Aigerim's Story

As asylum seekers, Aigerim, her husband Almas, and their two young girls Ailin and Amina moved in with their cousins as a way to find a better life and save money. But living together was more of struggle than expected, and Aigerim and her family were forced to leave. Almas drove Uber and Lyft to support the family while they bounced around from motel to motel

Every day Almas would drop the girls at school, leave Aigerim at the library to look for work, and begin his driving shift. The family saved money by eating one meal a day while the girls ate breakfast and lunch at school. Then one day at the library, Aigerim googled “LA shelter” and found LA Family Housing.

LA Family Housing was a life saver
DSC04233.jpg

LA Family Housing arranged for the family to stay at a motel, and once space became available, they were moved to bridge housing. With housing in place, Aigerim found an opportunity as a teacher’s assistant with support from LA Family Housing’s employment team. A few months later, they moved into a new permanent home.

On their first night at home, Ailin and Amina ran through the apartment, laughing and squealing as the family ate instant noodles together.

DSC04248.jpg

“When we lived in motels and shelter, my daughters would always say, ‘Let’s go home. Let’s go home.’” Because of LA Family Housing, Aigerim’s family was able to go home.

Tiesha's Story

Tiesha, a Los Angeles native and mother of five, fled her home with her three youngest children to escape an abusive relationship. Heartbroken and afraid, she left her eldest children with their Aunt and moved to a small, inexpensive place in Vegas. After five years of being separated from her children, Tiesha wanted to come home.  Reuniting was bittersweet, because it also meant that the family was too large to stay with relatives. With nowhere to turn, Tiesha’s family found themselves on the streets.

JES_1937.jpg

Tiesha’s sister told her about LA Family Housing, who placed the family in crisis housing as they worked to find them a permanent home. After eight months of searching, Tiesha got the call from her Housing Navigator letting her know they had finally found them a home. “My eyes lit up like Christmas. It was time for me to go. I looked at my kids and I said, ‘You guys ready to go home? We have a house!’”

A home is a foundation. I couldn’t think about going to school when i was sleeping in someone’s truck
JES_1606.jpg

Now that Tiesha has a place to call home, she also plans to go back to school for child development.

Gilbert's Story

Gilbert was born in East Los Angeles, and lived in the area almost his entire life. He had a successful life, working in the fashion industry in Beverly Hills for names like Barneys and Saks 5th Ave. But he was living a double life. During the days he was a high-end fashion business man, and at nights he was sleeping on the streets. It all started after the death of a loved one. He fell into a depression and began drinking, and eventually he lost his job, his house, his friends, his family. He lost everything.

Finally Gilbert hit rock bottom. He decided to end his life – after shooting up 400 units of insulin and some pills, he jumped off a bridge. But Gilbert survived, and after he recovered in the hospital, he was offered an opportunity to go to rehab and a second chance. “I went in with the mentality of just to get off the streets, but it was life changing. Best decision of my life.” While in rehab, he was connected to LA Family Housing.

DSC04352.jpg

After a few months in transitional housing, LA Family Housing found Gilbert an opening at a supportive housing site. “Moving into my new home was the best thing in the world. The first thing I did was just lie on the bed. I knew it was time to turn my life around.” Gilbert entered an educational program through LA Housing Works and just completed an internship at Tom Bradley Manor, where he helped homeless veterans to get off the street, get their Section 8, and get into housing. “The best feeling in the world is to be able to help someone get their apartment. To see on their face the feelings and emotions that I felt myself.” Gilbert’s ultimate goal is to have a place of his own. “It’s a little frightening, but when that time comes, I’ll meet it head on. It’s been a while since I’ve said this, but I’m happy.”

Willesha's Story

JES_0327.jpg

Willesha and her family came to Los Angeles hoping to find better jobs and opportunities. Willesha, her husband Clifton, and their two young children moved in with their extended family. Unexpectedly, Willesha’s relatives changed their minds about living together, and due to the soaring rents in Los Angeles, Wilesha and her family found themselves homeless.

Clifton called 211,  got connected to LA Family Housing, and the family was quickly placed in a motel.


For one year, the family did their best to live a normal life, although living in a motel was far from normal. Unable to cook, they ate out frequently, surviving on fast food. Their son Jadrian struggled in school and was ashamed of his living situation. LA Family Housing helped to get the family back on their feet with case management, hygiene bags, transportation, and employment support. Slowly, they began to find their footing. Clifton found warehouse work and Willesha secured an administrative position at a local non-profit. When LAFH helped them find an apartment in Van Nuys, the couple knew that their prayers had been answered.

After moving in to their new apartment, one of the first things Willesha did was cook for her family - a true sign that the family had come home.


Yanette's Story

Yannette3.jpg

When Yanette lost her job at a local bakery, she was crushed. Her high-risk pregnancy was getting more and more challenging, and she wasn’t sure how she would care for her baby and her two-year-old son. Estranged from her mother, she moved in with her boyfriend and his roommate. When the friend sold their home unexpectedly, the couple was forced to find another place to live.

With no one to lean on, the family lived in their car: a sedan with a busted transmission that they sometimes had to push around. During Yanette’s pregnancy, Pierre worked odd jobs to bring in whatever cash he could. They lived in their car for two months before another family told them about LA Family Housing.

LAFH immediately placed them in a motel close to a grocery store and Yanette’s hospital. With resources nearby, Yanette didn’t feel as isolated and concerned about her pregnancy, for which she needed frequent checkups. LA Family Housing also provided her with baby products, a stroller, food, and other basic needs. Pierre began working with the LAFH employment team to increase his income. When she was able to go back to work, Yanette started at a retail store to make ends meet. LA Family Housing supported the couple through the housing process for 18 months before they found an affordable place to live.

We were so excited. The first thing Nicholas did was run into his room.

Yanette’s family moved into their new home just in time to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Now the boys can play in their room, and Yanette can bake, a passion that she wants to pursue in the future. Most rewarding is that she and her mother have reconciled, and now she visits her grandchildren in their new home.

Yannette.jpg

Ronnie's Story

We’ve got to keep up the fight to end the tragedy of veteran homelessness... (3).png

Ronnie, an L.A. native, has always had a passion for technology. After serving in the Air Force, the self-made IT engineer turned her passion into a career. Perfecting her craft for over 30 years, Ronnie dreamed of passing on her acquired knowledge to others. But when Cathy, her life partner of thirty-three years, became ill, she was faced with the reality of sacrifice, health issues, money concerns, unemployment, and eventually homelessness.

Ronnie moved around a lot in her early adult years, but came back home to California to care for Cathy’s father and his children. With three children now under her care, Ronnie stepped into the motherly role, guidance which she was deprived when she lost her mother at the age of 16.

Shortly after Cathy’s father’s death, Cathy too became ill and balancing work with the care of  her partner three children was more than she could handle. Ronnie had to choose: earn an income or care for her family. Ronnie gave up her job to be a full-time caregiver, a decision that later saved Cathy's life.

Shortly after Ronnie became unemployed, Cathy was rushed to the hospital with heart complications. Ronnie was the glue holding the family together during this difficult time. Over the course of treatments and medical bills, other responsibilities began to pile up. Soon, Ronnie and her family found themselves homeless.

An employee at Olive View Hospital, Cathy’s treatment center, recommended LAFH as a resource. After going through the intake process, Ronnie found comfort within the (former) Valley Shelter* walls. During her stay, Ronnie joined a nearby church which was formative as she entered the next phase of her life. It was through the church that she learned that “when starting anything, first you must find a purpose with what you are doing.”

Without missing a beat, Ronnie began volunteering in order to give back to her community. Every Tuesday and Thursday she serves food in the same quarters she once lived in. Ronnie introduced her fellow members of her church to volunteer as well.

IMG_4451.JPG

When asked why she continues to volunteer, Ronnie commented that “the folks didn’t ask to be homeless.”  Ronnie finds comfort in talking with her former neighbors from Valley Shelter. Seeing the positive progress that her friends make while volunteering adds to her continued purpose for giving back to her community.    

The future looks bright for Ronnie, and she hopes to start a program with LAFH and Bridge Housing that teaches participants about financial responsibility, computers, and eventually app development. With the help of her church and the resources provided by LAFH, Ronnie is back on her feet making a difference in the world.

“I know what it’s like to feel like the whole world has closed the door on you, and I don’t
like that feeling.”

Each+Person+must+live+their+life+as+a+model+for+others+%285%29.jpg

*In 2016, Valley Shelter was torn down, and in 2018 reopened as The Fiesta Apartments, supportive housing for 49 formerly homeless individuals.

Winter Wonderland

With the help of 140 volunteers, we gave away over 1,200 toys, contributed by Home Depot, Hasbro, Upright Citizens Brigade, and generous individual donors.

DSC00307.JPG
DSC00320.JPG

Home Depot hosted an activity center where children could build and paint sleighs, airplanes, and other crafts.

Volunteers and participants played Connect Four, Giant Jenga, basketball, and other games donated by Joymode, and Fotokem set up a home theatre experience and screened Smallfoot.

DSC00493.JPG

LA Family Housing offers a heartfelt thank you to our event sponsors, Adept Fasteners, Target, Airbnb, Amazon Studios, Lyft, Adat Ari El, Warner Brothers, FotoKem, and Home Depot, and to our volunteers and supporters who made this event possible!

Rashad's Story

RWinston.jpg

I’m sure you expect me to say that after living at LA Family Housing, everything changed for the better - well, that’s not my story.

When I was 14, I lived in LA Family Housing’s Valley Shelter.

For the majority of my childhood, my parents struggled with addiction and my life was incredibly unstable.

As a teenager experiencing homelessness, I was ashamed, embarrassed, and angry. I hid the truth from my friends, making them drop me off down the street after basketball practice instead of in front of the motel shelter.

Somewhere between walking home before the shelter curfew and waking up early to catch the bus, I made myself a promise - I would do everything within my power to ensure my kids experienced a better childhood than I did.

After we moved on, my parents continued to struggle. Once I turned 18, I moved out, completed my 2nd semester of my senior of high school and then went to college. After working several odd jobs, I started my own company that was focused on youth sports.  From there I became a real estate agent and then eventually launched Winston Group Realty, a real estate brokerage in Sherman Oaks.

Years later, when I was finally in the position to give back to a cause that is meaningful to me, of course I chose LA Family Housing.

Why give?

My family’s short stay at Valley Shelter 30 years ago (now the site of The Campus) was a defining moment in my life. And in the grand scheme of the past, it helped me in ways I was too young to understand.

As an adult, I don’t take for granted that I have a roof over my head and that my kids are safe.

I give because I’m raising resilient children.

So much was out of my control as a teenager.  I was at the mercy of my parent’s decisions, and sadly, their addictions.

I always tell my kids “Don’t focus on what you can’t control. Focus on what you can. If you do that, you’ll realize how powerful you truly are.”  I want my kids to know that their story is theirs to write.

I give because I understand that some situations are beyond our control.

There is no “deserving poor.” We are all human. Sometimes people make poor decisions. But everyone deserves the dignity of a home no matter their background or their vices.

LA Family Housing could have denied my parents a place to sleep. Where would that have left me? My brother and sisters?

I give because I know I can change a person’s life.

snowday2017.JPG

Outside of my teenage angst, there were definitely bright spots about living at Valley Shelter. Reliable meals - of course - but there were also Christmas, which no matter how old or aloof I tried to act, I was still excited about.

Volunteers and donors swarmed the shelter and passed out gifts. One organization even brought in snow! Now that was pretty cool. It amazed my younger brother and put a smile on my face.

Strangers with no connection to us spent their time and money to make us happy. Even for a just a season…and it mattered.

I give because I’m grateful.

It’s rewarding to look back and see where I started. Here I am today, married for over a decade, with four beautiful children and my own business that supports our everyday lives and our future dreams. Yet, I’m always aware that things could have been much different for me. I’ve shared the same experience that 53,000 people experience every day in Los Angeles: I was homeless.

I give because I can.

Today I’m proud to serve on LA Family Housing’s board, offering input and guidance that will touch thousands of men, women, and children in crisis. Homelessness was my past, and helping to end it in people lives…well, that’s my legacy.

Dominique's Story

After two years in an abusive relationship, Dominique felt trapped. With only a part-time job as an assistant, she couldn’t afford to move out. Scared for herself and her daughter Genesis, Dominique mustered the strength to leave and stayed with different friends for the next year. But bouncing around wasn’t healthy for her or for Genesis, and she sought help at LA Family Housing.

With the stability of bridge housing and support of LAFH staff, Dominique focused intently on her search for an affordable apartment. Using rental assistance from LAFH, she secured a home in just two weeks.

“I’ve never been more grateful.”

Today, Dominique enjoys the freedom and relief of having her own space. With her newfound peace of mind, she can pursue her dream of going to nursing school. Most importantly - Genesis now has a safe place to play and to call home.

Michael's Story

Michael’s Story

Michael, born on an army base while his dad was serving in the airforce, moved around a lot as a kid, spending most of his childhood between Los Angeles and Texas. After serving in the Marine Corps for 13 years on the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, he returned to the US and picked up his studies in Austin. And when he received a job offer in Los Angeles, he saw it as an opportunity to go home.

Michael hopped on the plane to begin his new life, and the next thing he remembered was waking up in the ICU at UCLA 11 days later. An injury on Michael’s foot had become infected, and the infection had spread to his bloodstream. Michael spent the next year in the hospital and recuperative care, going through six surgeries to save his leg and foot. Finally, Michael was better, and he was discharged from the hospital – with nowhere to go. He was out on the streets.

Through a referral from the Department of Health Services, Michael was connected to LA Family Housing and began his search for housing. It wasn’t long before he received word that he would be able to call the Crest Apartments home.*

“I feel safe and secure living at the Crest Apartments. It has case management on-site, a day room, a full community kitchen, computer room and 24 hour security for our safety. LA Family Housing staff help out a lot. I am thankful to LA Family Housing for helping me get back on my feet and off the streets. I’m thankful for the time and effort that they give to each and every one of the tenants at the Crest Apartments. LA Family Housing does not and will not give up.”

Michael shows off his skateboards bearing the logo of his future art studio.

Michael shows off his skateboards bearing the logo of his future art studio.

Now Michael is completing an Entrepreneurship Program at Pepperdine University and hopes to open his own art studio, offering art classes to the community. His room is covered in beautiful paintings and detailed skateboards, demonstrating his natural talent for art. For now, he shares this talent with his community at The Crest, offering art classes to the other residents, often combined with another passion of his: cooking.

“I teach an affordable cooking class because I want to help out and give back – I don’t like seeing people without food. I don’t ask for much, I just ask that people leave with a smile on their face.”

 

*The Crest Apartments are owned by Skid Row Housing Trust with supportive services provided on-site by LA Family Housing.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes - Taina

Taina's aunt told her as a young child that she would never amount to anything. And for a long time, Taina believed her. Taina's past is a story of pain and abuse. Going in and out of the foster care system, she also struggled with bipolar disorder and depression. She didn't feel in control of her life.

But today Taina is at Bridge Housing, and feels hopeful for her future. "I was a victim in the past, but not anymore. I'm responsible for my choices, and I choose to be positive." Taina has learned to read, she is three years sober, she is painting, and she is ready to learn to drive and find housing. Taina wanted to share this poem about her life journey:

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Walk a mile in my shoes and you will see my struggles

To some it may only look like trouble

Don't get your head twisted

I don't want to be another statistic

I'm just trying to live my life in pursuit

Of happiness, but sometimes

My heart gets filled with pain and disappointment and fear

So I fight to see the light

To be the woman that GOD wants me to be and

Never give up and always stay strong

cause only the strong survive

the pain and fear inside is only temporary

for I am not what they say I am

I am my own architect and through my words

I speak loud and clear so when the sun comes up tomorrow

I will put away my sorrows and embrace the day

Thanking GOD that i have a dream to follow

Walk a mile in my shoes and you will see my struggle

Bruce

I have lived what many would consider to be a gifted life. I’ve seen great success and benefit for my accomplishments. I’ve been the visual director for a major department store, I’ve run my own display, design, and decorating business, I’ve been a professional photographer, and the national visual coordinator for Disney corporate showrooms and tradeshows. My professional and personal life was all a dream come true...until it all fell apart.

Due to a life threatening health issue, hospital bills, an inability to work, and the loss of my home/work studio, I crumbled. This led to 6-7 years of homelessness, depression, and anxiety. A dear friend suggested I go to the LGBTQ center for possible assistance. The center offered senior assistance for those over 60. I met Michael Kelly (an amazing man) who connected me to LA Family Housing. And so started a long, arduous process of trying to find a safe and stable place to live. Through many ups and downs, through many hopes and disappointments, at last one day I got the call and was asked, “How would you like an apartment of your own in a brand new building?”

It was not an easy process, but finally the day had come – on January 9, I moved into a jaw droppingly beautiful, spacious apartment at The Fiesta. I was expecting something like a small college dorm room studio with a tiny mattress on the floor, but I wasn’t even close. When I walked into my unit, I was without words. I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievable and extraordinary it was to walk into this contemporary living space. What I can tell you is that in the afternoon we had a tenant meeting in the lobby. As the team spoke, the message rang out…”You are home now,” “You are safe.”

My eyes welled up with tears as the realization sunk in…this is my home, I am safe from tweekers, the streets, and domestic abuse. And I had the comfort of mind in knowing that my future had security and direction. The years of insecurity had passed and a new dawn of hope and optimism had emerged, a future of possibilities (previously out of reach) lay before me. All of our lives face challenges in our different paths, different forks in the road, different outcomes to life’s tragedies. But, without hope our paths can seem to lead nowhere. Yet with the compassionate efforts of LA Family Housing and its supporters, some of us can now see that path forward to a better place.

Marilyn Monroe once said:

“Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall together.”

And it was Nelson Mandella who said:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Better things are ahead and the seemingly impossible task of solving this humanitarian crisis, which is the homelessness epidemic, is not yet done. But, LA Family Housing and The Fiesta are taking a significant step towards making the impossible possible and to bring the better into our lives.

Proposition HHH and the housing-first approach to ending chronic homelessness in LA

Angelenos care deeply about our city’s homelessness crisis. And we know what the solution is: Building more homes.

Last January, as part of the annual census of people experiencing homelessness, nearly 8,000 volunteers counted 58,000 people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County — a 23 percent rise over the previous year. More than 34,000 people were counted within the city limits, nearly three-quarters of whom were living unsheltered and almost one-third of whom were defined as chronically homeless. The 2018 homeless count begins on January 23.

This city is in dire need of more supportive housing, a model that combines low-barrier affordable housing, healthcare, and other supportive services to help individuals and families lead more stable lives. Supportive housing isn’t the solution for everyone experiencing homelessness, but it can be for those with chronic health or mental health conditions or people who have experienced chronic homelessness.

There are approximately 6,500 supportive housing units in the LA area, according to the Homeless Housing Gaps analysis prepared by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, but the City and County of Los Angeles have determined we need around 10,000 more in order to address chronic homelessness. The free market has not shown a proclivity to build or sustainably operate supportive housing — that’s a big part of why we see thousands of people on our streets who should be housed.

Fortunately, in 2016 City of LA voters approved Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion supportive housing bond. The vote marked the evolution of Los Angeles into a “housing first” city, a sea change in attitudes that should not be taken for granted.

The housing first approach tackles homelessness by quickly providing a permanent home that includes the critical supportive services needed to maintain long-term housing stability, such as mental and physical health support, crisis intervention, and connection to community resources. It is a departure from other approaches to homelessness, where we first provide services to people still living on the streets and then offer housing later.  

More than 77 percent of voters supported HHH, agreeing to increase their own property taxes by an average of $33 per year to fund 10,000 units of supportive housing over the next decade. Then in March of 2017, 69 percent of county voters approved Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax hike to raise an estimated $355 million annually for homeless services and rental subsidies.  Measure H is also a key source of operating funding for supportive housing.

Now it’s time to get to work. The City’s Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) is implementing HHH in close coordination with key City Council members and the mayor’s office. There is a citizens oversight committee that meets on a regular basis and monitors all activity related to the measure as well.

In June, the City Council approved the first round of HHH-funded projects at $74 million for 615 units, 68 percent of which are designated as supportive housing. These were largely pre-existing projects that needed additional funding to move forward.

From here, the HHH program will not tackle existing development projects in the pipeline but rather fund supportive housing “over the counter,” not through a competitive process but rather for all projects that meet funding requirements. This past winter, the mayor and City Council approved HCID regulations to better frame the implementation of HHH funding going forward, including:

  • HHH subsidies are made available for any project with at least 50 percent supportive housing (with half of that reserved for chronically homeless people). The other 50 percent can receive HHH funds if the units are restricted to resident who earn 60 percent of the area median income or less. Subsidies are also available for buildings with at least 25 units of supportive housing, for those units only.
  • People offered HHH-funded supportive housing units must come from the countywide Coordinated Entry System, an innovative service delivery model and housing prioritization tool used by most homeless services providers to identify solutions for people based on their vulnerability and need.
  • HHH-subsidized projects must meet the following criteria and secure the balance of funding needed from other sources, most likely housing tax credit financing:
    • $140,000 per supportive housing unit
    • $100,000 per unit restricted to 60 percent area median income or less
    • $80,000 bonus for supportive housing units available until June 18, 2018 to help compensate for the lack of “No Place Like Home” funding, which will become available in late 2018.

There will be three calls for project proposals each year, and the first call closed on December 22. The goal is to approve and fund 1,000 units of supportive housing a year, every year, for the next 10 years.

The taxpayers of Los Angeles are investing in permanent homes as the solution to chronic homelessness. But we’ll need more than new funds and a streamlined approval process to reduce homelessness in LA. Land availability and community support are both critical components to any project.

When supportive housing developments are proposed in different parts of Los Angeles, we will need community members who are courageous enough to say YES. YES to building permanent supportive housing in their community. YES to advocating on behalf of families, children, and the most vulnerable. YES to standing with our homeless neighbors who need the necessary services to live and thrive.

This is the beginning of the solution to ending homelessness across Los Angeles, and we should all be a part of it.

Why isn’t there enough affordable housing — of any kind — in LA? Read three new research briefs from Lewis Center scholars.

This article appeared on the UCLA Lewis Center blog.