The homeless rate in the city of Española, New Mexico, is six times higher than the state average and five times higher than the national average.
Jeff Padilla ’07 (English) is tackling this crisis in his hometown head-on and hopes to be part of the solution.
Padilla is the founder of Compassion Through Action, a nonprofit with chapters in Española, and his adopted home of Los Angeles, that helps those in need. Whether they are homeless, suffering from addiction, or just struggling with poverty in general, the organization provides people with resources such as food, clothes, tents, sleeping bags, and other items to improve their quality of life. Compassion Through Action aims to get people back on their feet and help them through their daily struggles.
Throughout his life, the CSUN alumnus felt the growing urge to give back in some way, but like many people, he didn’t know where to start. Padilla said he had a great childhood, with a loving family, good friends, health, happiness, and almost anything else he could ask for. He felt compelled to show his gratitude because he realized that many people lack the same opportunities in places such as L.A. and Española.
After years of focusing on other pursuits, such as acting, Padilla decided to take action in 2002. He began volunteering and making sack lunches for the homeless — sparking what has become a lifelong passion.
For the next few years, he kept volunteering while also thinking of ways that he could provide his own means of helping. Although he lacked the resources, Padilla made it his mission to ease the suffering of those in need.
“I didn’t know what helping out those who lived on the streets really entailed,” Padilla said. “But I did know that if I could just ease their suffering by offering them food, clothing, blankets, tents, sleeping bags, socks, shoes, belts, or anything else they needed, I am doing something to help.”
During his junior year at CSUN in 2006, Padilla started Compassion Through Action in L.A. Throughout the years, the organization has helped the homeless, people struggling with addiction, and those struggling with poverty. He was able to expand to Española in 2016, and he has plans on continuing in these locations for a long time. The organization also has plans to expand to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and any other community that has enough people to take on the challenge of helping.
Growing up in Española, Padilla said he never noticed a homelessness problem. Now, with the city growing and a population of slightly over 10,000, there are about 150 chronically homeless people on the city’s streets who need assistance. Most struggle with addiction, according to Padilla.
In L.A., he said, mental health is one of the driving factors behind the homelessness crisis. Although problems between locations may differ, the need remains the same, Padilla added.
“A lot of these people are just lost in their own head, and that is the saddest part,” Padilla said. “They are unable to get the treatment and the constant support that they need to … be able to live in an acceptable system. That is the true heartbreaker.”
Over the years, Padilla has formed friendships with those he has helped. A lot of those he has met are stuck in a vicious cycle of addiction and generational poverty. It is up to all of us to help our neighbors in need, Padilla said.
“In this life, there is always going to be someone less fortunate than yourself that you can help,” he said.
To learn more about Compassion Through Action and how to help the unhoused in your community, call (505) 800-5940 or visit https://compassionthroughaction.org/.