Anne is a 44-year-old divorcee who has no place to go. By day, she searches for food. At night, she sleeps with other so-called bag ladies who roam the streets as part of Orange County's homeless.
"It does get rough at night. I stay in three places I know of in Santa Ana, but I won't tell you where they are, only that they are between two big buildings," she said.
To many residents, women like Anne are "non-existent," Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said Friday at the Santa Ana YWCA. He was joining YWCA officials in a plea for $450,000 in donations to begin construction of a 40-bed hotel for women. The hotel will be built atop the Santa Ana building.
"The thing I find incredible is that there is a feeling that somehow these women are here by choice," he said at a news conference at the YWCA's Santa Ana office.
"Many people understand that you can find men who need homes, some help and a start. But they don't understand that 3,000 of the 8,000 homeless in the county are women," Riley said.
Holding a large plastic bag containing a sleeping bag, clothing and little else, Harriet A. Harris, a Costa Mesa developer and YWCA volunteer, said: "It's a tragic thing in your life when you have no place to go. They're not hobos. They're our sisters, our mothers and grandmothers who have become disconnected with their community and need a place to start over again."
Already, $550,000 has been raised as part of a $1-million YWCA campaign that started last April. Without the additional $450,000 pledged by March 14, Harris said the facility may not be built in time for next winter. She said construction could take 10 months.
The hotel may help 400 women a year, according to YWCA executive director Mary Douglas. Construction of rooms atop the YWCA's gymnasium is scheduled to begin in March, provided that the Program for Women Foundation, a special charitable group sponsoring fund-raising for the hotel, reaches its goal.
For Douglas, the hotel is a culmination of 20 years in social work. The program will primarily help women between the ages of 40 to 65, most of whom grew up with a "Cinderella" complex and, either through divorce or death, have found themselves alone and without job skills, she said.
"Everything was supposed to be taken care of," Douglas said. "Your mother kept telling you, all you had to do was grow up, meet your prince, and he will marry you and take care of you for the rest of your life."