Hope Gardens

January 26, 2012

By Lucy Nicholson

Lilly Earp changes the diaper on her 5-week-old baby sister Emily with the confidence another child would have cradling a doll. She’s only 8, but she already shows the street smarts of an older child as she helps her mother. It helps to be resourceful when you’re homeless.

Her mother, Doreen Earp, 38, who is originally from Germany, and her three children ended up on the street after her relationship with Emily’s father fell apart. They stayed in a hotel for a month, then with people from their church and eventually ended up with no roof over their heads.

Today, they’re lucky to be among the 150 or so other homeless women and children living at Hope Gardens on the outskirts of LA. It’s a place where those at the end of the line are given a life line. The shelter for families is an oasis compared to where most of LA’s massive street population lives on a grim patch of downtown’s Skid Row. While homeless services are concentrated downtown, it’s no place for a child.

The number of homeless children is at an all time high in the United States. One in 45 children, totaling 1.6 million, is currently homeless, according to a 2011 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness. California is ranked the fifth highest state in the nation for its percentage of homeless children. An increasing number of children are dependent on poverty-stricken single moms.

The Earps are amongst 45 mothers, 96 children, and 24 elderly women being helped by Hope Gardens, a homeless shelter for women and children, run by Union Rescue Mission on 77 acres (0.31 square km) of countryside on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

The mothers are given therapy, and classes in life skills, parenting, financial planning, and encouraged to apply for further education, so they can get more than minimum wage jobs. They can stay at the center for up to three years if they’re in college. All the children attend after-school classes, and the teenagers are taught about domestic violence, job interviews, how to have healthy relationships, and how to communicate better.

Kids grow up fast when they lose the safety and comforts of home.

Earp’s 10-year-old daughter Lindzy overhears a woman telling her mother that she is going to an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting. Lindzy persists in quizzing her mother about what that means. After hearing her explain it as simply a class, the girl retorts: “I know what NA is, I just wanted to see what you would say.” These moments of maturity are eclipsed by the normal trappings of childhood at the shelter – the games and toys that replace those the children lost with their homes.

Doreen nurses her newborn as her older daughters run and shriek in the playground with other children. Birds chirp in the surrounding pine trees. A stream gurgles into a koi pond.

“They’re able to be kids here,” she says.



(View a slideshow of images here)

10 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

great photos………….

Posted by prativad | Report as abusive

We need to have hundreds more centers just like this one! Anything that can help break the cycle of poverty elevates all of us.

Posted by Marla | Report as abusive

Would be nice if our politicians and business leaders focused on some real social issues — like building a robust middle-class rather than creating a country of extreme poverty.

Aaah but it’s tough to focus on real issues from the high altitudes of Davos.

Posted by JusticeNow4U | Report as abusive

(1) IF the mothers can’t even pay for housing, give the children to their fathers.

Stupid irresponsible woman to take off with the 3 kids and nowhere to go. They are NOT her property. They should have remained with their father

(2) If neither parent can afford to support the kids, give them to relatives.

(3) If there is no family to tkae them, put them up for adoption.

Living in shelters and poverty with their uneducated inept mothers is worse for them.

Posted by onthelake | Report as abusive

onthelake sounds very like the kind of consumer of things universal, who will have a pet for a limited time period and when it is too old or inconvenient, will ‘rationally” have it put to “”sleep”. Of course you would never sit up with it and watch it die. You leave that messy process to professionals.

You also assume the father is in better financial condition himself.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

My critters stay with me ubtil they die of extreme old age. Want the $1000 vet bill run up in 36 hours trying to save a cat born with renal disease,

I COULD spend that money on my kitty – this woman breeds with no idea of how to provide for them,

And yeah assuming the father at least has a roof over his head is reasonable – the vast majority do.

Point is that this ‘oh I’m a single mother so feel sorry for me…’ garbage is getting very old. They did NOT spawn all by themselves.

If they can not care for them, then the owe the kids a duty to give them to the other parent who can or the grandparents or aunts/uncles and if that all fails then to someone who can take care of them.

They CAN NOT provide for their kids – and ‘oh I’m a single mother and jsut spread my legs and bred without thinking and nor I hate the father….’ is a load of bullhockey.

Absent the father being dead, in jail, or a total nut case who beats the kids, then they would be better off with their PARENT – their father – than the woman who can not care for them.

Posted by onthelake | Report as abusive

isso e´ culpa do governo americano que gasta bilhooes com as guerras.

Posted by eduardo1418 | Report as abusive

onthelake — simple answers to complex situations are usually the product of simple minds.

Posted by lordkoos | Report as abusive

@onthelake – You will keep a cat alive to the tune of @1000.00 and wonder why a mother would cling to her child? It also isn’t at all clear whether any of these women actually ever had husbands or even stable relationships. I suspect most didn’t.

And I more or less agree with eduardo1418 – the government has been using wars for generations to flush surplus males – I’m almost convinced.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Wow. Ignorance is bliss. It seems you have it all figured out. Its nice to be on the judgement seat when you have no idea how this woman or anyone finds themselves under the roof of a homeless shelter. Your assumptions are profound indeed.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive