Q&A with Barry Meyer and Wendy Smith Meyer: “It’s our responsibility to do what we can”

January 19, 2021

Inspired by a desire to alleviate the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, Barry Meyer and Wendy Smith Meyer, PhD, have teamed up with Venice Family Clinic to expand its street medicine program, funding the creation of a mobile clinic van to lower barriers to care for unhoused families.

Funded by a generous donation from The Barry and Wendy Meyer Foundation, the new mobile clinic van provides a way for the Clinic’s nine street medicine teams to offer private exams to people living on the street. The van is outfitted with an exam table, sink, cold storage and Wi-Fi, just like a regular doctor’s office. It also carries the equipment necessary to provide health care services such as drawing blood and other samples for tests, including rapid HIV and hepatitis C; vaccines; medications for medically assisted substance use treatments; and more.

Through their foundation, Barry Meyer and Wendy Smith Meyer have supported organizations that provide help to vulnerable children, youth and families, including local food banks and those that assist transition-age foster youth, who are often at risk of experiencing homelessness.

Dr. Wendy Smith Meyer is a licensed clinical social worker and retired professor who has been involved with Venice Family Clinic for close to 20 years as a member of its Board of Directors, Foundation Board of Trustees and a volunteer therapist. Barry Meyer is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Warner Bros. Entertainment. They spoke with us about why they made this impactful gift.

Venice Family Clinic: What inspired you to support our efforts in providing health care to people experiencing homelessness and those at risk of becoming homeless?

Barry Meyer: Homelessness was a massive issue before the pandemic, and the pandemic likely has made it exponentially worse, especially for families. We wanted to make an immediate impact on the ground. We saw some reporting on the medical needs of the homeless population with Dr. Coley King giving care on the street using a backpack. So we thought about doing something to help with the medical needs of homeless populations. And we had a real belief that if we were to do anything, we would want it to be with an organization that has a relationship with the community and could really execute an idea, and Venice Family Clinic has a history of doing that.

VFC: Why is it important to specifically help families and children experiencing homelessness or who may be close to losing their homes?

Wendy Smith Meyer: Philanthropically, we have long been interested in helping vulnerable children. The traumatic effects of separating families has been well-documented, as well as the role poverty and homelessness can play in leading to family separation. I think we can all imagine what it would feel like not having a home, how disturbing that would be, and how difficult that would be to live with such uncertainty day to day. So we wanted to increase supports for homeless families that can help them stay together.

VFC: What drew you to the idea for a mobile clinic?

BM: We saw the street medicine work being done out of a backpack, and we thought, “What could propel it to be even more effective?” Liz [Elizabeth Benson Forer, the Clinic’s CEO and executive director] first mentioned the idea of a mobile clinic to us, and it made so much sense. You could take more sophisticated medical care to people where they are and not need them to come into a clinic.

WSM: We wanted to make medical services even more accessible in a direct way, and we wanted to support our local community. Almost all of our philanthropic activities are local.

VFC: For other people who might also want to help, how would you describe how philanthropy can have an impact on homelessness, or any other area of need?

BM: For someone looking to give, there’s nothing better than knowing that what they’re contributing to is making a difference. We’re proud to be able to support the Clinic’s street medicine program. The mobile clinic van is one of the few things we have given to that we agreed to put our name on.

WSM: As people who are lucky enough to be able to be philanthropic, we feel it’s our responsibility to do what we can. I often think of the quote from Marian Wright Edelman [founder of the Children’s Defense Fund]: “Service is the rent we pay for being.” From those who have much, much is required.

VFC: Why did you decide to partner with Venice Family Clinic on this initiative?

WSM: I’ve seen the Clinic grow over the years and become increasingly effective. It has such an impressive group of people, from its leader in Liz to the staff, with a mission-driven atmosphere pervading everything. Even the clinic sites are innovative, from the architecture and design to the person-centeredness of it. Venice Family Clinic incorporates human dignity in everything it does.

BM: We couldn’t think of a better place to make this kind of impact on the ground.

VFC: What do you hope will be accomplished with the new mobile clinic van?

WSM: I’d like for the Clinic to be able to serve more people, to expand something the Clinic already does well in meeting the medical needs of a diverse population. With the increased capacity of the van, we may even uncover some needs that may not have been known about before, or known about sufficiently before.

BM: The main thing would be improving the health conditions for your homeless patients wherever they are. We would also like people to emulate this model, to see that this is effective and think, let’s do more. I hope that this would be the beginning of addressing the problem at scale.