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A Day In The Life Of A Homeless Woman At A Skid Row Shelter


In Los Angeles, the number of homeless women has gone up really dramatically - 55 percent in three years. Many of these women patch together their days between the streets and shelters. Anna Scott from member station KCRW recently spent a day with one homeless woman.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Just after 6 a.m., downtown Skid Row is already hopping.

DAWN GHAN: I'm in a hurry.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh, you got your friend with you?

SCOTT: Walking through the crowds of homeless people is Dawn Ghan, wearing shorts and carrying a shopping bag of clothes. She's been sleeping at a shelter here for five months.

GHAN: This is the Cuban corner because everyone's Cuban over here.

SCOTT: There are definitely nicer parts of LA to be stranded - the beach, for example. But like thousands of others, Dawn came to the area called Skid Row because there are beds and services here. Now she's used to the neighborhood's routine.

GHAN: Like, when it becomes morning, those are the people that have been up all night. And then you have at, like, the evening everybody getting ready to party.

SCOTT: Dawn is 41 and grew up half an hour east of here. Meth addiction is the main reason she ended up on Skid Row. It spiraled after her mother died.

GHAN: I didn't get to say goodbye to her either. Like, every day I just wish that she could see me sober and see that - the person that I am now.

SCOTT: Now, Dawn says, she's clean. And today, she's going to a job fair at the LA Mission, a shelter close to the one she sleeps in. She arrives early, a little past 7.

GHAN: I have a dress. I was wondering if you guys have like a cover-up. OK. Thank you.

SCOTT: Dawn changes into the black and white dress she's been carrying in her shopping bag. She puts on makeup and borrows a camisole. And by nearly 8, she's all dressed.

GHAN: Two hours to get ready.

SCOTT: For Dawn, ordinary tasks take extraordinary time and effort. Finally, it's time for the job fair.

GHAN: So I'm not sure how this works. Do we - if they're interviewing or if - what they're doing.

SCOTT: She browses the booths and fills out an application to work at an assisted-living home. It would pay $10 an hour. But she'll have to wait until the computer room opens upstairs to email her resume. Until then, it's back to the streets of Skid Row where temptation is everywhere.

GHAN: This is crack and heroin. Towne Street is clearly all heroin users.

SCOTT: Around 11, as lunch approaches, Dawn goes to an ATM, even though she doesn't have any money in her account.

GHAN: Please work. Please work. Give me money, please.

SCOTT: It works. She has a negative balance but 20 bucks in her hand. She uses it to buy a sandwich. Then she heads back to the LA Mission.

GHAN: So when is the career center going to open up? In 10 minutes?

SCOTT: By 1 p.m., Dawn's been up for eight hours. And so far, she's gotten dressed, filled out a job application and emailed a resume.

GHAN: This is how the day goes - all that running around and trying to be everywhere on time. And then you got nothing to do (laughter).

SCOTT: Dawn says she'll wander around until sunset, smoking cigarettes, talking to friends and to strangers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Actually try to record...


GHAN: I told you. The later it gets - now everybody - the music starts popping. I told you. Didn't I tell you?

SCOTT: Yeah. This is, like, when party time starts.

GHAN: Right. It's party time.

SCOTT: By late afternoon, the mood on the street has definitely shifted.

GHAN: Now people have been drinking all day, doing drugs all day. So this is - starts to get a little violent.

SCOTT: Yeah.

GHAN: Yeah. So I want to get you out of here (laughter).

SCOTT: Dawn hasn't heard back from that job she applied for at the fair. Still, she's hopeful. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Scott