Ted Landreth, 74, is a documentary filmmaker who, along with his wife, Penny, helped start The Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition in 1987. He has been involved in helping the poor and homeless for three decades. A year ago, he started The Flying Squad, a group of volunteers “who don’t drive by.” Instead they try to set up meetings with individuals through messages left on Google Voice in a few hours or at least within a day at nearby coffee shops.

Why is it so important to have a face-to-face encounter with poor and homeless individuals instead of just giving them money?

“There is really nothing very complicated about talking to somebody about his or her problems, no matter how desperate the problems are. Some of them are certainly susceptible to relatively straightforward solutions. A volunteer organization that sets out to create one-on-one relations between the helper and the person who needs help, does a far better job of finding out what help is needed for that given person. Because instantly there’s human contact. If there’s human contact, the person who wants help and the person who wants to give help are actually doing something right away — just by talking to each other. As opposed to going through the paper-pushing motions, through the manual of what you can do and what you can’t do, who deserves help and who doesn’t deserve help.”

Why is it so hard to go up to a homeless person and start a conversation?

“For two reasons. One is the widespread impression fed over the years by the media and others that homeless people are dangerous. They’re mentally ill, drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals. And there’s a certain truth to that. Some of them are — just like some of us are. But there’s little risk to meet homeless people in a public place.

“Second, is just the pace of modern life, especially in Los Angeles. We don’t have time to make a distinction between somebody who looks like a bum or a criminal, but actually may be a perfectly nice guy down on his luck. And so we drive by or walk by. We’re a little bit afraid to begin with. And then we’re afraid that if we get into this we might never get out. Our lives might be sucked out of us.”

For a related story on the World Day of the Poor in Los Angeles click here.