Community Hero: Amie Zamudio works with the local homeless population to do ‘whatever is needed’
Amie Zamudio has spent decades serving the local homeless population, working to find them housing and seeing to their basic needs while providing a connection that recognizes and honors their humanity.
“I do whatever is needed,” Zamudio said, which starts with building a relationship with those she encounters. “I’m very person-centered in my work, which is a little different than the status quo.”
Zamudio, a current Bird Rock resident who has lived in La Jolla since 1979 and a La Jolla High School graduate, said she works “very hard to meet people where they are at. There are people in different spaces, and they are in their predicaments for many different reasons. When you go in with a preconceived set of notions of what you think is best for that person, that’s how we often fail our housing insecure neighbors.”
Being “person-centered,” she said, means spending “at least 10 hours a day out in the community with people who are housing insecure,” the term she prefers to homeless.
“I think my style is definitely different because I prioritize listening first,” she said. “I don’t ever approach anyone with, ‘Oh you need to do this, or you should be doing this.’ I put a lot of authentic effort into building relationships with people. In getting to know them, you can find better pathways to healing, self-determination and success.”
Once she’s established a rapport with those she serves, Zamudio can then connect them with various programs to arrange housing, such as the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.
Zamudio said her first step after connecting to someone who needs help is to get housing, before addressing possible issues like mental health or substance abuse. “It’s very hard for people to get well on the streets,” she said, but “the housing inventory is very limited.”
Zamudio said “what we’re seeing is housing insecure people who have medical issues are going to the emergency room and when they are discharged, we simply don’t have the capacity to provide for them. A lot of them go straight back to the streets.”
A breast cancer survivor herself, Zamudio said she works to find those who need medical care a place to stay so they’re able to get well. “I really value life.”
“I have a really high success rate when I try to get people inside first,” she said.
She also started her “own privately funded hotel program” at the outset of the pandemic in March. “I quickly started bringing in our at-risk elders into hotel rooms while we were waiting for housing matches and next steps,” she said.
Zamudio also serves as a board member for Shoreline Community Services, a nonprofit aimed at serving the homeless population of La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. “Our concept at Shoreline is working collaboratively with everybody in San Diego,” she said.
Caryn Blanton, who co-chairs Shoreline, invited Zamudio to join the board several months ago after being aware of Zamudio’s work for years. “She’s been out there serving as an advocate for people who are on the streets forever,” Blanton said, work that aligns with Shoreline’s mission to create “a safe, thriving welcoming neighborhood for everyone who lives here.”
Zamudio is “the real deal,” Blanton said. “She’s compassionate, she’s knowledgeable, she’s dedicated, not just to getting people out of the situations they’re in, but she’s dedicated to finding solutions, working towards making change for the future.”
Blanton said Zamudio’s “biggest asset is her connection to those who are living the experience on the street. She is up and out at four in the morning, every morning. She does her rounds to make sure the people we know are safe, that they’ve made it through the night. She’s our woman on the ground for sure.”
Zamudio is “highly trusted,” Blanton said. “She knows that this isn’t an issue that is served well by judging people. There’s no shame; she makes people feel welcome, loved and cared about. That’s what draws people to her.”
Zamudio is motivated by “personal impact,” she said. “My own father, who owned his own health food store in Dallas … became very ill” while Zamudio was a student at San Diego State University. After he was diagnosed with leukemia, he and Zamudio attended a family reunion in Texas, during which she realized “he had become homeless. He hid it from me.”
Zamudio’s father died “housing insecure in Dallas,” she said. “It took several weeks for the police to contact me. That was in 1992. My drive is personal, raising awareness that housing insecurity can happen to any of us, at any time, due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s not always substance abuse or mental health. There’s many faces within housing insecurity.”
Zamudio said she has “invested a lot personally, and willingly so,” operating under the belief that “housing is a human right.” She currently has “two housing insecure individuals” in her home, which also functions as a storage center for donations, with wheelchairs, walkers, sleeping bags and clothing stashed away for those who need it.
“My car is the mobile unit of the beach area,” she said. “It always has sleeping bags and supplies in it.”
Her car also doubles as a conversation space, she said. “Commonly, you’ll see me with one of our community members that just needs someone to listen, because there’s a lot of trauma out here on the streets. I’m a mobile mental health clinic until we get an official one.”
“There’s something beautiful every day,” Zamudio said of the work she does. “There are so many beautiful, wonderful people out there. I tend to be friends with a lot of the seniors who are housing insecure, and just sitting and listening to their lifelong stories, you hear lots of surprising things about their accomplishments. [It’s] kind of learning history firsthand.”
Zamudio is “a very rare person,” Blanton said. “This work is difficult; it’s all-consuming. She lives it, she breathes it. It shows in the work that she does.”
To support Shoreline Community Services, visit shorelinecs.org.
The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. ◆
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