Formerly homeless and addicted to drugs, Ronald Troy Collins headlines a benefit concert in Playa Vista
By Shanee Edwards
At 57,794 souls and counting, it’s no secret that homelessness has reached epic proportions in Greater Los Angeles. This year’s official homeless count logged a 23% spike in homelessness over 2016, a trend fueled by rising rents amid a housing shortage that will be slow and expensive to solve.
The new documentary “Mighty Ground” offers a small ray of hope in relating the story of Ronald Troy Collins, a man whose life and exceptional musical talent was nearly snuffed out by addiction to crack cocaine.
Collins was homeless on downtown L.A.’s Skid Row for more than three decades. On Friday, he’ll headline a homeless assistance benefit concert and screening of “Mighty Ground” at the Central Park Bandshell in Playa Vista.
Produced by Venice resident Aimee Schoof, the documentary about Collins chronicles his journey from sleeping on the streets to becoming sober, housed, employed and a bona fide recording artist.
In the film, Collins reveals that his mother gave him crack cocaine when he was only 14 years old, putting him at the mercy of a dark and cruel god.
“Your god has control and power over you, so in that sense drugs were my god at the time. When I was under the control of that god, all my tears and fears were gone. My mind was numb to everything around me, even though it kept me in a state of depravity,” Collins tells The Argonaut.
“I loved the thing that was killing and destroying me.”
But, like a Hollywood movie, a twist of fate changed — no, saved — his life.
Schoof, who was committed to addressing homelessness long before headlines were calling it a crisis, founded Ama Yoga in 2010. The nonprofit brings yoga classes to residents of homeless shelters in hope it will bring some inner piece to people dealing with chaos in their lives. Schoof was proud of her work, but it wasn’t enough. She was contemplating a documentary series about homelessness with director Delila Vallot when the unexpected happened.
Schoof was hanging out with coworkers on the patio of downtown nightclub when Collins, then homeless, approached and asked if he could sing for them, presumably in exchange for a few dollars. Curious, Schoof agreed.
“After 30 minutes of him singing and talking to us,” says Schoof, “we all looked at each other and had this very weird, divine moment. We got each other’s numbers and I told him, ‘We’re going to help you.’ I called Delila the next day and said let’s grab the camera and go. I had no idea what this was going to look like, but a year and four months later, we premiered at the L.A. Film Festival.”
The filmmakers came together around Collins and eventually convinced him to open his heart to them. To trust them. To turn to music, not drugs, for hope. The film chronicles that difficult, often painful process for all those involved.
Collins now has a fulltime job and has been clean and sober for over a year. His first single, “Hell or Highwater,” is being released on Nov. 3 to correspond with the fundraiser in Playa Vista.
Proceeds benefit HomeAid LA, which pairs long-term homeless care providers with donors of housing units and care supplies.
While things are looking up for Collins, he’s acutely aware that many others remain in need.
Homelessness, he says, “is a human disease. It has to be fought as if we were fighting cancer. Doctors have to go in and do chemotherapy and prescribe the right medication. All the elements need to come together, and this disease can be cured.”
For Collins, the main ingredient for that cure is simple and within everyone’s power to give.
“It’s love!” he says with a hearty laugh. “Love is the greatest cure in the freakin’ world. Money will get you in a place to stay, but love will keep you there. Money will get you clothes on your back, but love will make you go out and get a job. Love, love, love.”
Collins will participate in a Q&A after the concert and film screening event at 6:30 p.m. Friday (Nov. 3) at the Central Park Bandshell in Playa Vista (12405 E. Waterfront Drive). $15 suggested donation. Visit homeaidla.org for tickets.