Framework

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The Los Angeles city skyline glows and motorists whiz by as Roger Anderson, 47, carries his cardboard bedding across the 110 Freeway to bed down for his last night as a homeless man amid the bushes in downtown Los Angeles, where he has lived for the past four years. Anderson, who had been homeless since he ran away from an abusive father at the age of 13, suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson searches garbage cans for plastic bottles he can exchange for money in order to buy the next day's breakfast.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

After saying a prayer, Anderson lays down a piece of cardboard and unpacks his bedding on his last night as a homeless man.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Motorists pass by on both sides as Anderson sleeps.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson searches for his duffel bag of belongings hidden in the bushes along the 110 Freeway. He hid the bag during a hospital visit, after a street brawl left him with a cracked rib and head injury. An acquaintance had hit him with a beer bottle because Anderson had mentioned he was moving into an apartment.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

During his move into his new apartment, carrying all his belongings on his back, Anderson is greeted by Tara, a homeless friend he helped out. Anderson says friends call him "Hobo," a nickname that has stuck with him since he was 18 years old. Anderson says it stands for a motto he lives by: Help Other Brothers Out. "Not only does it mean in the literal sense, but also to don't let your actions cause problems for anyone else," Anderson said.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Sitting in the Joshua House Community Health Center social worker's office, Anderson celebrates the news that he will be moving into his first-ever apartment after being homeless for more than three decades. Anderson was given the opportunity to rent a studio inside the Gateway Apartments, a sleek new apartment complex that opened earlier this month and caters to the city's chronically homeless.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson, arrives at the new six-story Gateway Apartments on Skid Row, where he was moving into his first apartment in more than three decades.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson arrives in the lobby of the Gateway Apartments building.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson unpacks clothes from his stepfather's duffel bag, the only family memento he has, while moving into his apartment.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

During his move into his apartment, Anderson unpacks a broken mirror from his duffel bag, which he keeps as a memento of his homeless days.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson falls to his knees in gratitude as Anita Nelson, chief executive of SRO Housing Corp., presents him with gift cards to a local grocery store and a new TV. "It's like it's a dream," Anderson said, after examining a flat-screen television given to him through a program grant. "It's like I'm afraid I'm going to wake up."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson arrives home after his first shopping trip to Ralph's grocery store to use his free gift cards.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson cuts his hair and takes his first shower after moving into his first apartment. "Not only do I get to live in a place where nobody has ever lived in, but I get to sit on a toilet that nobody has ever sat on before," Anderson said.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Anderson makes the first meal he'll eat in his new apartment -- a sandwich -- after moving in.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

On his first day in his new apartment, Anderson relaxes on his bed with a sandwich while watching TV.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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A home for the holiday

Story by Angel Jennings; video and photographs by Allen J. Schaben

Roger Anderson has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

After spending more than three decades living on the streets — seeking refuge under bridges, in the woods and most recently on a small, grassy patch by the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles — the 47-year-old moved into his first apartment in time for Thanksgiving.

Anderson was given the keys to a studio inside a sleek apartment complex that opened in November and caters to the city’s chronically homeless. The space is modest with a kitchenette, spacious bathroom and comfortable-sized living space.

But for Anderson, the apartment is the first place he can set his wallet down without worry since he ran away from an abusive father at 13.
“It’s like it’s a dream,” Anderson said, after examining a flat-screen television given to him through a program grant. “It’s like I’m afraid I’m going to wake up.”

As Anderson settled into his space, his weathered hands shook as he placed new bath linens on a towel rack. He put a roll of toilet paper on its holder, then sat for a second to absorb the moment, tears welling in his blue eyes. Later, when he was presented with gift cards to a local grocery store, he fell to his knees in gratitude.

Located in the heart of skid row, Gateways Apartments was created to house those with long stints of homelessness, mental illness and drug and alcohol issues, in hopes that providing four walls and a bed will bring stability to the hardest-hit transients.

“They are costing the system a lot of money,” said Anita Nelson, chief executive of SRO Housing Corp., which developed the $28-million building on an empty lot. “And they have health issues where they need to be housed in order to get them stabilized.”

Eighty of the 108 residents were plucked right off the streets, she said. The remaining residents moved in from nearby shelters and emergency housing. They are required to pay 30% of their income or government assistance as rent. Mental healthcare, job training and medical, drug and alcohol treatment are provided on-site.

Deborah Martin, a recovering addict, is also on hand to help the residents. Now the property manager at Gateways Apartments, Martin said she was homeless for six years and racked up 11 felony arrests for drugs and prostitution. But through various programs, many of which are made available to Gateways residents, she was able to get on her feet and now wants to help others.

“I can’t say I walked in all of their shoes, but I’ve walked in some of their shoes,” she said.

Anderson, who suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, says he credits the persistence of Gina Jones, a Joshua House Community Health Center social worker, for helping him accomplish his goal of getting a home. Jones walked him through the 11-week application process.
“I thank God for her,” Anderson said.

Before Anderson moved into his new pad, he said, he checked himself into UCLA Medical Center to detox his body of alcohol. He also received treatment for a cracked rib sustained in a street brawl and a head injury after a drunken associate hit him with a beer bottle when Anderson mentioned he was moving into an apartment.

“I decided I wanted to quit because this is more important than drinking,” he said. “At this point in my life, I think drinking will hinder me.”

Inside his studio, Anderson marveled at the silence. The night before, at his sleeping spot near the 110 Freeway, the roaring engine of 18-wheelers and passing cars was the familiar lullaby.

“It’s real quiet,” he said. “I’m going to get used to it.”

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