Family Goes From Foreclosure To Skid Row
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Because of unemployment and foreclosures, more and more families are seeking assistance from the last place they ever thought they would: a homeless shelter. And as reporter Gloria Hillard found, desperate circumstances are sending people to one of the most desperate places in America, a neighborhood where thousands of homeless congregate, Skid Row in Los Angeles.
GLORIA HILLARD: Colin Coquiza(ph) has been in his new job as hospitality director for a little more than a month now.
Mr. COLIN COQUIZA (Hospitality Director, Union Rescue Mission, Los Angeles): You know, sit down and interview our guests as they come in and get them a sense - get them comfortable...
HILLARD: It's a position for which he's well-qualified. For 15 years, he worked in guest relations at a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, a world away from here. This is the Union Rescue Mission, located in the heart of Los Angeles' Skid Row.
(Soundbite of public-announcement broadcast)
Mr. COQUIZA: So, you can imagine my - the adjustment I had to make mentally from, you know, who's your guest from, you know, Rodeo and Wilshire Boulevard to Skid Row. I always say God has interesting sense of humor.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HILLARD: Coquiza came into his new job at the Union Rescue Mission after first coming here with his wife and three-year-old daughter seeking shelter. A recent business venture had failed. At the same time, the townhome he was renting was foreclosed on.
Mr. COQUIZA: Stayed in a motel for about two weeks. That pretty much tapped out everything we had in savings and then, you know, it was, where do we go from here?
HILLARD: Coquiza is not alone. Calls to six other shelters in surrounding areas report a 40-to-50 percent increase in families seeking assistance. Gary Blasi is a UCLA professor of law and poverty attorney. He has worked with the homeless for 30 years.
Professor GARY BLASI (Law, University of California-Los Angeles): I think we are probably headed into the worst situation that we've ever seen. I think increasingly, when you see two-parent families headed into homelessness, it's entirely a matter of the economy and their having exhausted every other possibility.
HILLARD: Andy Bales, the director of the Union Rescue Mission, says for those families, a homeless shelter is often the last resort. When I spoke with him, the workload had taken a toll on his voice.
Reverend ANDY BALES (Director, Union Rescue Mission): Often, people turn to family until family gets worn out or gets in trouble themselves, or people go to a hotel or an apartment until their resources run dry.
HILLARD: He says the biggest challenge facing the Union Rescue Mission today is meeting the need, just as it did during the Depression.
Rev. BALES: We want to live up to our history by stepping up services to the many families that are going to be coming our way now.
HILLARD: Bales is in the process of converting an administrative floor to rooms that will accommodate 39 two-parent families. There are currently 38 single-parent families at the shelter. Newcomers navigate the halls with their eyes cast down, embarrassed to speak about their situation. Children seem more resilient, appearing from around corners wide-eyed, a new toy in hand. There are few destinations here - the cafeteria, the day rooms where TVs flicker, and the chapel, where every seat is occupied.
(Soundbite of choir singing)
Rev. BALES: When you're facing homelessness for the first time, it's a scary situation. You don't know what's at the end of the tunnel.
HILLARD: Shelter Director Bales says the biggest challenge for the newly homeless is finding the courage to try again. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.
(Soundbite of choir singing)
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