Christmas at Hope Gardens Several women and children formerly living on L.A.'s Skid Row are spending their first Christmas at Hope Gardens. A former retirement facility surrounded by acres of open space, it's a model for shelters around the country.
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Christmas at Hope Gardens

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Christmas at Hope Gardens

Christmas at Hope Gardens

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, holiday travelers, no presents yet? No problem - tips from a travel writer on where to find great gifts on the way at the airport.

First, the National Center on Family Homelessness says there are more than 1 million homeless children in the U.S. The center says that kids and moms and other women are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population.

In Los Angeles, reporter Gloria Hillard visited a place called Hope Gardens. It's where some homeless women and children are finding a home - at least for a while.

GLORIA HILLARD: San Julian Street, the name suggests maybe a suburban cul-de-sac.

Reverend ANDY BALES (President, Union Rescue Mission): This is one of the meanest streets, this Skid Row right out of our back door - San Julian. When I came, our kids would be hanging out on the sidewalk here and see murders happening right in front of their faces.

HILLARD: Reverend Andy Bales runs the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles.

Rev. BALES: This is just a tough spot and not a place for women and kids.

Unidentified Woman: I no lied to you. Look at what they're just smoking down there, look.

Rev. BALES: Yep.

Unidentified Woman: Look at this right here.

Rev. BALES: Smoking crack cocaine.

Unidentified Woman: No, they're smoking cocaine over there. See?

Rev. BALES: Yeah.

HILLARD: Here, women and children are the prey of the predators on the street, he says.

Rev. BALES: Like those two little girls who just went by.

(Soundbite of police alarms)

HILLARD: Jackie Yurgin(ph) remembers the sounds of San Julian Street. The 59-year-old spent the last nine years there, mostly in drug-infested hotels a couple of blocks away.

Ms. JACKIE YURGIN: When I was on Skid Row, I had a room. And he just showed another hotel. And I prayed in those (unintelligible) with this place you give, would you please give me a window so I can sit and watch the rain? And I had my window.

HILLARD: A window that looks out onto a field of oak trees and a rose garden.

Ms. YURGIN: Because I have been on the other side. And nowhere is the light. And this is better. You know, like I said, this is being like being in heaven. And if this - if you see I'm on like this, please don't touch me because I don't want to wake up.

HILLARD: It's a sprawling residential community called Hope Gardens. And for the nearly 100 homeless women and children who now call it home, you could say the place does live up to its name.

Ms. SARAH SCORVA(ph): The Hope Gardens is a second chance. And it's beautiful, and it's safe.

HILLARD: Sarah Scorva defies what one might consider the face of the homeless. The 30-year-old could pass for a model. She grew up in Watts and then went on to Pepperdine University before enlisting in the Navy.

Ms. SCORVA: You know, I was a woman that tried to stay focus. And I thought I'd be so much far ahead of the game than I am right now. Yeah, I didn't - I never expected, you know, to be homeless or in this type of situation.

HILLARD: She got a divorce and had to move around a bit. And then she and her 6-year-old son ended up in a church shelter for a night, and then another. There were so many children at the shelter, she said, her son thought they were on a camping trip.

Ms. SCORVA: Elijah, slow down. I thought you were sick, munchkin.

ELIJAH: I'm not.

HILLARD: Elijah is a little bit closer to camping now, running down a path with falling red and gold leaves. When the Union Rescue Mission had the chance to buy the abandoned 78-acre retirement community, Andy Bales thought it was by divine providence - the perfect place for abandoned women and children, most of whom are escaping domestic violence.

Rev. BALES: Moms have time to not only rest up a little bit from the struggles of life but to gain a lot of skills and save a lot of money so that they can actually advance their life, and get a better job and move into a nicer place, and not be left in the barely-surviving struggle that many programs offer.

HILLARD: Like hotel vouchers or section 8 housing that provides shelter that is until the vouchers run out or the rent goes up. Here, the women can stay as long as they need to, for the senior women, the rest of their lives. The only thing Bales requires is that women be committed to making a change in their lives.

(Soundbite of people conversing)

HILLARD: Many of the women here refer to their children as little soldiers -soldiers because they have seen so much and survived.

For the next two years, Hope Gardens will be Sarah Scorva's home. That'll give her time to finish college and watch her little soldier become a child again -the child who was very anxious to show his presents under the tree.

ELIJAH: This is my pet(ph). This is my present. This is my mommy. And this is mine and this is mom.

HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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