Editor's note: In the last issue of CT, editor in chief David Neff interviewed "homeless czar" Philip Mangano, who described his vision for ending homelessness in ten years. This month, we look at how one church in one of the most challenging cities in the nation is trying to do that. This is part of our continuing effort to report on how congregations and nonprofits are responding to the economic crisis.
Gazing out a large window in the pastor's office at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Arlene Epps-Gray tells of how a mother who once owned a four-bedroom home surrounded by a pond and a barn became a homeless drug addict. She recalls a pivotal event, a childhood trauma seared into her memory.
"It all started out wrong," says Epps-Gray, looking out over the valley from the hilltop church once regularly attended by Ronald Reagan.
"My mother was killed by my father, and I was there. I was young, but I was still there. From there, things just progressed. I was passed around by my family members and never felt I belonged anywhere because they made me feel like I didn't. I guess getting high took me out of all that."
After spending 24 years addicted to alcohol, crack cocaine, and other drugs—along with a decade spent in and out of substance abuse programs and ultimately living on the streets of Los Angeles—Epps-Gray, 41, says the Lord brought Bel Air Presbyterian's head pastor, Mark Brewer, and his church into her life to save her family. She has been free of drugs and alcohol for three years.
A beneficiary of the Imagine LA program, Epps-Gray has reunited with her family, is living in a spacious, two-bedroom apartment in Inglewood, southwest of downtown LA, and is training for a career in substance abuse counseling.