Service learning set USC Dornsife alum on a PATH to end homelessness
Tessa Madden Storms, who graduated from USC Dornsife with a degree in political science in 2011, works to alleviate homelessness issues in Southern California. Photos courtesy of Tessa Madden Storms.

Service learning set USC Dornsife alum on a PATH to end homelessness

After spending her undergraduate and graduate years volunteering for homeless service organizations, a Trojan Family member makes solving homelessness a career mission. [3 min read]
ByEmily Gersema

When Tessa Madden Storms moved from her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, to attend USC Dornsife in the fall of 2007, she began a journey of community service to help the homeless that continues today.

Her freshman year, Los Angeles County’s annual survey indicated more than 68,000 people were homeless in the L.A. area. Madden Storms was struck by the sheer number and visibility of the problem. She began to seek opportunities to help, including through USC Dornsife’s Joint Educational Project, USC Helenes and USC Campus Activities.

“Homelessness was a very obvious issue, and it was not something that was prevalent where I was from,” says Madden Storms. “I came at it from this point of view: Why is this a problem? It doesn’t need to be. There are obvious solutions.”

By volunteering and interning with organizations such as Chrysalis, which helps connect homeless people to job opportunities and other services, Madden Storms realized she could make a difference. She began planning a career in the nonprofit sector, and after graduating with a bachelor of arts in political science 2011 and an MPA from USC Price School of Public Policy in 2013, she followed one of her contacts at Chrysalis to another service organization, People Assisting the Homeless(PATH).

Photo of Tessa Madden Storms and PATH staff

Tessa Madden Storms (fourth from right) is senior director of development and communications and oversees PATH’s work in Santa Barbara.

The organization, founded in 1984, works to end homelessness for individuals, families and communities across California.

“We started this initiative to permanently move people off the streets back in 2013, and in the last five years have helped over 8,500 people ‘Make It Home,’” says Madden Storms, referring to the program’s slogan.

PATH’s efforts range from building new housing to advancing policies to support construction, placement and services such as health care, counseling and employment.

Many members of the public misunderstand the California housing crisis, as demonstrated by a recent statewide USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Nearly 30 percent of eligible California voters blame a lack of rent control as the main reason for the crisis, while only 13 percent believe that too little home building is a primary contributor to the state’s affordability issues.

“At its core, homelessness is a housing problem, and building more housing takes time,” says Madden Storms, whose work at PATH has included fundraising and communications as well as regional program management.

“Homelessness is affected by a combination of different policies, the availability of shelter, and how we are approaching it. There are continual raises in rents these days, and you see more people become homeless,” she says.

In the most recent count, the Greater Los Angeles Area had about 52,000 homeless. Public awareness of the issue is high. Last year, L.A.-area residents passed sales tax measures to support the construction of new housing and support services to end homelessness.

Knowing that housing is the key, PATH is moving an estimated 20 people into new homes each week. The company also has an arm that builds supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals, says Madden Storms, who now serves as PATH’s senior director of development and communications and also oversees the organization’s work in Santa Barbara.

“We own and operate over 1,200 units, where we provide a full range of supportive services on site. We do anything and everything in between to help our residents live stably,” she says.

Madden Storms says PATH also recognizes that homelessness is tied to multiple other issues that range from illness to job opportunities.

“At PATH, we have a ‘whatever it takes approach’ to ending homelessness. We have a wide variety of different programs and understand that everyone has their own unique set of circumstances that have led to homelessness. We work to strategically connect each individual client to the resources that they need.”