Project 50: Four Walls and a Bed

Project 50: Four Walls and a Bed

Los Angeles County gave 50 hardcore homeless on skid row a place to live with no strings attached. This four-part multimedia series tracks participants over two years. (LAT)

Heroin addict Wanda Hammond is one of the hardcore homeless people participating in an experimental program with the hope that access to an indoor refuge might help stabilize her precarious life so that she could re-enter society. When Project 50 caseworkers handed Hammond the keys to an apartment, she was not required to take psychiatric medications, attend 12-step meetings or even stay sober. The program’s motto could be, “Whatever it takes.”

Los Angeles Times reporter Christopher Goffard and photographer Genaro Molin tracked participants in the L. A. County program over the last two years. The result is a four-part series containing short black-and-white audio slideshow profiles narrated by Outreach worker Doris Starling. Starling says that says the hardest part was gaining the confidence of her clients, most of whom are longtime street people with some combination of mental illness, chronic disease, or drug and alcohol dependencies.

Hammond, 49, is one who, try as she might, has not been able to kick her heroin habit. Her poignant photos and audio clips are representative of all of the Project 50 vignettes – she is sometimes quite rational and able to play classical music on the piano, and other times frighteningly incoherent. It remains to be seen whether or not Hammond or any of the 50 people who have been provided with shelter are therefore better able to manage their lives.

Part 1: Whatever it takes. Identifying and finding the hard-core homeless, then cajoling them to accept housing, proves a daunting challenge.

Part 2: The baddest of them all. Mental illness, addiction and the ingrained survival habits learned on the street can make it hard to keep the homeless housed.

Part 3: From penthouse to gutter. Even for a former high-flying businessman whose sharp decline had led to skid row, the housing project is no panacea.

Part 4: No tidy endings. The project succeeds with most, and many clients say it’s saved their lives. But for others, old patterns are hard to shake.

CHANNEL: Los Angeles Times

Photography and audio by Genaro Molina
Produced by Albert Lee, Marc Martin and Bryan Chan

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