Maria Aguiar had been living with her sister’s family in East L.A. when the situation got too intense. Not working and with some serious personal problems to resolve, the 41-year-old knew she soon would be homeless. An adult son, who was staying at the Union Rescue Mission, told her it was a good place to get back on your feet. And that they accepted women.

Today, two months later, she agrees. 

“So for me it’s been a blessing,” she says. “The first couple nights sleeping on a cot was kind of rough. But then I got a bed in a room upstairs, which is good. What I do here is spend my time positive. I volunteer in the kitchen. We cut onions, prepare the food, work in the food line that’s preparing the plates we give out, and clean up after.”

Then a month ago, Aguiar got into the mission’s Gateway Project, an intense transitional program. She goes to life-skills classes to learn better financial management, has a case manager, more personalized services and a storage locker for her belongings. These services are on top of three meals a day and access to health and dental services for a monthly fee of $210.

“What it is, is that you’re paying rent, but at the same time you’re saving,” she points out. “So that’s a good thing because we don’t never save on our own. We always spend whatever we have. So they teach you how to save. You also get mental help that helps you to build up your self-esteem or whatever you’re going through.”

Aguiar believes it’s really foolish to be eliminating transitional programs like Gateway. 

“I think if you take advantage of these programs, you can get a lot from them,” she says. “And I think, too, we need more programs for women. I understand sometimes they don’t have the funds to do this, so they have to cut back. But I don’t understand why the government is taking funds away completely. If you need to pick yourself up, this is the best place to be.” 

Click here to read more about efforts to aid and house the homeless in Los Angeles.

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