A Different Lotto

Times Staff Writer

The day is beginning to heat up and the man under the tent raises his bullhorn to start the raffle.

“174! 174!” hawks Guillermo Morales in Spanish.

“He’s not here!” comes a chorus from eager men gathered around, holding their own orange tickets.

“174!” Morales announces again.


“He’s not here!” the men shout louder, losing patience.

The next two numbers are 290 and 233, the winners Felipe Laras and Juan Salas.

Their prize? A two-hour job moving furniture up to a third-floor apartment in Burbank.

It’s a normal business day at the Los Angeles Labor Site in North Hollywood, one of three organized gathering spots for day laborers provided by the city. The other two are in Harbor City and Hollywood.


Here each morning, as many as 100 men gather under the tent in a lot off Sherman Way near Laurel Canyon Boulevard and participate in raffles to earn spots working with employers who arrive looking for laborers.

The jobs range from gardening to loading boxes to running electrical wires through dark attics.

No one is picky.

“I’ll do whatever jobs they have,” says 38-year-old Manuel Chacon, who on lucky days gets work in his preferred trade: painting.


Here, a sense of community is encouraged.

Men who don’t land jobs on a particular day stay behind and work at the labor site’s garden, raising chili peppers and onions and other crops. Some gather in a trailer for English lessons from volunteer tutors.

The workers even have a committee that has established rules of behavior at the site, such as no drinking or fighting. The raffle itself was instituted so everyone would have a fair chance to get work.

Men from this organized site have begun outreach work at uncontrolled spots around the Valley, inviting the men to come join them in North Hollywood.


Drinking, fighting and sometimes serious criminal activity occurs at uncontrolled gathering spots, said Antonio Bernabe, site coordinator in North Hollywood.

“There’s order here,” said Hector De Leon, 22, one of the workers who prefers the North Hollywood site. “It feels safer.”