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External link to Project 50: four walls and a bed project

Project 50: Four walls and a bed

With 643,000 homeless on any given day in the United States,  Project 50 took a bold approach to the problem on Los Angeles’ infamous skid row.

Project 50 took the 50 people deemed the most at risk of dying on the streets and put them into housing.  The idea: House them first, and offer them health and social services if they choose to accept it.

This controversial method of housing people who were “unhouseable,” at the tax payers expense, raises questions.

The logic was that the county hospital’s “frequent fliers,” the many homeless who live with an array of health issues that lead to frequent visits to the emergency room and intensive care, rack up bills of tens of thousands of dollars a year.

With the aim of illustrating how the program works and casting some light on the lives of people whom you rarely read about, Times reporter Christopher Goffard and photographer Genaro Molina started following the Project 50 staffers and participants in early 2008, as the program was still in the thick of finding people on the “most vulnerable” list.  The subjects of the articles are just a few of the people Goffard and Molina spent time with.

One of the big challenges was the same one outreach workers face: establishing some trust with people who have lived on the streets for years.

“The issues were varied and deep. People on skid row often suffer from emotional issues, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse,” said Doris Starling, an outreach worker for Project 50. “Some people, we don’t know the depths of the pain they are feeling right now.”

Molina found Doris Starling early on in the project.  Starling’s compassion and connection to those on the streets would give him a close insight of what Project 50 was attempting to do.

This is what made Starling stand out as the thread that would weave the journalists through this multimedia report.

“We need to remember we are doing basic human services. Basic,” Starling said. “Years and years and years. They didn’t get the help in the first year. They didn’t get the help in the second year. And so now you look at them and, 20 years later, this is what happened to them.”

Molina delves into the lives of six participants of Project 50.  Each person is dealing with his or her own issues, showing us what homelessness is about.

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