 participants were split into 2 groups, rotating between the two stations of Place and Purpose to share their ideas about what they’d like to see in terms of new and/or improved mental health, educational, employment and housing services in Hollywood. The preparation for this focus group included working closely with Erin Casey of MFP and Leanndra Martinez of the HHYP to support our own credibility with these participants and create the buy-in necessary to ask them deeply personal questions.
Among the overarching themes that emerged from the discussion around Place/housing was the need for independence, along with the need to feel better supported on that path. Lack of money and an overwhelming amount of family trauma were two of the biggest challenges these youth faced on the path to securing permanent, safe, and peaceful housing. A number of the TAY participants also mentioned suffering additional trauma in housing that they felt was neither supportive nor safe.
Regarding Purpose/finding meaning in their lives, many of the youth reported feeling “different” in high school, whether because of learning styles or sexual/gender identities. There was a consensus that those differences were not appreciated or supported by their teachers, coaches, or families. As with the Housing group, the lack of money and an overwhelming amount of family trauma were two of the biggest challenges on the path to finding purpose through education of employment.
Encouraging signs included many participants sharing their hopes and dreams for finding better housing in the future (whether a “mansion”, or simply their own apt w “luxuries” like gym, pool and laundry), especially if they receive better support than they currently enjoy. Many also sounded encouraged by the idea of having a Clubhouse as a resource, especially one that offered a “chill”, supportive and encouraging space.
Focus Group #2: People Experiencing Serious Mental Illness
In January of 2023, the H4WRD team partnered with Karla Bennett, DMH’s H20 Program Manager, for H20’s second focus group. This time they spoke with, and gathered input directly from individuals living with Serious Mental Illness about their lived experience finding housing (Place) and education/work (Purpose) in their lives.
With the aid of a Spanish interpreter for one client, the 3 participants (adults served at the Hollywood Mental Health Center) shared their ideas about what they’d like to see in terms of new and/or improved mental health, educational, employment and housing services in Hollywood. This group may have been fewer in number than the others, but they spoke with powerful voices, and shared insights that were just as valuable.
For the housing portion of the focus group, the H4WRD facilitators asked the participants about their experience with the various types of housing they’d been exposed to, and encouraged them to share what was most effective, most challenging, and what they’d like to see done differently in the future. Among the key takeaways from this portion were:
- Privacy, affordability and safe neighborhoods are among their biggest needs
- Finding housing is too often a stressful, traumatic experience
- They need greater support navigating the transition from unhoused to housed
- Participants place a premium on safety and access to services
- And want more support storing their belongings safely
- Looking forward to peace and prosperity!
For the Purpose portion of this focus group, facilitators asked the participants about their experience with the various types of education and employment they’d been exposed to, and encouraged them to share what was most effective, most challenging, and what they’d like to see done differently in the future. There was a lot of consensus amongst this group, leading to several key takeaways, including:
- Group has a strong interest in culture and improving themselves
- Small comforts, like nature and familiar, friendly faces go a long way
- A Hollywood Clubhouse is more appealing if it presents options for activities… and chores!
- Money, transportation, and security are the biggest impediments to enjoying life.
- For the most part, this group wants support cultivating purpose in their lives, as long as it doesn’t add more stress in the process
Focus Group #3: People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness
One week after holding the serious mental illness Focus Group, Hollywood 4WRD partnered with The Center in Hollywood to speak with, and hear directly from unsheltered individuals about their lived experience finding housing (Place) and education/work (Purpose) in their lives. The 20 participants gathered at The Center’s Hollywood location and shared their ideas about what they’d like to see in terms of new and/or improved mental health, educational, employment and housing services in Hollywood.
Housing was once again topic one, as H4WRD facilitators asked the unsheltered participants about the various types of housing they’d experienced in their lives. They encouraged this group to share what was most effective, most challenging, and what they’d like to see done differently in the future.
Unlike the much smaller SMI group, this group of 20 had a wide range of thoughts on the subject, leading to a large number if takeaways, including:
- Many of them want to live somewhere that’s safe and well supported
- One man was perfectly happy living out of his van, as long as he kept it clean
- One group member found the streets of Hollywood better than in Alabama. Police in LA are “chill”
- Finding housing is HARD, especially without clear, consistent support and guidance
- Housing is too expensive, unsafe, and poorly supported for residents
Looking ahead to the future, they shared some common hopes:
- They want to be living somewhere that’s safe, affordable and sustainable.
- Whether living alone or with a roommate, they want to know they’re safe and free.
- Participants want to live an independent life, and to be supported on the way to achieving that goal.
As far as finding Purpose and meaning in their lives, the unsheltered participants opened up about the various types of education and employment they’d experienced in their lives. The facilitators encouraged them to share what was most effective, most challenging, and what they’d like to see done differently in the future. There were a number of key takeaways from this portion of the group, including:
- Education important to many participants, but they need more support getting into school, and staying there.
- Participants displayed a willingness to learn a trade.
- Participants are open to the idea of mobile education, perhaps combined with attending a class in-person.
- This group felt there were a variety of obstacles, both self-generated and from the system, making it more challenging to find purpose in their lives.
As these three powerful focus groups made clear, the voices of lived experience provide perhaps the best, truest and clearest compass for H20’s leaders as they chart a course for the program’s future in Year Two and beyond.