Ouedia came by bus from Westlake. A friend brought Crickett from Venice Beach. Patricia and Linda drove in the cars they’d been sleeping in. Mona was dropped off by her daughter. By the end of the day, the homeless women had met their new roommates, signed their rental agreements, washed and closeted their clothes and fought back tears reading the welcome notes waiting for them on their new beds.
Along with its emotional pull, the day marked a hopeful step into the unknown for a Venice couple who are trying to show what individuals can do, with only marginal help from the government, to house the homeless.
The 20 women and eight men now living in the newly constructed apartment building in South Los Angeles are all paying their own rent. Aside from Social Security, the primary income for most of them, they receive no subsidies.
Their landlords, Heidi Roberts and John Betz, were at the building that day to hand out keys and work out payment schedules. Roberts and Betz are mom-and-pop investors who own apartments on the Westside and in Long Beach. They have also long been active with homeless services groups.
Last year, they brought the two pursuits together after buying a property near Manchester Boulevard and Main Street from a builder who was leveling an abandoned house to make room for a small apartment building.
“Ten years ago, John and I were jumping up and down saying, ‘Housing, housing, housing,’ and they just never seem to get housing done,” Roberts said. ”So that’s why John and I said, ‘Screw it. Here’s housing.’”
Roberts, an advertising strategist, said she and Betz, a pilot in the Port of Los Angeles, aim to house 108 homeless people by the end of the year, a goal tied to her personal lucky number, but also what they think is doable.
They are now in escrow on two more buildings.
Crickett Sales lived two weeks on Venice Beach after her daughter in Connecticut kicked her out.
At the end of the day, Roberts, who wasn’t involved in selecting the tenants, had expected them to look more down and out.
“To be honest, they’re just like me,” she said. “They’re just women who have had some financial struggles.”
After the first impressions had passed, a more complicated picture emerged. In the days that followed, peer bridger Rachel Estrada assessed the new tenants for physical or mental disabilities. Eight of the 20 women scored as highly vulnerable.
Estrada, who has 122 clients in nine houses, said she would be by at least twice a week to work on the tenants’ “plans for success” and participation in self-help groups, both staples of SHARE’s program.
One afternoon, several of the women sat with Estrada on a sunny porch speaking almost giddily of their good fortune. So far they had only one suggestion for Roberts and Betz: individual closets.
“If you build another one, you ought to keep in mind we’re females and we need closets,” Sales said. “I have dresses, very frilly stuff.”