Homelessness in Los Angeles is a significant and chronic problem. It is so much more challenging for homeless women to find safe shelter for themselves, their children, and away from addicts, violence, and sexual predators. The new Guadalupe Homeless Project Women’s Shelter in Boyle Heights is a facility designed for exclusive use of homeless women. The following article by Maya Sugarman of KPCC (89.3 FM) provides an excellent write-up of the shelter itself, and insight into the challenges facing homeless women in East Los Angeles.
For more than six years, Vickie, a 63-year-old homeless artist, did most of her sleeping on Los Angeles’ public buses.
“Nobody’s going to rape me on a bus,” says Vickie, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy. “It’s the safest place for a woman to be. The only problem is you never get to lie down flat.”
Fear of rape, violence and theft had kept Vickie off the streets at night. But she says that fear also kept her away from homeless shelters, where she could have gotten a bed.
“Some of them have bad reputations,” she notes. “The ones that have outstanding reputations are always full.”
What finally coaxed Vickie off of buses was the opening of a women’s-only shelter in Boyle Heights, one of a very few in Los Angeles, and the only one to cater to older women like her. The Guadalupe Homeless Project Women’s Shelter has 15 beds arranged in a converted classroom that used to house an after-school program. It’s run by Proyecto Pastoral, a nonprofit under the auspices of East L.A’s Dolores Mission. Most of the women are in their 50s and 60s. The oldest is 80.
Raquel Roman, the shelter’s director, says the need for a women’s shelter in East L.A. became clear last year, when the body of a 36-year-old homeless woman named Lorenza Arellano was found floating in the lake at Hollenbeck Park. Arellano had often eaten dinner at a men’s shelter that Proyecto Pastoral has run in the community for decades, recalls Roman, but because its beds were not open to women, she slept in the park. Police said she died of a drug overdose, though how she ended up in the lake remains a mystery.
“Her tragic death was a shock to all of us,” Roman says, “and I was really compelled to say, we need to provide services to women in our community that are in the same situation.”
Amy Turk, program director for the Downtown Women’s Center, a day center for homeless women, says that other than the new Boyle Heights shelter, she knows of only two other women-only shelters in Los Angeles, totaling roughly 300 beds.
Yet the need for them is great, she adds, because the fear of violence often keeps women away from traditional shelters, much as it did with Vickie. A majority of homeless women recently surveyed by the center reported being victims of sexual abuse or other violence. A vast majority said they preferred women-specific homeless services.
And yet “we hardly ever see any funding geared solely toward unaccompanied women who are experiencing homelessness,” Turk says. Women trying to escape abusive partners have more options. So do homeless women with underage children, but they tend to be younger, and overall the population of homeless women is getting older.
As they age, Turk notes, they’re getting sicker faster than the housed population, which makes it harder for them to stay on the streets.
Those challenges are evident among the women at the Guadalupe Homeless Project, where each evening they do daily chores before being taken by van to a nearby school cafeteria where they’re served dinner.
Carlette Luka, a 59-year-old from Hawaii, has an easy smile and a jovial demeanor, but suffers from high blood pressure and a bad hip. She uses a walker. Before arriving at the shelter, she says she often slept in a graveyard to avoid trouble.
Another 59-year-old, who sings in her church’s gospel choir and asked not to be named, treks out on foot every morning to look for work but is slowed down by plantar fasciitis and pre-diabetes. Several women are getting treatment for mental health issues.
The goal of most of these women is to eventually find a job and an apartment, a task made difficult by the reluctance of many employers to hire older women, according to Roman. Some of the women at the shelter face the added complication of being in the U.S. illegally.
But some of the women are starting to get back on their feet. At 53, Eva Gonzalez is among the shelter’s younger residents. She once had a business designing and selling dresses for quinceañeras. For reasons she’ll only hint at, she lost the business, and then her home. She stayed in hotels and with friends, then finally heard about the shelter and secured a bed there.
For weeks, she struggled to find work.
“They told me I was too old,” she recalls. Gonzalez finally found work selling dresses in downtown L.A.’s garment district, adding that she’s saving money and plans to get a place of her own.
Unlike some of the women living with her in the shelter, Gonzalez says she still has time to start over.
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
Yes, I stole I.D.I.C. from Star Trek, but it most certainly seems to apply with regards to the greatest and most unfathomable human emotion: love.
The lack of vaccinations for children under five years of age is atrocious in California. The article ”
More Calif. Kindergarteners Under-Immunized Than Unvaccinated” from CaliforniaHealthline.org has an excellent summary of vaccination rates statewide, and the appalling lack of vaccinations within Los Angeles County.
Quoting from the article:
While about 2.5% of California kindergarteners’ parents have opted out of vaccinations via personal belief exemptions, nearly 7% start school under-immunized.
According to Amy Pine, director of the Alameda County Public Health Department’s immunization program, under-immunized children still are “vulnerable” to contracting and transmitting diseases.
The rate of under-immunized kindergarteners who are admitted to school on a conditional status varies across the state. For example, the rate is:
- 12.28% in Los Angeles County — nearly double the statewide average;
- 11.62% in San Francisco; and
- 9.68% in Alameda County.
Few counties have taken steps to stem the number of “conditional entrants,” but some stakeholders have made recommendations to the state to improve the tracking of such students (“State of Health,” CHCF Center for Health Reporting/KQED, 2/2).
This is really a setting for an epidemic of previously eliminated childhood diseases, such as mumps, measles, rubella, and perhaps even polio. Only time will tell!
A transgender teen from Ohio committed suicide on December 28th. She was born a male, but strongly identified female from the age of four. Unfortunately, her parents did have room for a trans child as it went against their religious beliefs. Efforts at reparative “therapy” with “Christian” therapists seemed to simply drive the teen deeper and deeper into depression; until, seeing no way out, this teen stepped in front of a truck traveling down a highway at 2:30am, instantly dying in the process.
The teen, Leelah A., left a note on Tumblr, which is reproduced here in full. Her parents still refer to her as “him” and have not acknowledged anything to do with Leelah’s gender identity.
“If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.
Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.
When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.
I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.
So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.
At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.
After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
If you need help, there is help! Do NOT give up on the chance to live as you should be. Life is NOT an EITHER/OR question. Sometimes life is an AND. You can be transgendered AND live AND thrive AND cry AND grow AND have a life.
The Trevor Project is a crisis and support organization for LGBTIQ teens. They operate hotlines and a website. From their contact webpage:
We’re here for you. Please call the Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386) – it’s free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also ask for help on TrevorChat or TrevorText.
Talk to us on the Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386), over TrevorChat, or through TrevorText – our trained volunteer counselors are ready to listen.