By Danielle Beurteaux
John Wagner got his first glimpse of people living on the
streets during a family vacation. "I can remember being shocked
by beggars in Mexico when I was 14," he says. And yet he grew
up only 30 miles west of Los Angeles and its large homeless
population. He had no idea the same problem was so close to
||John Wagner: I can
remember being shocked by beggars in Mexico when I was
But Wagner, 54, managing partner and CIO of Los
Angeles–based Camden Asset Management, a $2.5 billion
convertible bond specialist firm, is now well educated in the
issues surrounding homelessness. Wagner is a board member of
the Weingart Center, one of the country’s largest
social services organizations for the homeless.
The Weingart Center is a one-stop support provider for
LA’s homeless population, estimated to be the
largest in the country at 51,000 people. The organization is
housed in the former El Rey Hotel, an 11-story building located
in the middle of Los Angeles’s infamous skid row.
Weingart’s services include short-term housing,
case management, health care, education and life skills
Wagner first became involved with the Weingart Center when a
friend and Weingart board member asked him to help out with the
organization’s first annual golf tournament and
fundraiser. Both Wagner and the golf tournament are sharing a
16-year anniversary on April 30, the date of the next
The Weingart Center’s clients are people who
have fallen off the grid and have trouble functioning, says
Wagner. They tend to lack basic survival and social skills.
"They don’t have what it takes to maintain
relationships so you can have a job and support yourself and
deal with the ups and downs that life throws at you," he says.
"Anyone who is down there at that level of impoverishment has
something that’s not quite working well."
One of the core reasons homelessness is such a difficult
problem to combat is that there isn’t one type of
homelessness or a single cause or a single profile of a
homeless person — there are many of each.
"You have this huge continuum of people, anywhere from a
six-person family living in a one-bedroom apartment and
spending half of their disposable income on rent —
that’s the higher end of the spectrum —
to the people who have severe mental issues out on the street
in downtown LA," says Wagner.
The recession has exacerbated the problem. Food pantries and
soup kitchens are feeling the crunch, and demand has increased
Another big problem is lack of affordable housing, says
Wagner. But having permanent and low-cost housing is key to
keeping people off the streets. One of Weingart’s
new initiatives is a permanent housing project. The
organization plans to construct and manage apartments where it
can place homeless individuals and families, and provide
Such initiatives demonstrate what makes Weingart unique,
says Wagner. "They’re trying to attack a hard
problem in a thoughtful way."