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Subject Of 'Samaritans' Podcast On LA Homelessness Finds Permanent Home

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

At least 66,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County. Until very recently, Christine Curtiss was one of them. In the past two years, Curtiss went from the streets to temporary shelter and now finally to permanent housing. Anna Scott of member station KCRW followed this journey in her podcast "Samaritans." We spoke about that podcast last year. And Anna is here now to bring us an update.

Hi, Anna.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: You've reported on homelessness in Los Angeles for a long time, so tell us what you've learned from following one person for so long.

SCOTT: I've learned a lot about what sounds good and even simple for helping people on the streets versus the reality of putting those policies into practice sometimes. For example, I saw how difficult it was for Christine to benefit from the health care services that she received when she was still on the streets because she didn't have housing and she didn't have a bathroom. Or when she was finally matched to housing, it seemed like this happy ending, but then it took a really long time to actually sign a lease.

SHAPIRO: So this is the big development, that she does have permanent housing now. How did that finally come through?

SCOTT: She was placed in a subsidized apartment through L.A.'s homeless services system. It's in a building specifically for formerly homeless people in L.A.'s Koreatown neighborhood, which is very centrally located. And I went to see her there just a couple of hours after she moved in.

SHAPIRO: All right. I can't wait to listen to this. Let's dive in.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAMARITANS")

CHRISTINE CURTISS: Well, here's the kitchen. It's got a gas stove and gas oven. The closet's kind of small, but I'll make due.

SCOTT: Getting through all the paperwork to move into this studio apartment with dark laminate floors and white walls took almost a year.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAMARITANS")

CURTISS: I didn't think this day was coming, truthfully. I didn't think so. It just seemed like - I don't know - like it wasn't going to happen.

SCOTT: During that year of waiting, Christine lived in a group shelter and then in hotel rooms paid for by the city and county as part of an emergency pandemic program. All of that came with curfews, rules and set mealtimes. Here, Christine can cook her own food.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAMARITANS")

CURTISS: I'm looking forward to that tremendously. Right now, I want a steak so bad, a great big old steak. And I want a baked potato baked in the oven.

SCOTT: She has new freedom and responsibilities, like rent - $56 a month, an amount based on Christine's income, which comes entirely from cash aid through the county. This building has an on-site case manager, but the apartment didn't come with much furniture or supplies. The mattress on the bed is still wrapped up in plastic. I asked Christine if she has sheets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAMARITANS")

CURTISS: No. I have three small blankets, and one of them was one that Kym gave me. It's brand new. I never used it.

SCOTT: Kym Moore is one of Christine's closest friends. She also gave Christine food and water over the years. Kym lives in an apartment near where Christine used to live on the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

SCOTT: They haven't seen each other since the beginning of the pandemic, so we call Kym on my cell phone to tell her about Christine's new home.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAMARITANS")

KYM MOORE: Hello?

SCOTT: Kym, hi. It's Anna.

MOORE: Hi, Anna.

SCOTT: I'm sitting with Christine in her apartment.

MOORE: (Crying).

CURTISS: Hi, honey.

MOORE: Hi, (unintelligible).

CURTISS: I finally made it - finally.

SCOTT: Christine says that on the drive over here this morning, she passed by the street where she used to spend her days and her nights. She pointed it out to the nonprofit worker who was giving her a ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAMARITANS")

CURTISS: So I gave her the grand tour. There's the bench I used to sit on, and there's where I used to sleep. And I thought I would say, oh, you know, like, oh, I miss this place. No. No. Almost like thank God I'm not here anymore.

SHAPIRO: Such a happy ending to this story from Anna Scott. And Anna, I just have to ask - Christine is incredibly lucky, but she is one among tens of thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County. How hard is it to get somebody into this type of subsidized housing?

SCOTT: It's really hard. This kind of housing is reserved for the neediest cases, people who have been homeless a long time and struggle with physical or mental illness. And there's a lot of red tape around getting into one of these units. In a lot of ways, Christine was a relatively easy person to help. She was willing, and she had outside help from friends like Kym. And it still took two years for her to go from that sidewalk to that apartment.

The city is trying to make this kind of housing more readily available by adding an additional 7,000 units like this over 10 years, but they are almost halfway through that timeline and fewer than 1,000 of those units have opened. Still, city officials say that they're on track to exceed their goal in the end.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Anna Scott of member station KCRW in Los Angeles.

Thanks so much.

SCOTT: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And Anna tells the whole story of Christine Curtiss' journey from the street to her apartment in the podcast "Samaritans."

(SOUNDBITE OF NICK BOX'S "THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.