Why Fox, UTA and Paramount Execs Slept on the Streets of Los Angeles

Covhouse - P 2012
Eric Bushard

Covhouse - P 2012

Paul Hanneman, Julien Thuan and Liza Pano were among a group of business leaders experiencing homelessness for a night to raise money for Covenant House California.

More than a dozen executives from such companies as Fox, Paramount and United Talent Agency slept in cardboard boxes and on sleeping bags on Western Avenue in Los Angeles on Thursday night to raise awareness and support for homeless and at-risk youth living on the streets.

The execs asked friends and colleagues to sponsor each of them for a minimum of $5,000 for sleeping out. The money went to Covenant House, which helps its young clients to get off the streets, gain job training, employment and permanent housing and move to the next stage of their lives. It’s estimated that more than 5,000 young people are on the streets of Los Angeles every night.

Participants in the Executive Sleep Out event included Paul Hanneman, co-president at 20th Century Fox International Theatrical; UTA partner Julien Thuan; Liza Pano, senior vp worldwide distribution services at Paramount Pictures; and David Angelo, founder and CEO of ad agency David & Goliath.

Hanneman, who took part in the first Executive Sleep Out in New York City last year in 33-degree weather (the event has expanded to 12 cities this year), joined the board of Covenant House two years ago. “The fact that these kids are here and that they’re able to over time heal and move on is remarkable, and a lot of them have great attitudes. Having this push at Covenant House, a place like this where they can find comfort, can find educational opportunities, can find healthcare and be able to move on to the next stage of their life I think is the greatest thing in the world.”

His fellow board member Thuan, a motion picture lit agent at UTA, became involved with the group after being moved by a newspaper story about the plight of a homeless youth. He said that the experience often reminds him how much people can take for granted. He recounted the story of how one Covenant House client, when asked how fellow clients had inspired him, answered that it was something as symbolic as someone who had never even gotten their GED finding a job in Beverly Hills. “I work in Beverly Hills. Obviously, a lot of people who are in the film business work in Beverly Hills," Thuan said, "and it just occurred to me that this is something that has moved this kid to radically change his life. He sees that as the most amazing thing. It was quite moving."

Around 8 p.m., the nonprofit held roundtable meetings between the execs and some of the clients they serve. It was billed as a way for the clients to give the business leaders advice on how to survive on the street but became a way for them to tell their stories as well.

One of them, Brian Delgado, 20, lived on the streets for six weeks earlier this year before finding a spot at Covenant House, which provides transitional housing among other services. He told The Hollywood Reporter that when he was 18, he returned home one day to find a note on the door of his foster family’s house telling him he had to move out -- by 5 p.m. that night.

He said that being homeless placed him in dangerous experiences including fights, having a knife pulled on him and gun threats. “I didn’t think cities like Pasadena had gang problems,” said Delgado, "but it was a huge awakening waking up to three, four guys all dressed in black wondering what I was doing in their territory."

After the roundtables, the execs headed out to a parking lot adjacent to the Covenant House facility and chatted before bunking down for the night.

Covenant House California, which operates centers in Los Angeles and Oakland, is a nonprofit agency that has provided shelter and services to more than 160,000 homeless youth in California where they can work toward receiving health benefits, education and job opportunities. There are more than 20 Covenant House centers in Central and North America.

“I’m so lucky for the Covenant House because this is such a great opportunity to actually build your life back up,” said Delgado. “Everything is here, the schools are all laid out, and it’s the person’s opportunity to take advantage of that.”

Angelo, founder and CEO of David and Goliath agency, feels that executives are able to make a difference and should pay back what they have received that has helped them reach their level of success. “The reason why I’m here today is because somebody gave me a helping hand,” he said. “The people that are successful in life need to pay it forward and need to do whatever they can to help those who aren’t, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

After a night of rain, executives exclaimed that helicopters and police sirens were issues they didn’t think about that were just as challenging as sleeping on the concrete.

“It was nothing like I expected,” said Pano. "Instead of the cold that I was worried about, it amazed me how much noise there was to contend with and just how hard the ground was. It was difficult, but I had a bed and a home to go to after it was over. It was humbling to understand what so many have to deal with night after night.”

Added Hanneman: “It was a successful opportunity for the sleepers to experience the night of a homeless kid who does this day in and day out. It makes one appreciate their life but more importantly makes all realize how important it is to continue to raise awareness of the problems of youth homelessness and hopefully continue to raise money to combat it.”

More than $2.6 million was raised in total across the U.S.