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Housing and Homelessness

For Those With Or Without Shelter, Thanksgiving Blessings Abound

A formerly unhoused woman stands inside her apartment while holding the front door open. She is wearing a gray t-shirt, blue jean shorts and sandals.
Formerly unhoused, Tisha is spending her second Thanksgiving in a supportive housing apartment she got through Union Station Homeless Services. For people still experiencing homelessness, her wish this year is for them to "stay in faith and stay positive, because it gets better."
(Alborz Kamalizad
/
LAist)
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It was just two years ago that Tisha spent what she describes as a “heartbreaking” Thanksgiving with her two children at a shelter for unhoused families.

“That was kind of hard for us,” she said. “We had got to the point where we didn’t want to bother family, because we were coming over too much.”

Tisha, who only wanted to use her first name, fell into homelessness after losing a nursing job. Months of couch surfing didn’t work out, the only option was to move with her two kids into her 1996 Honda Accord. Tisha said an aunt would allow them to come over to shower and do laundry from time to time, but staying there permanently wasn’t an option.

3:10
A Time To Be Grateful, No Matter The Circumstances
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During the day, Tisha and the kids spent most of their time at a park in Pasadena. When it was time for bed, she would stay there or drive to a well-lit parking lot, so her son could stretch out in the backseat, while Tisha and her daughter would recline their seats in the front with only a visor to provide privacy.

“I tried to make it as normal as possible for my kids,” she said. “We started knowing the other people who were homeless. My kids started understanding that it wasn’t just our problem and that a lot of people were going through this and it was just kind of the times right now.”

But this year, Tisha, who is 48, will celebrate her second Thanksgiving in a supportive housing apartment she shares with her 21-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. She’s looking forward to cooking turkey, stuffing, greens and cornbread for her family.

Despite invitations from a sister she hasn’t talked to in a while, and an aunt, Tisha said she will stay home with her kids on Thanksgiving and cook food provided by Union Station Homeless Services, the lead agency that coordinates homeless services in the San Gabriel Valley.

This year marks the 51st anniversary of Dinner In The Park where people would usually share a meal together outdoors. But due to COVID safety measures, all Thanksgiving dinners will be served to go in prepared boxes. This year, they will provide more than 4,500 meals, a 125% increase over last year, according to Brenda Lynch, a spokesperson for Union Station.

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A man wearing a black apron and black face mask stands in the middle of a commercial kitchen. He poses for the camera with his hands behind his back as several people work at a large food-prep table behind him.
Diego Feliciano, executive chef for Centerplate, stands in front of a team of volunteers who cooked and carved 200 turkeys for the Union Station Homeless Services Adult Center. Feliciano said his focus as the new chef is sustainability. "All the scraps of the turkey we are composting," he said. "Nothing will go to waste."
(Ethan Ward
/
LAist)

Chef Marisa at the Union Station Homeless Services Adult Center in Pasadena said they are anticipating roughly 250 families will pick up a box of cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, Italian pasta, pie and, what some call her “famous” mac and cheese.

“I’ve had somebody come up to me before and said, for even just a half an hour while they were sitting down eating that meal, it brought them back to when they had a family and a home. And for half an hour they forgot they were homeless,” she said.

According to a 2020 count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), there are roughly 66,000 people experiencing homelessness in the county — and likely more this year, who will be looking for ways to celebrate Thanksgiving.

For people such as 59-year-old Tony Wiggins, who lives outdoors in a tent near Skid Row, this holiday is a time of hope.

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“Thanksgiving is the best day of the year,” Wiggins said. “To be around family, friends and just have a good time. Have fun, you know?”

Thanksgiving is the best day of the year. To be around family, friends and just have a good time. Have fun, you know?”
— Tony Wiggins, who lives in a tent near Skid Row

Wiggins said he is looking forward to turkey, ham, biscuits, and mac and cheese, but his favorite Thanksgiving dish is dressing, because it reminds him of his mother who passed away.

Wiggins said he would likely return to the L.A. Mission for dinner, just as he did last year.

“Whoever I spend my Thanksgiving with, I hope it's meaningful,” he said. “I know how hard it is on the streets, a lot of people miss being with their family, their friends, someone that they can talk to, communicate with, or have a relationship with.”

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Leyla Martinez, a 70-year-old unhoused woman in downtown Los Angeles, said she didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving because she is Cuban, but appreciates the American holiday because it’s a beautiful day for people to be together.

“It’s a lot of food for Thanksgiving,” she said, laughing. “So many people come and share with all the homeless.”

Martinez said her favorite Thanksgiving dish, even though not everyone shares her preference, is pumpkin pie.

Anthony Counts, a 52-year-old unhoused man in Hollywood, said he would likely eat at the Laugh Factory on Sunset Blvd., where the comedy club has fed people experiencing homelessness for decades.

“It's free, it's good, and you get to laugh,” Counts said. “I get sad, and I get pissed off because I don’t have no family. Going to the Laugh Factory is like family.”

This will be the 41st year the Laugh Factory will feed those who need family and food, and comics such as Dane Cook, Brett Riley and Alonzo Bodden will serve meals then go on stage to provide the laughs, according to Enrique Salazar, the club’s vice president of development. Comedians such as Tiffany Haddish (who also experienced homelessness) and Tim Allen have also performed in past years.

Tisha is posed in front of a wall wearing a gray Bob Marley t-shirt. She is smiling underneath two photos. One photo says "With you I am home." The other photo says "thankful."
Tisha said when she moved into her new apartment after living in a car with her two kids, all they had was an inflatable bed and a couple of bags. During one of her first trips to the store, she said one of the first things she purchased was the placard that says, "With you I am home."
(Alborz Kamalizad
/
LAist)

For people who are still experiencing homelessness and without family, Tisha hopes they are able to stay positive.

“There are rough patches, but it eventually gets better,” she said. “It's a hard process for a family, but we’ve gotten so much closer and it’s made my kids stronger.”

Tisha hopes to get a job so she can make more money and eventually move her family so they can be more independent. But for now, they are enjoying being able to come home, kick off their shoes and look forward to spending time together for the holidays.

Tisha said, quite simply: “We are blessed to be here.”

Chef Marisa at the Union Station Homeless Services Adult Center says the holidays bring a lot of volunteers who may not have time during the year (and they’re grateful!). If you’re able, they need help year-round feeding people experiencing homelessness. If you’d like to get involved, check out volunteer opportunities at https://unionstationhs.org/help/volunteer/

What questions do you have about homelessness?
Ethan Ward for a time lived in his car while attending community college. That experience informs his reporting on one of the most pressing issues in Southern California.