I held back tears for most of my Southern California vacation the summer before I came to Yale. Expecting to return to my vibrant and thriving hometown, I was distraught at the regression of the two issues I had made my life’s work to improve: poverty and mental illness.

I was born and raised in the city-by-the-sea. It was where I got my start as a community organizer and for years I championed community causes, built local support systems and mobilized ambitious campaigns to make Long Beach a slightly better place. So, when I moved upstate to the Central Coast in 2019, I had always planned to return. Once travel restrictions were lifted and I was fully vaccinated — and boosted, I made plans that summer to return home and hoped to find my city in better shape than when I left it, but that was far from what I found. The spread of homeless encampments had grown to a point I never imagined possible. The neighborhoods I once ran carefree as a child now overflowed with garbage. Too many people laid their heads to sleep on your hard cement sidewalks at night. Too many of your veterans carried cardboard signs offering to work for food. Too many mothers pushed shopping carts full of all their possessions down your streets with crying children in tow. And too many — far too many — people acted as though this was normal.

Our state boasts the largest economy in the richest country on Earth. If we were our own country, we would rank fifth in the world in wealth, ahead of India and right behind Germany. We have the seat of the tech world in the north, the heart of the entertainment industry in the south and our rich valleys in between grow the world’s fruits and vegetables. My hometown is among the largest contributors to that economy, yet we cannot provide a decent quality of life for all who live there. As I met and dined with friends in newly-reopened restaurants and diners, I hid my utter devastation as they shared the stories of their suffering in the last year. People who I once knew to be joyous and full of life now struggled with their mental health and did not have the means to get help. COVID-19 and the accompanying lockdowns were hard on all of us, but were harder for some of us than others. The systems I built with local leaders so many years ago to help support young people struggling with mental illness had not grown and blossomed to meet the needs of the community as I had hoped but instead withered and died under the harsh conditions of the pandemic.

I could not believe this was the same city, but left with a renewed sense of purpose and devotion to eliminating the injustice of poverty and mental health discrimination. That sense of purpose met its match when I got to Yale later in the fall. I felt the same pain and anger when I first arrived in New Haven and saw the sprawl of individuals experiencing homelessness juxtaposed with Yale’s grand neo-gothic towers. Later, as the year progressed and I learned about the horrors of Yale’s treatment of students with mental illness from endless wait times to being ghosted by Yale therapists, I knew more could and should be done. Like California, Yale contributes so much to the life of our country and has no shortage of resources, and should therefore have no problem working to improve the condition of its students struggling with mental illness and neighbors experiencing poverty and homelessness. Yale is the second-most endowed university in America located in the second poorest city in Connecticut, and is a leader in neurological and psychological research but clearly in not meeting the mental and emotional needs of its students — the future leaders of the world.

However bleak and disheartening my trip to Long Beach may have been and the current situation at Yale is, I still have hope. Hope, because we have to continue fighting the crisis of homelessness and poverty in our city. Hope, because we have to continue to remind our friends, family and neighbors experiencing the lowest of lows that they are never, ever alone. Hope, because we are the only ones who can make this university, this country and this world into all we know it can be. Let us dedicate ourselves to that cause and together build a world of light and truth.

MICHAEL NDUBISI is a first year in Saybrook College. His fortnightly column “A more perfect union” examines the American experiment, its flaws, and Yalies role in it.

Michael Ndubisi is co-editor of the Yale Daily News’ Opinion desk and one of the News’ Diversity, Equity & Inclusion co-chairs. Michael was previously an opinion columnist for the News, contributor and managing editor of ‘Time, Change and the Yale Daily News: A History’ and an associate beat reporter covering student accessibility. Originally from Long Beach, California, he is a sophomore in Saybrook College majoring in Political Science.