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Crashing Into Adulthood: Janea

Bundled in a grass-stained Army blanket against the cold night air, it’s not easy for Janea Barton to be homeless. “I didn’t know what it was like to live on my own. They don’t realize most kids are institutionalized. I was institutionalized. When you live in a group home and you have people take care of you for so long, it’s hard,” Janea says. “I knew I had to leave when I truned 18, but I was in denial.” (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
After ricocheting through a dozen foster homes over the past six years, including a detour to a Utah home for disturbed girls, Janea’s life as a foster child ends today. Purple hair and tattoos hidden beneath her cap and gown, she beams with pride as she graduates from La Quinta High School, class of 2001. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
With her fiery-red dyed hair, skin-tight dress and platform shoes, Janea gyrates on the dance floor. She is one of the hundred or so Orange County’s newest foster-care graduates, attending a graduation party. In a few days she will be on her own. Declared unadoptable, she spent the past six years of her life in and out of group homes, mental hospitals and lockdown facilities. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
A week after emancipating out of the Orange County foster system, Janea lands a job at Walmart. It’s part time, with no benefits and a few dimes above minimum wage, but it’s a paycheck. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Only a few weeks after Janea has aged out of the foster care system she marries Sam Lopez, also a foster-care child. They skip the big wedding for the Orange County Marriage License Office in Santa Ana. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
On her wedding night, Janea has become Janea Lopez, spending a quiet evening watching television. Sam, 19 years old and 300 pounds, loves telling tales of being a triggerman for L.A.'s notorious Main Street Mafia. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
After Janea’s two-week voucher for the Royal Knights Motel in East L.A. runs out, Dianna Martinez, right, another homeless friend, offers refuge in her room. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
On a hot summer day, hanging out in the streets of East L.A., newlyweds Janea and Sam get into a heated argument which quickly turns physical. He runs up to her in the alley, grabs her wrists, spins her around and a struggle begins. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
The fight escalates. After backhanding her in the face, Sam struggles with Janea, holding on to her wrists. Screaming for him to let go, she kicks him in the groin. “And I’m like, ‘This isn’t happening. I don’t think so.’ So therefore, I just started kicking him, I did everything. I totally went off on him,” she says. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
The fight continues as Janea pounds on her husband but he refuses to let go. He falls to his knees, crying and begging her to forgive him. The struggle continues as she tries to escape his grip. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
After refusing Sam’s plea to quiet down, Janea seeks to escape. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Janea runs away from Sam. “Somebody call the police! Call 911 ... Help me!... Help me!” she shouts. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Janea cries as a bright red bruise appears under her right eye and she touches the jagged edge of her chipped front teeth. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
A police squad car soon takes Sam away. He is jailed for 10 days and is fined $300. “I sent him to jail,” Janea says, “I called the police and said, ‘Take him to jail.’” (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Evicted from the Royal Knights Motel, Dianna and Janea search the classifieds for a place to rent. Their entire net worth amounts to $40 in food stamps. The solution: Pool their next welfare checks. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
The day after Sam lands in jail, Janea loads all her belongings into a shopping cart and heads off to Belvedere Park in East L.A. She wants to be close to Sam, who’s sitting in a warm jail cell a block away. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Eight weeks since leaving Orange County’s foster care system, Janea spends her first night sleeping on the streets in East L.A. By streetlight, she writes Sam a letter. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Wrapped in sweatshirts and blankets against the cool summer morning, Janea, right, and friends Dianna and Matt Dewey adjust to their new home with amazing ease. Wedged between East L.A.'s Municipal Court, the freeway and a Sheriff’s station, Belvedere Park is where they are squatting these days. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Unemployed and homeless, Janea uses the squalid restroom at Belvedere Park to dress and wash. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Loading up all her earthly possessions, Janea, Dianna and Matt are adjusting to their new home with amazing ease. “The first night was like wow. It was almost like I was camping without a tent,” says Janea. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
“All I own is a cart with my clothes in it and like a couple of pictures, and that’s about it... But what can I do? It’s just a big mess,” Janea says. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Even though she’s living on the streets, Janea insists she doesn’t look homeless. Each morning, after folding her blankets and hiding her shopping cart in the bushes, she takes great pains to fix her hair and put herself together with Dianna’s help. “I don’t want to look like a vagrant or anything,” she says. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Tired of panhandling, Janea wanders the streets collecting cans and bottles to recycle for change. “Being homeless is hard, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It’s been a big struggle for me, but I try hard to keep a positive attitude,” she says. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Staggering into the sunlight, Sam gets a warm embrace from his wife. “Today is almost as good as my wedding day,” Janea gushes. “He’s out of jail, I don’t have to be by myself anymore.” (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
After another argument with harsh words thrown at each other, Sam and Janea make up. They’re ready to start over, maybe do the homeless thing in Lancaster, according to Janea. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
After a short stint in Lancaster, Janea and Sam are back in Orange County, at Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter in Costa Mesa. Unlike most shelters, which offer floor space, they have beds. Those in need can stay only three nights a month. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
At the First Baptist Church in Buena Park, men and women are separated. “They line up the women, they walk in one by one, and they hand you a blanket and a pillow, and they lay you down on the floor. It’s just like everyone has some kind of disease and they all sit and fester in it,” Janea says. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Unlike most shelters, Janea can stay as long as she likes at First Baptist Church. There is room on the floor to sleep and donated food to eat. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Sam suffers from a black eye after another argument with his wife. Janea and Sam have experienced a lot of physical and verbal abuse and now use it as a way of communicating. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Her fiery red hair matching the paint samples she mixes, Janea manages to keep steady employment at Vista Paints for several weeks before they let her go. Finding the job through Labor Ready, a day-labor outfit, she spends her earnings on cheap motels and fast food. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
In her husband Sam, Janea finds companionship, a treasure so prized she’s willing to overlook the cruelty, immaturity and abusiveness. In rare moments, their relationship is playful, and the two of them engage in childlike behavior. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
By November, being homeless has become a comfortable routine for Janea and Sam. Boredom is their newest enemy. While the rest of the country feasts on turkey Thanksgiving Day, Sam downs a bottle of Cheese Whiz. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Janea and Sam leave California for Las Vegas. Without identification, they can’t find work. Homeless and pregnant, Janea faces the uncertainty of the future for her unborn child. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Sam Lopez, right, touches his wife’s stomach in hopes of feeling the baby’s movement. Still homeless and living at the Salvation Army shelter in Santa Ana, they’re hoping for county assistance so they can have their own place. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Janea and her newborn, Leilanie, finally have a stable environment to live in through the assistance of county services. She is no longer homeless and living in parks and shelters. “I’ve seen what happens when parents really mess up and their kids end up in foster care group home system,” she says. “I don’t want that for my child. I mean, that’s like almost damning someone to hell.” (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)