Roger Anderson has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
After spending more than three decades living on the streets — seeking refuge under bridges, in the woods and most recently on a small, grassy patch by the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles — the 47-year-old moved into his first apartment in time for Thanksgiving.
On Tuesday, Anderson was given the keys to a studio inside a sleek apartment complex that opened earlier this month and caters to the city's chronically homeless. The space is modest with a kitchenette, spacious bathroom and comfortable-sized living space.
But for Anderson, the apartment is the first place he can set his wallet down without worry since he ran away from an abusive father at 13.
"It's like it's a dream," Anderson said, after examining a flat-screen television given to him through a program grant. "It's like I'm afraid I'm going to wake up."
As Anderson settled into his space, his weathered hands shook as he placed new bath linens on a towel rack. He put a roll of toilet paper on its holder, then sat for a second to absorb the moment, tears welling in his blue eyes. Later, when he was presented with gift cards to a local grocery store, he fell to his knees in gratitude.
Located in the heart of skid row, Gateways Apartments was created to house the worst of the worst, those with long stints of homelessness, mental illness and drug and alcohol issues, in hopes that providing four walls and a bed will bring stability to the hardest-hit transients. The residents began moving in this week.
"They are costing the system a lot of money," said Anita Nelson, chief executive of SRO Housing Corp., which developed the $28-million building on an empty lot. "And they have health issues where they need to be housed in order to get them stabilized."
Eighty of the 108 residents were plucked right off the streets, she said. The remaining residents moved in from nearby shelters and emergency housing. They are required to pay 30% of their income or government assistance as rent. Mental healthcare, job training and medical, drug and alcohol treatment are provided on-site.
Deborah Martin, a recovering addict, is also on hand to help the residents. Now the property manager at Gateways Apartments, Martin said she was homeless for six years and racked up 11 felony arrests for drugs and prostitution. But through various programs, many of which are made available to Gateways residents, she was able to get on her feet and now wants to help others.
"I can't say I walked in all of their shoes, but I've walked in some of their shoes," she said.
Anderson, who suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, says he credits the persistence of Gina Jones, a Joshua House Community Health Center social worker, for helping him accomplish his goal of getting a home. Jones walked him through the 11-week application process.
"I thank God for her," Anderson said.
Before Anderson moved into his new pad, he said, he checked himself into UCLA Medical Center to detox his body of alcohol. He also received treatment for a cracked rib sustained in a street brawl and a head injury after a drunken associate hit him with a beer bottle when Anderson mentioned he was moving into an apartment.
"I decided I wanted to quit because this is more important than drinking," he said. "At this point in my life, I think drinking will hinder me."
Inside his studio, Anderson marveled at the silence. The night before, at his sleeping spot near the 110 Freeway, the roaring engine of 18-wheelers and passing cars was the familiar lullaby.
"It's real quiet," he said. "I'm going to get used to it."