When we see homeless people the first impulse may be pity, and the tendency to ignore them. But as homelessness rises to crisis proportions, there is increasing urgency to take a more critical look at the roots, challenges, and solutions to the issue. A video of a subway opera singer made by a police officer in Los Angeles is helping to shine a light on the difficult situation of the homeless.
Emily Zamourka is not a trained opera singer, but as she held on to her bulging shopping bags and her cart – which held all her worldly possessions – she delighted commuters in a Metro subway station with her music.
A member of the Los Angeles Police Department recorded her performing Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s famous aria “O mio babbino caro.” As the video went viral, she has since become known as the “Subway Soprano.”
Zamourka, 52, came to the United States from Russia when she was 24 years old. A classically trained violinist and pianist, she made a living as a street performer. She related that two major events triggered her path to homelessness. Three years ago, a man destroyed her violin, and soon after she suffered a wrist injury that kept her from playing.
“That’s when I became homeless. When I could not actually pay any of my bills and could not pay any more of my rent.” She usually spends her nights sleeping on cardboard in a parking lot.
The now famous opera singer says singing in the subway feels like being on stage. “You know why I do it in the subway? Because it sounds so great.”
Homelessness is a complex situation that encompasses structural factors such as poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and inadequate mental services, and personal concerns including addiction, mental health, and family or relationship breakdowns, among others.
In 2019, based on data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, around 50,000 to 60,000 persons may be found homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County, with more than 44,000 of them on the streets.
The homeless come from varying backgrounds, rich and poor, including young professionals, war veterans, Ivy League graduates, and yes, classical musicians and opera singers – attesting to the gravity and difficult nature of the problem.
The video of Zamourka’s performance has garnered hundreds of thousands of views, inspiring so many people to reach out and help. After seeing her story on news and social media, Michael Trujillo started a GoFundMe campaign to provide Zamourka with assistance.
The campaign has since raised more than $56,000, which can help her pay for housing and other necessary services. Los Angeles Councilmember Joe Buscaino is also extending some needed support, stating that his office is working to find housing for Zamourka. He added that the opera singer agreed to perform at an event hosted by the Little Italy of Los Angeles Association.
Zamourka is understandably overwhelmed, stating that the outpouring of support has been a miracle. In many cases, the homeless just need a push – that spark of hope – that can help them get back on their feet.
Watch the video below: