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Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of “I Love Lucy” stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, wants to do something about the homeless crisis in her home state.
The fellow performer has recently teamed up with Doors of Change, a nonprofit that aims to transform the lives of homeless youth. Since its launch in 2001, it has raised over $4.7 million and placed over 2,000 homeless youth in safe housing.
Doors of Change revealed that there is 3.5 million homeless youth in America with the transitional age group 16-25 being the most “undeserved” of the homeless population. Mental health referrals have increased by 105% in one year alone.
Arnaz is among several Hollywood stars who have come forward to participate in the cause impacting homeless youth. Seven beloved TV moms – Marion Ross, Jane Kaczmarek, Karen Grassle, June Lockhart, Ilene Graff, Dee Wallace and Michael Learned – have supported the efforts of the organization.
“I’ve been thinking about this very big problem – homelessness in America,” Arnaz told Fox News Digital. “I’ve been wanting to do something for a long time. I even had an idea of something that I could do, and I was going to ask my son to help me, but I just didn’t feel like I was equipped to begin from scratch, you know, reinvent the wheel. So I procrastinated thinking about it. But my father used to say, ‘There must be a way,’ and you put that out there in the universe. I wanted to get involved. And the universe was like, ‘I’m on it.’”
Arnaz said she was inspired after having a heartfelt conversation with Jeffrey Sitcov, the president and founder of Doors of Change. She wanted to use her platform for good.
“People are gonna pay attention to what I say and do,” she reflected. “It’s been kind of my nemesis my whole life. My mother used to say, ‘You’re a mark.’ And that can be a bad thing. Everything you want to do as a kid is like, come on, I need to get in trouble. Like other kids, I wanted to do something bad, but you can’t because you are a mark. Your name is out there and people will say, ‘That’s the daughter of so-and-so.’ Therefore, I’m very careful about what I do, what I get involved in. But if you can make a difference, to encourage other people to help, then it’s a good thing. I look at that now and say, ‘That’s a blessing.’”
“It’s just one way to give back,” she continued. “There’s just so much to fix on our planet right now. I’m overwhelmed by it. I’m sure other people are too. I like to think globally but act locally. It makes me feel like I made it. If I can do something for someone locally and get other people involved… then I feel as though I made it somehow. It’s important for me to use my voice, to help people make an attempt to do something.”
Arnaz noted that the homeless situation in California, where she resides, “is everywhere.”
“I live in Palm Springs – it’s nice and warm here, you know?” she said. “Especially during the winter time, a lot of homeless people come to this area because it’s a safer place to be homeless than a lot of other places in the country… But it still gets extremely hot. You see kids and adults sitting on the sidewalk with a bag for shade. It breaks my heart. And they all have different circumstances… Some will say, ‘I’m off the grid, I could care less.’ But so many others don’t want to be there. The kids certainly don’t want to be there.”
Sitcov told Fox News Digital that a common misconception the public has about homeless youth is that they choose to run away. He said that about “90% of the kids we work with on the street don’t want to be homeless.” They fled abusive households. Some of their parents are either addicts or mentally ill. Others endured conflict due to a lack of acceptance by family members over their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Los Angeles is among many cities struggling to deal with a surge in homelessness and large encampments scattered along sidewalks that have sparked public outcry. Earlier in August, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers during a meeting that was disrupted by protestors who said it criminalizes homelessness.
Supporters of the ban said homeless camps are a health and safety threat to schoolchildren, especially because of the disruptive presence of people with drug addictions and mental illness. Opponents said the measure would further criminalize homelessness.
Arnaz said the cause hits close to home.
“Without getting into the weeds about this – we have five kids between my husband and me,” she said. “He had two sons when we were married and then we had three more children, two boys and a girl. At various times in both my sons’ lives, they had been on the streets… One went through a real tough period in his life, in high school… And it kills you. It just kills you. And I knew exactly where he was when we were living in Westchester, sleeping on a bench, sleeping under a bench in the snow. I lived through this. And then my other son, a little bit later in life, was against everything that was happening in the world. You know, ‘I’m not gonna do this. I don’t believe in that. I don’t have to get a job.’ And you know, we could only help with so much. It was, ‘If you don’t even try, then we can’t help you.’”
“It’s a parenting nightmare,” she continued. “He was like, ‘OK, I love you guys, don’t worry about it.’ But he never really got the job. So he was homeless for a long time. Now he’s got his act together again, but it was heartbreaking to see your kid in a drain pipe, trying to thumb his nose, finger at the world and saying, ‘I’m going to do it my way.’ I can see [this crisis] from a parent’s point of view and a child’s point of view. He’s in his 40s now, and we’ve had talks about it. I’ve asked him, ‘What was it like out there? How scary was it?’ There’s got to be a better way.”
Arnaz is aware some critics may scrutinize her efforts. They may gawk at the idea of so-called Hollywood royalty wanting to discuss the homeless crisis impacting our youth. Arnaz insisted she is not fazed by the comments.
“I would tell ‘em what I told you – that I had kids who went through it for one thing,” she explained. “And I realized how incredibly lucky I have been to have had a roof over my head, people who took care of me and let me grow up in a home. I’m extraordinarily grateful. My mother and dad always taught us that you don’t look around and say, ‘Look at all the good stuff we’ve got.’ You look around and go, ‘Look how grateful we should be for all the good stuff we got.’… I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t have to be homeless for whatever reason in my life. I can’t imagine looking at your child in the eye and going, ‘You’re not good enough.’ So I do feel lucky I can give back. I can’t change what people think or say, but I can certainly try to help with the voice I have.”
In 1985, Ball played a homeless woman in the TV film “Stone Pillow,” a role so convincing that some initially believed that the TV star had fallen on hard times.
“I was busy raising three babies at that time and she was in New York doing that,” said Arnaz. “I don’t remember her talking to me about her preparation. But to me, I thought it was a Hollywood version of what a homeless person is. It wasn’t one of my favorite things that I’ve seen her do. She can be an amazingly good dramatic actress. If you ever look back at the movie she made with Henry Fonda, ‘The Big Street,’ oh my God, she just blew through the roof on that one. She was very capable in that area.”
Today, Arnaz said her sons have been thriving in the arts. She now hopes to make a difference.
“You can’t get anybody around this country to do two things the same way,” she said. “The country is so splintered in so many ways… sometimes these organizations will stand together and try to talk to somebody in the government to get something done. But you can’t wait for that… Work locally. Volunteer. Reach out. Write letters. Have your voice heard.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.