Jamie Hill slept on the street for the first time when she was 12 years old. Over the years, she went from sleeping in motels with her mother to foster care, group homes and juvenile hall, Hill told The Huffington Post.
Two years ago, at age 24, she moved from Sacramento to LA, and her "home" became a spot on the grass in Shatto Park, off Vermont and 4th Street.
But the cycle of chronic homelessness ended three months ago, when she moved into her own apartment in Silver Lake. "I can take a shower whenever I want!," Hill, now 26, exclaimed to HuffPost. "I can organize all my stuff, instead of carrying it around all day."
Since December, La Kretz Villas, a new permanent supportive housing building, has welcomed 48 individuals like Hill who were low-income, homeless or living with HIV.
The land that the building sits on was donated by Morton La Kretz, a local real estate investor and philanthropist, to the nonprofits People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and real estate developer Related California. Related California and PATH, with the help of Councilman Eric Garcetti, then raised funds for construction of the building. On Thursday, Councilman Garccetti and community members celebrated the building's grand opening.
PATH CEO Joel Roberts told HuffPost that it's the residents themselves that make La Kretz Villas different from the other low-income apartment buildings his organization oversees. "Usually we'll get people from shelters or transitional housing. But a significant number of these individuals came directly from the streets."
La Kretz Villas residents were chosen, Roberts explained, after at least 60 volunteers from Silver Lake and the surrounding community took to the streets to survey the homeless. After asking questions about health, resources and income, PATH and the volunteers chose residents based on who seemed the most vulnerable.
Roberts explained that the idea behind providing individual housing before anything else is called "housing first." "The idea is that people can't deal with their issues if they don't even have a bed," he said. "Imagine struggling with depression or schizophrenia while sleeping in an alley."
Since individuals starting moving into La Kretz Villas in December, Kericia Sarpy, a PATH case worker, has been helping them with employment, health care, life skills and adjusting to living under a roof. "It's the little things, like learning how to go grocery shopping or make a budget, that are making a big difference right now," she said.
Because many of the residents are detached from their family and friends, Sarpy is organizing activities to build a community in the building. "They have no problem relating to each other," she commented. "They all come from common places."
Hill shared what having an apartment has meant for her: "It has given me time to figure out where I want to be in life and my values. It gives me a lot of structure. A lot of self-sufficiency. I feel more responsible."
"In the past, I didn't treat myself well," she said. "Now, I'm telling myself that I can do this."
Photos of La Kretz Villas courtesy of PATH.