Homeless and pregnant: The saga of a young woman in Hollywood

Mckenzie Trahan looks out over freeway traffic
Mckenzie Trahan, then 23, looks out toward the eight lanes of whooshing traffic below on the 101 Freeway in Hollywood in 2018, where her encampment clung to a steep embankment.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, July 13, 2022. I’m columnist Gustavo Arellano (so I’m allowed to have opinions, gentle readers!), and I’m writing from Orange County.

I’ve met my colleague Gale Holland, who covers homelessness and poverty, only once: at an L.A. Times Guild get-together back in 2018. But I’ve always admired her sensitive, elegant, thorough coverage of one of the most bedeviling issues Southern California faces.

All of Gale’s talents come through in her latest project, an expansive view into the life of 26-year-old Mckenzie Trahan. Homeless since she was 13, the Louisiana native was living in an encampment off the 101 Freeway in Hollywood in 2018 when she found out she was pregnant.


Holland takes us through what happened next through words accompanied with gripping photos by Christina House, and video by Claire Hannah Collins. The birth of Mckenzie’s daughter, Ann. The struggle to keep off drugs. The reckoning with past traumas and attempts at reconciliation with her mother, who is also homeless. The search for permanent housing. And Mckenzie’s bitter struggle with multiple nonprofit and governmental agencies ostensibly set up to help her but who usually proved more foe than friend.

I talked to Gale about her project. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

There are so many stories to tell about the unhoused. What drew you to Mckenzie?

In covering homelessness for about eight years, there are so many things I’ve seen that I found shocking, especially in a country as rich as ours. A 60-year-old man with rags tied around open sores on his legs. A woman with hospital ID band and wires from an EKG still dangling from her chest, released from a hospital with no real plan or landing place. To see a young woman in pregnancy in a tent by the freeway — I thought we were better than this. Also I had grown up seeing what used to be called Hollywood runaways and was always curious who they were.

Then we met Mckenzie’s mother, also homeless, and saw something up close I’d only read about: intergenerational homelessness, which seemed a particular problem in Los Angeles where you meet so many people who have lived on the streets for years. In some ways, though, I think we covered these women at this depth because they were fascinating, vibrant people and they welcomed us. They wanted to be seen by the people of Los Angeles.

Two women walk in a hallway with a baby carrier
Mckenzie, right, and her mother Cat walk with baby Ann down the hallways at Adventist Health White Memorial hospital in Boyle Heights.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

How hard has it become for people like Mckenzie who want to break out of their situation in the time you’ve covered homelessness?

I think there is a lot more help and skilled service providers in L.A. now who understand homeless people and what they need than when I started. In the past, I think we as a society were content to let homeless people languish in the foster care-to jail-to the streets cycle as long as they were contained on skid row, Hollywood as it decayed and other hot spots.

The problem now, of course, is the extreme housing shortage. It took Mckenzie a year and a half to get an apartment — now, she has remained inside about the same amount of time. There is too much bureaucracy involved in getting homeless housing and not enough units.

And we do not appear to have the resources needed to effectively tackle the meth epidemic. We are still experimenting with effective treatment for meth addiction. It’s very well known that users backslide after treatment at a very high rate, but I’m not sure we know how to stop that.

After spending a good four years with Mckenzie, her daughter, and her mother, do you plan to continue to check in with them?

We remain in contact with Mckenzie and her mother, Mama Cat, and don’t expect that to change. We hope readers will see the value and the promise of the people living in the tents we pass every day and the complex interrelationships of the institutions we pay for that shaped their lives. Reporting this story was fun at times, heartbreaking at others, and very difficult … which I think of as a taste of what homeless people experience everyday.

Read about Mckenzie here, then check out sidebars on her mother, her case worker, and a brief essay by Gale about how she did the story.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


‘Bad City’ alleges bad behavior — by a medical school dean, USC and within The Times. Paul Pringle — another colleague whom I’ve met just once — is out with a new book about the investigation he led into Troy, and the battle he led within a previous regime in our newsroom. Los Angeles Times

The biggest snubs and surprises of the 2022 Emmy nominations. My ever-delightful colleague Glenn Whipp, whom I’ve never met in person, runs down his choices of television’s biggest awards. Los Angeles Times

Leaked Sheriff’s Department surveillance video shows inmate beaten by deputies. How does Sheriff Alex Villanueva blame this on Prop. 47 and George Gascón? Los Angeles Times

How the ‘Tungsten Arm’ O’Doyle tweet became an embodiment of the Angels’ losing. Poor Mike Trout and Shohei Otani are part of the funniest burn in baseball since Rollie Fingers snuck in a strikeout against Johnny Bench in the 1972 World Series. The Athletic

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Brewers need cans. California’s broken recycling system is making them hard to find. Maybe Gov. Gavin Newsom should spend more time fixing this than airing commercials in Florida? Los Angeles Times

Newsom calls criticism of his Montana family vacation ‘wrong and unfair.’ Gavin, two words: Baja California. Los Angeles Times

MAGA Preacher Sean Feucht scored millions from his Trump-loving flock. From Redding’s Bethel Church to a million-dollar home in Coto de Caza, with little thought given to Matthew 19:24, no doubt. Rolling Stone


‘Meeting with the enemy’: Was the leader of the Mongols motorcycle gang a double agent for the feds? Wait, wasn’t this a plot point on “Mayans M.C.”? Los Angeles Times

Two people wearing Mongols Motorcycle Club vests
People wearing Mongols Motorcycle Club vests walk over the newly opened Sixth Street Bridge in Los Angeles
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

A Cambodian American police officer helps his community heal and look forward. Fresno Police Sergeant Danny Kim brings a night market to his community and others. Los Angeles Times

Life lessons from Laura Wasser, divorce lawyer to the stars. The so-called “disso” queen, whose former clients range from Kim Kardashian to Johnny Depp, reflects on the state of our unions. New Yorker

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast “The Times,” hosted every weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen on our App, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


Stunning spread of BA.5 subvariant shows why this California COVID wave is different. Meanwhile, an even more virulent variant is vrooming through India. Los Angeles Times

Spring of discontent: Mexican berry pickers strike for a bigger share of profits. All those little fruits, of course, come into your grocery stores through U.S.-based produce brokers. Labor Notes

Use of historical mapping to understand sources of soil-lead contamination: Case study of Santa Ana. An academic study led by UC Irvine researchers finds damning results. Environmental Research


CV History: Helen Hunt Jackson, advocate for American Indians and author of “Ramona,” proved one person can make a difference. Next time you wonder why there are so many streets named Ramona this or Alessandro that, this author is the reason — but you knew that already, right? Coachella Valley Independent

These sisters started the “He’s A 10 But” meme because they wanted realistic dating standards. A non-angry story from Huntington Beach! Buzzfeed

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our game center at


Los Angeles: sunny, 78. San Diego: partly cloudy, 71. San Francisco: cloudy, 67. San Jose: partly cloudy and windy, 82. Fresno: hot hot hot, 102. Sacramento: less hot but hella more humid, 93.


Today’s California memory comes from Debby Bradford:

I grew up on a cattle ranch south of Hopland in Mendocino County. One summer day in 1963 my two brothers and my sister and I were out in the morning doing our daily 4-5 hours of work moving irrigation pipe in the fields the cattle graze. It was early, about 7:30, and I noticed that the sunlight was red. Red sunlight always meant smoke in the air, which meant a wildfire was somewhere. This always made us very nervous; fires were a danger. All day we worried, just to find out it was smog, which we had never had before.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to