Changing perceptions

Robert Moreno

Fri January 15, 2016 10:40am

Michelle Padilla has only been living in Eastlake for six months but she is already making her presence felt.
Late last year she created Helping Hands, a community group dedicated to raising awareness about homelessness and offering a helping hand to those in need.
The group started after she heard about a local woman posing as a panhandler before driving off in a Mercedes.
“All of these people were saying all of these negative comments on how the homeless are just ‘lazy and they should get a job,’” she said.
Padilla, 40, knows there’s a stigma about homeless people.
She knows some people are dealt life-changing blows that push them toward a life on the streets. Her brother is one.
She described him as a normal person who owned a pool installation business in Florida. Then a few years ago, while in his 40s, he unexpectedly developed schizophrenia, checked himself in and out of mental hospitals and, with nowhere to go, started living on the streets.
Several months after his diagnosis, Padilla found her brother and helped him receive the proper assistance through social services.
“It hits home,” she said about the reasons she started the group. “I just would like people to raise awareness that it is hard for individuals who are homeless.”
Helping Hands and about 119 volunteers recently assembled more than 170 Blessing Bags, bags filled with toiletries, snacks, water and other necessary items. The bags also contain information about resources for homeless people. The bags are to be distributed when a member of the group sees a homeless individual.
Padilla said she also started collecting clothes, blankets and winter gear with the intention of distributing them during the colder months.
“If I can change one person’s attitude to view homelessness differently, then the group is worth it,” she said.