A majority of teen-age single mothers can look forward to decades of low income and and dependency. It's a sobering statistic and the driving force behind a brand-new housing development near Downtown Los Angeles that offers not just a home, but the chance to finish school and acquire job skills.
Up to 60 mothers ages 16 to 21 and their children will live for two years at La Posada--Spanish for "the inn"--while they prepare for independence. (About 20 will be moved in by Christmas.) A vacant hotel was renovated with $4.5 million in public and private funds to provide modest bed-and-bath apartments. The $255-a-month rent includes on-site services such as 24-hour security, meals, counseling and child care so the young women can finish school, work or use to the resource center to learn computer skills.
"There is an assumption that these girls "have it made," but in reality they often have no support, are abandoned by their families and get trapped on welfare," says Beatriz Olvera Stotzer, president of New Economics for Women.
The nonprofit group, founded in 1985 by feminist Latinas, spent six years developing La Posada. The facility complements NEW's nearby larger affordable housing projects: Casa Loma, which has received national recognition for the support system it offers single-parent households, and La Villa Mariposa.
"Poverty can only be eliminated by addressing the needs of women and children," says Stotzer, a manager at the Department of Water and Power who grew up in Boyle Heights. "We've concentrated our efforts to give one community the housing and resources to realize economic independence."
A DAY IN THE LIFE
New Economics for Women staff works with such agencies as the YWCA and the Center for Employment Training to provide services to La Posada residents. After determining educational, job and housing goals, each mother works with a case manager who monitors progress. Here's how the program works for Sonia, 19, and her daughter, Risha, 2:
7 a.m.: Mother and child join other residents at breakfast in the communal dining room. Three daily meals are provided, since the apartments don't have kitchens. As residents settle in, some are expected to work for the service that provides meals.
9:30 a.m.: After cleaning up, mother and daughter play before Sonia turns to her independent high-school study program. "I'm a senior and hope to graduate next year. I plan to go to college and study ecology," she says.
1 p.m.: Sonia drops Risha off at day care before catching a bus across town to a part-time job at the Beverly Center. "Supervision can be arranged from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. to accommodate school and work schedules," says Project Director Sandra Villalobos. She is hoping for donations of additional childrens' clothing, work clothes for mothers, strollers and car seats.
7:00 p.m.: After picking up Risha and a meal from the kitchen, Sonia puts the baby to bed. She then continues her schoolwork or joins other mothers in classes on parenting, budgeting or self-esteem. "I lived with my mother before, but this is much better," Sonia says. "There's no tension. I'm learning how to be responsible. I thank God I have my own place and am not in gangs or on the streets."
A BACKER'S VIEW
"It's rare to see a project that provides for the needs of single parents, integrating social services and child care, the way La Posada does. We'd like it to be a demonstration project of what we'd like to do with our increasingly precious redevelopment dollars."