Care Closet LBC: Where Trash is Treasure
By Dianne Anderson
Duke Givens is talking trash again.
So far, he’s collected close to 800,000 pounds of trash in the past two years, and the homeless have all done it by hand.
It’s how he goes about his daily rounds at local parks, enticing the unhoused to help keep their areas clean by giving them all the essentials, like free gift cards, free tents, free water, free trash bags. After a while, they may even land a good job.
“We give them gift cards and they just got involved,” he said. “I’m not a clinician, but I do believe that it’s a type pre-rehab because people are getting lives changed 180 degrees. Employees say we’ll give that person a try.”
At his regular outreach, dentists give away free dental services and he holds pro bono expungements. One of their volunteers was facing a long prison sentence.
“When the court found out he was with the program, they said – time served,” said Sylvester “Duke” Givens, Founder & CEO of Care Closet LBC, Inc.
He is encouraged by increased donations. The city also donated a truck, and that helps.
“We get a lot of donations from people in this wonderful town, but they don’t want to be recognized,” he said. “As the saying goes that wherever the heart is, the wallet will follow.”
As he goes into different homeless camps in the city, the first thing he asks is what the people need, but he believes the homeless are in the best position to help others like themselves.
“Certain people have mental illness, drug addictions and some are hard on their luck but you have certain people that can really help their brothers and sisters. They know where the needs are and what needs to be done,” he said.
In February, the city released its 2022 Homeless Count, identifying 3,296 homeless with an uptick of 22% for those living on the streets or in homeless camps. Those living in vehicles increased by 380%.
Givens started outreach after he was inspired by a dream, not once, but twice. He took it as God pointing the way to help the homeless.
“I just asked people in Long Beach to help out. I put it on Facebook and we got like 500 sleeping bags. One lady bought 100 sleeping bags,” he said.
He gives gift cards with monetary value, and homeless volunteers keep coming back. Some have worked with him regularly for six months, an indication they are ready for more. He’s gotten people hired at the petroleum company and at storage companies. They stay on, and he mentors.
Last year, Givens received recognition in the Long Beach City College alumnus Hall of Fame for how he has taken his college learning experience to give back to the unhoused community.
Over three decades ago, Givens returned from Desert Storm, having served in the Air Force, and took up photography at the LBCC campus. He shared growing up during the city’s drug epidemic and graduating high school with friend, Snoop Dogg.
His Stop the Gang Violence calendar efforts were also recognized by the local NAACP and the state congress during the 90s for opening doors to help the community cut ties with gangs.
Today, he sees continued trauma, but not just mental health or drug abuse. More and more, he said people are really hurting, and many dealing with physical issues.
“I went through my back injury and I realized [they’re] not having any means to go to the doctor. One man fell from the roof. He’s hunched over in an L shape, he can’t even move,” he said.
Last week, Givens was out making the rounds, cleaning up near Martin Luther King Park, one of many areas where thousands across the city call home.
“We need to get land space and put the tiny homes out and go from there,” he said.
On July 22, Pamela Foddrell will also be distributing 500 backpacks for the homeless, including non-perishables, bottled water, snacks like cheese crackers, and fruit packs.
“We have drawstring backpacks filled with personal hygiene essentials, toothpaste soap, hand sanitizer, masks, sanitary napkins and tampons. We let organizations know that their clients need it,” said Foddrell, founder and executive director of The HOPE Foundation, Inc.
This time around, she’s giving 1,900 bucket hats away to help keep them shaded from the heat. The pandemic has been challenging to work with her disabled clients, but two small grants from the Port of Long Beach are helping with homeless outreach, and backpacks for kids returning to school.
At one time, there was a lot of homeless outreach at Lincoln Park, but she said it was closed for the new library and civic center, then the unhoused dispersed all over the city.
Now the homeless are everywhere.
“We do this every year, this time I’m having organizations like Mental Health America where they have the drop in center for the homeless to come and take showers and wash their clothes,” she said. “You can pretty much go on every corner and see the homeless.
To support Givens outreach, see https://careclosetlb.org/