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Meet Louis Tse of Los Angeles Room & Board in Westwood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Louis Tse.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Louis. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Born and raised in Arizona. I recently graduated from UCLA with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. During the day, I work at NASA/JPL building space robots and researching climate change. On my evenings and weekends, I spend my time providing food and housing to young people who need it most. I co-founded a non-profit called Students 4 Students, which runs shelters for students who don’t have a home, and it’s run entirely by their fellow students, for free. Most recently, I’m working to repurpose a vacant 50-bed sorority house exclusively for food- and housing-insecure students, alongside a collaborator and co-founder of Los Angeles Room & Board, Sam Prater.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When I was a student at UCLA a few years ago, I saw hunger & homelessness on campus firsthand. I witnessed some of my peers sleeping in spaces that were not meant for sleeping: classrooms, student lounges, cars, not to mention doubled or tripled up in unsafe spaces or relationships, ultimately not in control where they could sleep safely on a regular basis.

The numbers on college hunger and homelessness are only recently being studied, and the full dimensions of a tragedy are only starting to come into view. Approximately 5% of all UC students, 10% of Cal State students, and nearly 20% of community college students in LA experienced homelessness this past year.

Many students are caught in a perfect storm of two forces, each of them massive in their own right: the lack of affordable education, and the lack of affordable housing. This is not to mention a third, equally powerful reason of the deeply personal life circumstances. Coming from the foster care system, family conflict or tragedy, undocumented legal status, disowned because of your gender, or coming from a low-income background are often reasons why students end up without a place to call home.

Long story short, I decided to do something about it, because I knew what my pursuit of education meant to me, and my belief in young people compelled me to protect the thousands of opportunities that come along with earning a diploma, and falling just short, to the students living at the margins.

I decided to live in my car for two years, taking the bulk of my paychecks that I would otherwise need for renting an apartment, and repurposing it as the only way to fund the shelter at the time.

Los Angeles Room & Board – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Los Angeles Room & Board’s mission is to provide food & housing to college students across LA who don’t have enough food or eat, a safe place to live, and to ensure they graduate from college. We believe that students are humans first, and need to have their basic needs met (food, shelter, safety, belonging) in order to pursue their education and thrive (self-actualization). It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; simple as that.

The model is one of the most special aspects: we find underutilized spaces and repurpose them into housing for those who need it. For instance, there are plenty of dormitory rooms that are completely vacant, and colleges are losing money on them. We develop partnerships that are win-win by nature: it meets the bottom line, and most importantly, fulfills an important social cause.

We are currently preparing to launch the Opportunity House, which was a 50-bed sorority house that went on hiatus and was completely vacant. We’ve developed a multi-year partnership with the property manager to use the house, and in return, we can continue to do what matters for students in need.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Being able to play a role in someone’s success is a true honor, and it reminds me of one resident in particular. When I first met her, she was living in her car because an abusive partner kicked her out – unfortunately, women nearly always bear the fallout in domestic abuse cases, so she was living in her car. She was working on her final paper – 3,000 words minimum. She had written a thousand words, which was greater than the number of calories she has consumed since yesterday. But what moved me was not her plight, but her durable spirit and unassailable determination, and she kept a 4.0 GPA while staying with us.

We each have the power to create more justice and more joy in our communities using our own unique talents and energy to benefit those around us.

Pricing:

  • If you are in a financial position to donate, you can support the Opportunity House here: https://www.larnb.org/donatenow
  • If you care deeply about students’ basic needs but cannot donate at this time, you can share this story – we need more voices like yours to represent the students who need uplifting.

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Image Credit:

Bruin Shelter / Trojan Shelter

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