Photo by Matthew Hall

With the assistance of a microgrant and a GoFundMe campaign that has garnered thousands of dollars in donations, a pair of Santa Monica residents have partnered to literally empower the local homeless community.

The Civic Wellbeing Partners have are working through a microgrant program that was at risk of becoming obsolete when the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Civic Wellbeing closed due to COVID-19 budget cuts.

Thanks to the efforts of residents like Catalina Langen, Julie Rusk and Claire Lemoine, the program currently has 13 projects in progress around town, including the Universal Human Rights Initiative’s campaign to give portable solar-powered chargers to homeless neighbors in Santa Monica and beyond.

“With a generous microgrant from Civic Wellbeing Partners and other individuals, we are halfway to our fundraising goal,” said Rebecca Cannara, executive director of UHRI. “We need your help to provide relief,” and only $2,271 is left to reach the goal of $6,000.

The fundraising campaign originally emerged from UHRI’s facilitated community intergroup dialogues, where a West Side resident, Tiffany Yang, informed by conversation between both unhoused and housed participants and organizers, took action to solve a challenge that unhoused neighbors face: dead cell phone batteries.

With so many businesses, libraries and cafes closed for in-person activities, the problem is only exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Access to power sources that charge phones, small electronics and medical devices are very limited for people who are unhoused. These devices provide essential access to social connection, safety services and other resources, Cannara said.

“During our Summer 2020 campaign, we distributed 125 of these chargers to unhoused adults and youth, and we heard firsthand just how needed these items are,” she said.

UHRI worked with Yang to create a fundraiser, connect with a supplier — Unite to Light — and distribute the chargers in partnership with Safe Place for Youth.

The chargers are described as handheld, portable and compact, but their impact is mighty, which is why Cannara and the Civic Wellbeing Partners feel the campaign is worthy of a social media share or donation.

“We see this effort as a timely action that could be easily replicated and scaled up for a big impact. Donating a solar charger is just one way to support vulnerable people in Santa Monica, and one piece of the puzzle to advancing wellbeing for everyone in our community, ”said Rusk. “The chargers came out of discussions that were happening months ago, pre-COVID, when people with lived experience with homelessness and residents of the Community House came together. Everybody learned that this idea of charging phones was a real pain point for people, so out of that was born this idea of supplying chargers.”

It was a team effort and it’s important to note that this project built off the action of other residents, so these are not just some random one-off projects, Rusk added. “They’re really part of an effort to build action that comes directly from residents. We want to change the things that will affect the quality of life and the wellbeing of our community,” she said.

Visit to donate.