After 9 years on L.A.’s streets, Big Mama needed a home. But it wasn’t that easy

Big Mama
As she plays music and sings, Big Mama walks down Broadway Place on the way to church. She and her friend Top Shelf attend services twice a week.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

First in a series: Big Mama and her neighbors live in a homeless encampment in Los Angeles. Through a special housing initiative they’ll soon have the opportunity to move into apartments.


Thomas Curwen is an award-winning staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he has worked as editor of the Outdoors section, deputy editor of the Book Review and an editor at large for features. He was part of the team of Times reporters who won a Pulitzer for their work covering the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, and in 2008 he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for his story about a father and daughter who were attacked by a grizzly bear in Montana. He has received a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for mental health journalism and was honored by the Academy of American Poets.
Francine Orr has been a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times since 2000. Previously, she was as a staff photographer at the Kansas City Star. Orr served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. While there, she learned how to be a quiet observer and gained a love for stories. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature photography in 2012. Other awards include the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, the Daniel Pearl Award, Pictures of the Year, National Press Photographers Assn. and Sidney Hillman Award. Orr has done extensive work documenting the homeless population.