A Yale Grad And Ex-Banker Was Homeless In Los Angeles. A Fellow Alum Offered A Way Home

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Written by Ann Brown
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Homelessness can hit anyone, and can hit anytime. This is what a Yale University graduate and ex-banker found out. Homeless camp in tents downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says he hopes President Donald Trump will work with the city to end homelessness as the president visits California for a series of fundraisers. Garcetti says the federal government could aid Los Angeles with surplus property or money to create additional shelters. Garcetti says he has not been invited to meet with the president. in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Homelessness can hit anyone, and can hit anytime. This is what a Yale University graduate and ex-banker found out.

Shawn Pleasants, who had an economics degree from Yale and job experience on Wall Street and in Hollywood, was homeless for 10 years in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles. Before finding himself homeless, Pleasants was depressed and using and methamphetamine. While on the  streets Pleasants, 52, depended on churches and other charities for free meals.

Earlier this year, CNN covered Pleasants and his plight as part of the network’s coverage of the homeless crisis plaguing California. The story was seen by another Yale alum. 

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“I started reading it — and just tears,” said Kim Hershman, who’d studied a year ahead of Pleasants at Yale. Hershman felt the need to help, especially after she learned Pleasants’ homeless encampment was just miles from her home.

“When we were at Yale in the ’80s, there were very few Black students there,” Hershman, the mother of twin teenage boys, told CNN. “Things are very different now. But I know that for whatever he achieved, something changed, and he didn’t have the support that, maybe, I had.”

Now a Hollywood business affairs consultant, Hershman is also an attorney who graduated from Yale Law School as well. And she wanted to take action.

The day after the story appeared online, she made her way to Koreatown to try to find Pleasants amid the tent encampments.

“I was a little nervous because I was, like, ‘Where am I going? I’m a 5-foot-1 female,'” she recalled. She went with two other Yale alums, including her significant other.

They found Pleasants, who remembered Hershman from school. 

“My big thing was: ‘What do you want? And based on what you want, I’m going to do whatever I can to help you,'” she told CNN, recalling that initial conversation.

“I want to make a difference,” Pleasants replied. “I’m in this situation, and there has to be a reason for it all, and I want to help others.”

Pleasants told her of his vision for a homeless resource center, where people living on the streets could take showers, receive mail, charge a phone or iron a shirt. Hershman said she would get him off the streets — but he had to agree to drug rehabilitation.

He said yes — but with a condition of his own: “I have to bring my husband with me,” he told Hershman, referring to his longtime partner, David, who had been living with Pleasants for years, even before they both became homeless.

“She’s quite charismatic and a persuasive leader,” Pleasants said. “And when she wants to do something, she does it, by golly. She’s an angel.”

She reached out to others to help her achieve this goal and a week later Hershman returned to check on Pleasants and to share a trove of supportive, encouraging messages that their Yale classmates had sent. 

“Hershman had arranged for Pleasants and his partner to stay in a guest house in the back of a posh LA estate. It has a pool and a basketball court. It sits behind a gate and is entirely private. The guest house, more than big enough to accommodate two people, has its own kitchen that Hershman had stocked with all their favorite foods,” CNN reported.

Pleasants checked into a rehab facility.

“Hershman had been prepared to front the cost for 30 days of Pleasants’ treatment, which she said amounts to just over $10,000. But upon entering the facility, she learned unexpectedly that California’s Medicaid Program, called Medi-Cal, would cover the costs,” CNN reported. “She’s also helping Pleasants get settled into more permanent housing using a federally subsidized Section 8 voucher, which he recently obtained.”