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Kobe Bryant leads thousands in walk to end homelessness

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Despite gray skies and rainfall across the county, thousands gathered Saturday morning at Exposition Park in downtown Los Angeles for the sixth annual Homewalk to End Homelessness in L.A.County.

Los Angeles Lakers all-star guard Kobe Bryant lead more than 12,000 participants on a five-kilometer- walk/run, bringing together millionaires and homeless walkers alike with the goal of moving 1,000 people off the streets and into homes for 2013, organizers said.

Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said that since Bryant joined the walk in 2011, the number of walkers for the event have more than doubled.

“Having Kobe Bryant has had a huge impact,” Buik said. “It’s great that he is focused on an issue so important in L.A., and it’s an issue that a lot of people ignore, quite frankly.”

Bryant has stated in the past that homelessness in L.A. is an issue he is particularly passionate about, citing the numerous homeless individuals he sees every time he is at Staples Center.

The walk, organized by United Way, focuses on chronic homelessness and homeless veterans, which Buik worries will become a greater issue as more soldiers return from Afghanistan. The walk is on track to raising a record breaking $700,000 this year.

Over the past five years, HomeWalk has raised $2.2 million and moved 12,000 individuals into permanent housing, organizers said. According to United Way statistics, 51,000 people are still homeless in Los Angeles County, 9,000 of which are veterans.

“So many people can sleep in the rain, we can walk in the rain,” Buik said, halfway through the walk this morning. “It makes the issue more real to us.”

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is matching any donation over $100, Buik said, and United Way will continue accepting donations after the walk on www.homewalkla.org.

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--Rosanna Xia

Photo: Kobe Bryant directs the offense as Jared Dudley defends. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / November 16, 2012

 
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