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NEWSPAPER ARTICLES about Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc.

Table of Contents

LAYSS: An Urgent Call for Help
Update Newspaper Editorial - Issue 805, May, 28, 1997

City Of Lost Angels-
For Troubled Gay Teens In Search Of Guidance, Jason Wittman Is The Patron Saint Of The Streets
EDGE Newspaper - Issue 360, April 30, 1996

Running With The Shadows Of The Night
Update Newspaper - October 30, 1996


LAYSS: An Urgent Call for Help

An Editorial
Update Newspaper - May 28, 1997

You have read in this publication about LA Youth Supportive Services and their director and only staff, Jason Wittman. We at the Update recently recognized his contribution to the youth in Los Angeles by awarding him our Crystal Heart. Now it is important for the community to financially get behind this program.

LA Youth Supportive Services just celebrated its second birthday. It has had very significant successes. Over 80 youth have been assisted to move from the streets and prostitution. Their savings program has allowed 29 youth to save over $10,600 so they could, by their own means, escape the streets. Their work with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids who congregate in West Hollywood, has saved many of them from suicide, drug addiction and help them to stay at home and in school.
The bad news is that this wonderful service, the only one that is available to all our youth 24 hours a day/7 days a week, is faced with going out of business unless they can raise some emergency funding. They need at least $4000 to get them through May and June.

I realize that this being just after tax day is a terrible time for such an appeal. If you feel as we do that this is a program that is essential to our youth in Southern California, then you will dig deep and give Jason and his organization the breather they so desperately need to tide them over until they secure foundation support. Such support looks promising but it is at least 2-3 months from now.

If you are one of our San Diego readers, you might ask why should I be interested in supporting an LA agency. Two reasons come to mind. First, many of the youth Jason works with come from San Diego and second, his program serves as a model for a much needed one for the SD youth. It will also be a training facility for staff of a SD youth program once such a program is established.

Please make your donations to LA Youth Supportive Services, Inc. And send it to 8111 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. They are equipped to process credit cards if you wish. For credit card donations or for more information call Jason Wittman at 323-951-0401 or They also have a web page at  Jason and LA Youth Supportive Services has been there, 24 hours a day/7 days a week for our youth. Please be there for him at this time of need.

Copyright © 1997, Dawn Media, San Diego, CA. All Rights Reserved

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City Of Lost Angels
For Troubled Gay Teens In Search Of Guidance,
Jason Wittman Is The Patron Saint Of The Streets

by David Ciminelli
EDGE Newspaper - Issue 360, April 30, 1996

Odds are, you see some of them every morning on your way to work. They're usually disheveled and sprawled out on bus benches. There's a hangover-induced glaze in their eyes. And their Walkman radios seem surgically attached to their heads, turned up loud, tuning out reality. By nightfall, their numbers and visibility increase as they crawl out of the shadows and into the street lamp spotlight, standing center stage, putting on their best front while waiting for an offer, any offer—food, sex for trade, drugs—and most of all, an escape. On any given night, you probably catch a glimpse of these nameless night people who congregate or wait in solitude on the street corners on or near Santa Monica Boulevard. They're some of the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 youth living on the streets of Los Angeles. Thirty to 50% of these homeless kids self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and have been forced onto the streets due to homophobia in their homes, schools, and communities. They come from all corners of the world to the City of Angels, chasing a dream for a better tomorrow. However, once they reach the mean streets of Hollywood, reality immediately obscures fantasy. Desperate, confused, and alone, most turn to survival sex, pornography, or theft. Or perhaps all three. Before long, HIV infection, rape, incarceration, addiction, and sexual, physical, and mental abuse become part of their day-to-day lives.

Like most people, you probably think about them for a few moments and perhaps wonder where they came from and how they ended up as just another statistic. Then you move on, and once they're out of sight, growing smaller in your rear-view mirror, they're out of mind, and, understandably, you once again concern yourself with your own needs. For Jason Wittman, these images of lost and forgotten youth have left an indelible impression. He has made the altruistic decision to dedicate his life to making a change in the future of these Santa Monica Boulevard refugees, and perhaps indirectly change the shape of the world in general.

Near the corner of Orange and Santa Monica Boulevard, miracles are in progress. As dusk approaches, outside a rusty, old van, Jason Wittman, Executive Director of Los Angeles Youth Support Services (LAYSS), prepares for company. He begins setting up a small tray of food, a jar of condoms, and a large bulletin board listing information about and phone numbers of various local help centers. Once everything is in place, Wittman sits back and waits for destitute street kids to come calling. Those who already know him periodically stop by to say hello, stock up on condoms, and grab something to eat. Curiosity usually lures the unfamiliar.

"They're free," Wittman says to one young man standing a few feet from the van, occasionally looking over at the tray of food when he thinks no one is watching. The youth saunters over and inquires about what is set out before him. Wittman invites him to take what he'd like, and the two engage in a topical conversation. What the youth doesn't realize is that this conversation is really an extension of Wittman's counseling.

A certified hypnotherapist, Wittman expertly matches the tone and tempo of his speech to that of the youth he is speaking with, putting the youth at ease and establishing a trust and rapport. So if and when counseling is needed, the youth will feel more as if he's having just another conversation with Wittman as opposed to being counseled.

"The truth is that I'm a lot more like everybody's uncle than I am a social worker," Wittman says later. "I'm always there to give responsible words of advice and to assist when assisting is necessary, and to let these kids find their own solutions when necessary. But I can't really tell them what to do. If I'd be aggressive in helping these kids, their defense for that is, 'Who asked you?!?' And they're right. Who asked me to help them? But when they ask me for help, I know they're ready to listen. I never give up. I know that if you stick with a kid, you, actually, we will eventually win."

Almost as soon as he completes his last sentence, he is distracted by the sounds of loud dance music bellowing from the speakers of a shiny sports car idling alongside the van. The man in the car exchanges a few pleasantries with Wittman and pulls away. As it turns out, the handsome 30-something-year-old in the car is David, formerly one of the very kids Wittman was just speaking about not giving up on.

David has always been, by his own accord, stubborn, strong-willed, and cocky, and never exactly a saint. But the twists and turns his life would take during his formative years didn't seem fair, even if he did ignite the fuse to an explosive lifestyle. His life in the fast lane would catch up with him years later, in a moment of self realization that he was heading for a downfall—a downfall fueled by drug addiction, isolation, and having to trade in his Midwest morals for the skills necessary for surviving on his own in the concrete jungles of Phoenix and, later, Los Angeles. His rebellious streak began in his preteen years, and he began experimenting with downers by the time he was 12 years old. By his mid-teens, he thought he found his ideal mate in Aaron, a man seven years his senior. After Aaron came out to his family and was virtually chased out of town by his Southern Baptist parents, the couple headed to the sunny confines of Phoenix to begin life anew. However, along with the change in scenery came an unexpected change in Aaron, who had become hostile and indifferent. A few months after arriving, David was left alone and homeless on the streets of Phoenix, too ashamed to return home.

"I wasn't to the point where I was hustling yet, but I definitely had no place to go," he recalls. "Had I not met Jason, who I called after seeing an ad he had in a gay magazine, I would have ended up on the streets because I'm pretty stubborn and I wouldn't have gone back to the Midwest just to hear my family say 'told ya so.' "I contacted him and he took me in. And he already had about four or five other people living in his house with him."

Perhaps it was the similarities the two shared in regard to the coming out process that established an immediate bond between Wittman and David. ;In 1975, just after graduating from Cornell University and after founding and managing two Ithaca, New York-based programs for homeless teens, Give Us A Chance (1974-75) and drug addicts, Alpha House (1971-74), Wittman, like David's boyfriend, decided to come out and then immediately leave town for good.

"Just after I got to Cornell, I started to realize I was gay," says the soft spoken Wittman, whose years of selfless efforts helping others clearly show in his eyes. "But my name was synonymous with Alpha House and with the youth program. I didn't think that I could get away with coming out. I had too many lives resting on my good name. So in 1975, I finally let my street program go. I let it taper off. There was no one to take it over. Most of the kids I was working with had graduated and were moving on.

"When I stopped the program and I came out, a Gay People's Center was just starting to get set up. And I declared very publicly that I was now going to be an advisor to the Gay People's Center. And then people started saying, 'That fuckin' Jason, as if dope fiends and street kids weren't bad enough, now he's taking on the faggots.' They never put together that maybe I was one them," he says with a laugh. "I could walk in and out of these gay establishments and I was still not out. So I decided to write my thesis, come out publicly, and leave town. And that's exactly what I did."

New York's loss was Arizona's gain after Wittman relocated to Tucson, which is where most of the street kids he encountered in Ithaca seemed to be running away to. He figured there had to be many opportunities there for a certified hypnotherapist and Neuro-Linguistic Programmer with a Masters in Social Work. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. "Not knowing how regressive Arizona is, I became very unemployed very quickly," he remembers. Adhering to his own "winners never quit, quitters never win" M.O., he quickly started a private social work practice, specializing in working with drug- and alcohol-dependent people, as well as problem and delinquent adolescents, teenagers, and adults with sexual identity problems.

Three years later, he made his way to Phoenix, where he started Arizona's first-ever gay youth group and outreach program, working with street kids who frequented the city's notorious Third Street, the Santa Monica Boulevard of Phoenix. At the same time, he was running this program, he worked two other jobs to support himself and six homeless teens he had taken in, including David, who had lived with Wittman off and on after several unsuccessful attempts at reconciling his relationship with Aaron. The turbulent on-again, off-again relationship caused deeper despair, leading him to seek refuge in methamphetamines.

"I was wild when I went back to Jason's house the second to last time," recalls David. "He said to me, 'If you're gonna live in my house, you're gonna go to AA meetings and you're gonna toe the line or I'm not going to put a roof over your head anymore. So I used to lie to him and go to AA meetings stoned out of my mind. After a while, I was so far gone that I just left his house and his rules and moved in with this guy who ran an escort service."

A few weeks later, after running away from his new crash pad and after spending some time in jail for a misdemeanor, David ended up back at Wittman's for what he thought was going to be the last time. "I never give up," says Wittman, explaining the reason behind why he kept an open-door policy with David despite his rebellious streak. "Kids are blessed and cursed at the same time," he says. "They're blessed with not having a lot of life experience, so they're willing to take risks in a positive way. They're also cursed in that they don't have experience, so they don't know of the pitfalls ahead."

David agrees. "People can tell you you need to get your act together, and people can tell you you need to go to AA," he says, "but unless you see it, it doesn't really matter what someone else says. When you're young and not on drugs, you think you know everything. And when you're young and on drugs, there's no telling you anything."Despite Wittman's warnings, David didn't see the pitfalls before him until too late, after leaving Wittman's house on a perceived temporary visit to the Midwest to attend his grandfather's funeral.

"That's when I realized that I was really hooked on crystal," he says matter-of-factly. "I used to think it wasn't a problem because I just did crystal on the weekends, but then I realized that my weekends lasted from Thursday to Tuesday. And I slept all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday and then got up and partied again. When I went back to St. Louise for the funeral, my body just went into major shock and withdrawal because I didn't have any drugs with me. And I realized that I was just way into crystal. To make a long story short, I stayed there for six months and dried out."

When he was ready to escape the small town blues again, David headed to the sunny shores of Los Angeles with $900 in his pocket and a sleeping bag in his trunk. "I was really immature at that time," he recalls. "I didn't want to work and I had to make my money stretch. So I slept in my car on Venice Beach and enrolled in one class at Santa Monica College's summer school so I had a place to shower and stuff. "I was surviving, but I wasn't surviving very, uh, legitimately. I began hustling and doing pornos and stuff. Then I began answering ads in the Advocate, and I went to work for an escort service. I was really wild, and there was no telling me what to do at all."

Coincidentally, while David was embarking on another trek to self destruction, Wittman was planning to relocate to Los Angeles to run a street program for homeless youth. "I had an ad in a gay magazine in Arizona looking for jobs for kids, and somehow or other somebody in L.A. saw the ad," recalls Wittman. "So, some guy called me and he represented himself as being the right hand man for a very rich man who wanted to help. I should have known the name Mark Welby was a little too phony," he says laughing. "But he talked to me for hours, so I figured there had to be some sort of legitimacy, because that's an expensive call. Finally he says that his boss is really interested in starting a program in L.A. and he convinced me to come out and make a proposal. It wasn't until after I got out here that I realized this was a phony operation. I found out later that the guy was a colossal chickenhawk. Welcome to Hollywood!" he says with a laugh.

"On my first night in L.A., I ended up staying at the Coral Sands," he recalls, unable to stifle a laugh. "And the guy who was running it at the time was the second bogus millionaire I met in the course of a week. It's funny how things work out; everything has a reason. That guy introduced me to these two guys who were running a small program on Hollywood Boulevard. The organization was run ass-backwards, and I wasn't going to get involved. But one of those guys introduced me to everything significant I did for the next four or five years, including hypnosis and hypnotherapy and the 12-Step Program. So I moved out here in 1982, which is unfortunately when AIDS started to become a big deal, and nobody was interested in the programs I was interested in starting."

For the next decade, Wittman set up shop at the Center for Successful Living in Hollywood, working in private practice and specializing in generative counseling, which included Neuro-Linguistic Programming, hypnotherapy and 12-Step counseling. He eventually landed his ideal position as Director of Youth Support Services at a West Hollywood-based social services organization for gay adolescents. During his time there, he designed, wrote, and received the funding for and implemented and directed a mobile outreach team that, in it's first year, successfully moved 48 youths off the street and into permanent housing. Unfortunately, when funds ran out, the agency dropped the youth program.

"My commitment is to the kids I work with, so the next logical step was for me to start a new program," explains Wittman. "So two years ago this month, I left the agency and started Los Angeles Youth Support Services, which was initially funded by my unemployment insurance. And since then it's been funded by the will of God and local contributions. And somehow or another I've managed to stay just above water."

Wittman keeps shop in a small office located in a drab building on Vine Street in Hollywood, in close proximity to the community in need of his organization's services. Inside the cluttered little office, mismatched furniture forms a little conversation pit near the center of the room sandwiched between donated and salvaged office equipment and two refrigerators stocked with donated foodstuffs. It's a safe place for Wittman's young clients to come and kick back, unwind, get advice, and just let their surrogate guidance counselor know how they're doing. On the coffee table in the middle of the conversation area are two huge glass bowls. One is filled to the brim with condoms. The other has just one packet left, proving LAYSS is reaching its target and putting condoms in the hands of teens involved in survival sex. Other examples of the organization's progress beams down from a bulletin board behind one of the sofas, where photos of smiling kids and thank you notes virtually cover the entire surface of the board.

One letter reads: "The greatest thing that has happened to me was meeting you, because you have not only been a social worker to me but like a father also. I will never forget the night you talked to me about making up my mind about going into the foster home. That night, you told me something that was so powerful it changed my life forever. You made me realize that the life I was living was unrealistic, and reminded me of my real goal—to go to school and become a lawyer."

Below that letter, another reads: "Without you I wouldn't be where I am now—living back at home with my family, attending school (and getting decent grades!), and gaining control of my lifeÉWhen I was ready to change my life, you were there to guide me on the right path."

David was another follower on that very path, but his was a much rockier road. After bouncing around L.A. for awhile, the fast life eventually caught up with David after long bouts of drug abuse had him trying to climb up a slippery downward spiral. By the time he realized that drugs once again got the best of him and it was time for a change, it was too late, he says. "I had done so much drugs that it triggered a really bad case of agoraphobia," he says. "I couldn't leave my house for weeks. I had a dog and I would just let him do his thing in the corner of the room and then clean it up later. I wouldn't go to the grocery store. I had pizza boxes stacked up in the corner because I just could not leave my house.

"One day, I had a job interview that I just had to go on. I got dressed in my suit and tie and went to go on my interview. But when I opened my front door I just stood there and bawled my eyes out because I couldn't get myself to walk out of the door. I didn't know what to do, so I called up Jason, who I had kept in loose contact with throughout the years, and he sat there and talked to me on the phone for the longest time. He got me, with the phone in my hand, to open the door and get outside and look around, and he managed to coax me out of the house.

"That experience was a traumatic turning point in my life. I knew I had to change or things were just going to get worse. So, after my interview, I went to see Jason and he got me into an AA meeting, and that is when I finally got it. I just thought, I cannot live like this anymore, I'm gonna end up killing myself. I got sober and four months later, I landed my current job, which I've had for ten years now.

"As fate would have it, Jason works just down the street from where I live. And a lot of times when I'm driving by at night, I'll see him down there at Orange and Santa Monica with his van, helping these kids, and, I don't know how to describe it, I get this little thing that goes through me when I see him out there doing that. It just gives me a really good feeling inside. "You have to ask yourself what kind of person can have such a strong devotion to helping others," he continues. "I think what he does is self-sacrificing. It takes a very special person to do that. It takes a very tenacious person to deal with these kids, to never give up, and help them turn their lives around. "If this world had more Jason Wittmans, there would certainly be a lot less kids on the streets."

Copyright © 1997, Edge Publishing, Inc., Los Angeles, All Rights Reserved

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Running With The Shadows Of The Night

By Fredric Ball, Assistant Editor
Update Newspaper - October 30, 1996

An L.A. man has sacrificed everything to help the at-risk youth on L.A.'s city streets go from harm's way to hope. This city angel has maxed-out his credit cards to finance his cause and hasn't taken a salary in 18 months, but who will help him?

LOS ANGELES: It's 9:00 on a Friday night in Hollywood and after working for almost 12 hours that day it will be several more hours before Jason Wittman's day is through. As founder and executive director of Los Angeles Youth Support Services (LAYSS), Wittman does something no other youth agency can claim, he hits the streets when everyone else has gone home for the night to offer food, advice, condoms and a friendly face to the Gay and Lesbian youth who dot the streets of Santa Monica Boulevard and West Hollywood hustling to pay for life's necessities: food and shelter.

"For me the biggest problem is that it's an economic issue,"says Wittman. "When a kid, who is young, 14, 15, 16, finds out he can get paid for what he wants to do anyway, and gets paid big dollars, why work at McDonalds? Why stay home? Why go to school if they can make $100 to $200 a night? Kids don't think for more than today. So they think to themselves I've got money in my pocket. I'm staying in a $50 a day motel room and shopping at Bullock's. Why do any of the stuff you want to me do?"

It's that mentality that Wittman is trying to break and he does this by providing opportunities for the youth he encounters: helping them complete their education and find jobs. Because many, Wittman says, don't see very far into the future. "It's three years later and this kid who was making good money isn't so pretty anymore, and they are not making that kind of money with no education. Now they have the negative feelings associated with hustling and they've picked up a drug habit or two and maybe even a jail record. Now it's a disaster."
Though the group has a pretty heavy name, Wittman is the only employee of LAYSS, though he hasn't collected a salary himself for almost two years. "I use to say I wanted to be a social worker, but couldn't live like one, which means they don't get paid much. And it turns out that now I am a social worker and haven't collected a salary for over a year and a half. So this is my life's work." Five nights a week Wittman loads up his mini van with day-old foods donated by Trader Joe's and Pavilions, along with condoms donated by various AIDS organizations and performs outreach services rarely seen in today's society.

Update caught up with Wittman on an unseasonably cold and windy night in Los Angeles as he made his daily rounds. After loading his van with food, condoms and two large bulletin boards featuring information on health issues, continuing education and employment opportunities, Wittman heads first from his weathered Hollywood office on North Vine to Santa Monica Boulevard, an area with the highest concentration of youth hustlers, and later to the streets of West Hollywood.

I followed behind the mini van in my own car and it was obvious he is well known in the area. While waiting at a stoplight, a young Latino man recognizes Wittman and gives a nod and smile. Wittman turns off of Santa Monica Boulevard onto a side street across from a popular pizzeria that serves as a hangout for these at-risk youth. As he brings his car to a stop almost immediately the youth come to see him and see what he has to offer tonight. Some come quietly, almost timidly to see what food and drinks he has to offer while others loudly announce their arrival, greeting Wittman as they would a close friend or relative, a role Wittman is quite comfortable with.

"You've heard of surrogate fathers, I'm like a surrogate uncle. It reminds me of when I was growing up and I would have an argument with my mother or father and I would go to a relative's house, an aunt or uncle, since they weren't authority figures, I could tell them things I could't tell my parents and knew I would get good advice from them."I This attitude is what has endeared so many of the youth he visits to him.

"Jason is a good person to talk to you when you're having problems. A lot of these kids come from broken homes, they're runaways, throwaway youth and they have no place to go, no one on their side. That's what Jason is: a person who gets these kids life back on the right track," said 22 year- old Jonathan. "He has helped me in more ways than I can count and he will never give up on you." Overhearing this exchange Gabriel, a thin, androgynous youth added "Jason is quite a unique man. You don't see any one else on the streets helping us like this."

Unique seems to sum up Wittman's life in more than just his experiences in dealing with Gay and Lesbian youth. Wittman graduated with a degree in business from Cornell University and later joined the Air Force as an officer where, Wittman, adds, he would get in trouble for counseling his airmen. "I was the base commander's representative for the troops and I got in trouble with the sergeants for talking to the troops. They thought that was their business. When I got out in 1968, I was strongly influenced by the hippy movement with its emphasis on service and decided to devote my life to helping others. If I hadn't been in the military, I probably wouldn't be here. I would have graduated as a business major in 1964 and I would have entered the corporate world."

Also unique is the sheer amount of time that Wittman devotes to his clients. An average day of around sixteen hours consists of counseling clients, attending juvenile court proceedings as well as taking his clients to various substance programs including Narcotics Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous. He then spends the rest of the evening and early morning counseling on the streets. Because he believes that his clients should always have access to a counselor they already know and trust, the kids have his pager number and he gets paged in the middle of the night, two to three times a week. He jokes, "other than that, I'm not busy at all."

On weekends he takes kids to 12 step meetings and, in the evenings, works with a very different group of kids. These are mostly gay and lesbian kids that live all over LA County and gravitate to the coffee houses of West Hollywood on weekends. Most of them live with their parents who usually are not aware of their sexual orientation. "These kids are at as much risk for suicide, substance abuse and running away as the street kids but because they are not as obvious as the street kids no agency but mine is working with them," Jason adds.

What followed his stint in the military was his return to Cornell, where he completed his master's degree in counseling psychology while at the same time creating and serving as the executive director of Alpha House, Inc., a residential therapeutic community that treated clients who had problems with addictions. He then created his first "street" program in 1974, Give Us A Chance, Inc. This precursor to LAYSS was a youth-managed agency that provided a youth center, a job program and counseling for the street kids of Ithaca, New York.

Wittman eventually found his way to California, after running street counseling programs in Arizona. After many years of private practice he joined the Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS). Wittman created and directed a program at GLASS that featured a team of social workers who offered conventional counseling as well as a mobile team that counseled street youth in their own environment. At GLASS Wittman increased the client population from 5 to 80 in a year and a half and his team moved 42 kids off the street. He seems destined to break this record of with LAYSS. "I'm now up to 68 kids off the street. Not bad for one person and a van,"Wittman adds with a smile.

One of those 68 youths Wittman helped get off the street was 19 year-old Carlos. When he was 17, Carlos ran away from home due to family problems and began hustling. "Jason approached me and asked me why I left home, what was my relationship with my family, where was I living, and so on. It was actually very comfortable talking to him. He's almost like a safety net for me. He really cares about me and the other kids."

When Wittman found out that Carlos had stopped going to school because he was having problems with transportation, he found a way for Carlos to attend on a regular basis and later arranged for Carlos to attend a high school closer to where he was staying. Since meeting Wittman, Carlos has stopped hustling, graduated high school. He works in a business consulting firm and has secured a position on the board of directors of LAYSS. "He also has helped me find part-time jobs in the past and now I'm attending a junior college. I want to be an attorney specializing in international finance law," Carlos adds.

Carlos concurs with the other youth about the incredible nature of Wittman's social work. "It's a gift he has within himself and he does (this work) in a way no one else does it. A lot of agencies might feed you and send you on your way but Jason goes to the root of the problem and fixes it with me and a lot of people. Since meeting Jason I've gone from a group home to a foster home to where I am today."

The enthusiasm these youth feel for Wittman is also shared by the Los Angeles Sheriff Department, namely Area Commander Bill Mangan. The two met three years ago when Mangan was the station commander for the Sheriff department's station in West Hollywood. "We hit it off immediately. We trusted each other and we had pretty good communication. He helped me to understand what was going on in the streets with the kids, including the kids who did not live at home, as well as the kids who hung out on the street, more about the culture. We tended to look at them as lawbreakers and not as victims. The more I found about what Jason does personally and the amount of personal commitment and sacrifice, the relentless determination ... I started to become quite a fan."

Because of his rapport with Wittman, Mangan made sure the deputies in the department were aware of his work with these youth. "It started out professionally. That the deputies understand what he did, make sure they gave him enough room to function as a collaborator with law enforcement, not necessarily an adversary. I could see that we we're really trying to address the same problems, but from different directions. During the time I was there I helped set up an environment to aid and succeed. It branched from there to more personal involvement, assisting Jason as a board member and help raise contributions. It's an ongoing effort and I've seen the results. But he's the one who sticks his neck out on the line, because it's dangerous on the street."

Since the creation of LAYSS, Mangan noted that there has been a change in the climate of the youth hustlers he has encountered. "I don't think our approach in law enforcement is really effective without the assistance of people like Jason. He takes people and successfully redirects them off the streets, sometimes after they've been arrested and after they've had a brush with the courts. He's dealing with these kids before we are, at times preventing problems. Anybody who meets him is going to affected by him. He leaves quite an impression on people."

One such person who was affected by Wittman was 23 year-old Scott. When he didn't think he was making enough money through his customer service job, the then 19 year-old turned to hustling to make some extra money. "I would be hanging out with my friends on West Hollywood and I was always getting propositioned, so I figured why not?" Scott continued hustling for the next three years, and though he says he hated it, he loved the financial perks. Then he met Jason. "One night I noticed my friends going up to his van and talking to Jason, so I followed them. When I met Jason he seemed really concerned about what I was doing. He told me that what I was doing was unrealistic."

The catalyst for Scott to stop his side-line business was an appearance on "Leeza" with the organization Children of the Night. "I remember riding back home in the limousine thinking to myself 'what have I done?' All my friends and people who know me saw it. That's when I decided it was time to stop."

Since that time Scott attended college and has secured a "really good" job with a credit card company and has nothing but fond words for Wittman's work. "He's done so much and he doesn't get what he deserves. Here are all these organizations out there who are just after federal funding, but he's not out there for that. He's there to help the kids," Scott adds.

Until they can secure ongoing foundation and governmental funding, LAYSS survives strictly on support from the community via donations and grants, which Wittman notes, are not that easy to come by. In recent months Wittman has been successful enough to obtain grants that have paid for his office space and utilities but there is a long way to go before they are out of the woods.

Please write to Jason Wittman, the Executive Director with your comments and questions.

Copyright © 1996-2014, Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc. All rights reserved.