When Ashley Sundquist moved to Santa Monica, California four years ago, she noticed something different from the other places she’d lived. “I’ve lived in big cities much of my adult life; I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., Rome and New York City,” she says, “and none of those places prepared me for how many people here in Santa Monica are unhoused.” Santa Monica is part of the greater Los Angeles area, and according to city statistics, 907 people experience homelessness on any given night in the city; if you widen the area to include all of L.A., that number skyrockets to approximately 66,000.
During her morning commute, Ashley noticed how many people were living outside and gathering at the Santa Monica Public Library. Her gym was next door, and eventually, Ashley started crossing the street to say hello. Soon, she’d made connections with library employees and the people without homes who gathered there, and she began looking for ways to help.
She also became friends with a man named Joe, an unhoused member of the community who was often at the library. Joe mentioned he struggled with getting lost, which inspired her to turn to Google Maps and the app’s list feature. You can use this to create a list of places, like your favorite restaurants or places you want to visit on vacation. As an active member of the Local Guides program, a global community of contributors on Google Maps, Ashley was no stranger to sharing helpful information about her community with others.
So Ashley started creating lists for people in need. She made lists of resources for young people experiencing homelessness, food banks and restaurants that accept EBT cards. To make things even easier to find, Ashley bought the domains “lashelters.org” and “lashelters.com,” which send visitors to these lists. “Now when anybody in the world goes to one of those websites, they’ll see these maps,” Ashley says. Joe and Ashley also became friends, and he helped get the word out about the websites.