Ruth King smiled as she watched several toddlers playing on the front lawn of the CLARE Foundation's Mar Vista residence for alcoholic and drug-addicted women and their children.
The grassy lawn, the well-tended flower beds and the brand-new picket fence all added to the atmosphere of security and homeyness for the six women and eight children who call the four-unit building home.
It was a sunny Saturday morning and King, service director for the CLARE Foundation, had just arrived for her biweekly meeting with the young mothers.
The CLARE Foundation, which is funded by private and public agencies, takes women and children from a waiting list of alcoholics and drug addicts and provides them with shelter and counseling.
Attendance at the meetings is one of the requirements for women living in the building that CLARE bought two years ago. The women pay $300 a month for rent. They and their children can stay up to one year as they rebuild lives that have been crippled by drug and alcohol addiction.
During Saturday's meeting, the women discussed their progress or problems with jobs, school, children, ex-husbands and day-to-day life without the crutch of alcohol or drugs.
Some of the women discussed their backgrounds during interviews later.
Teen-Age Drug User
Tina, 25, has a 5-month-old son and has been living at the CLARE home for one month. She said hse began using drugs at age 13 and for eight years she lived with a man whose entire family is addicted to drugs.
"None of my family would have anything to do with me," she said. "I had been to jail for drugs, prostitution, petty theft. I had been sent to diversion programs and for group counseling. But when you aren't ready to stop, nobody tries to stay clean.
"What finally got me out of using was the loneliness, the self-hatred, the pain. Every day you have to get up and hustle for that trick, whether you want to or not. You just have to get up and do it every day. You're just so lonely inside that drugs don't help after a while.
"Now I have a program and I have a goal and I know I have admitted to myself that I can't use drugs anymore. I love drugs. If I could use, I would. But I know what would happen to me if I did. You just change institutions and dates. I have a little boy. I know I would lose him quick, real quick."
Tina has gone back to school, earned the equivalent of a high school diploma and is studying to be a paralegal at a junior college. Her grades are excellent.
Tina's roommate, Mary, is 31 years old and has a 6-year-old son. One of 10 children, she lived in a succession of foster homes from the time she was 7 until nearly 18, when she went to the streets.
Living on Skid Row
Some foster homes were not so bad, she said, but a few were grim and the foster parents cruel and abusive.
Mary and her son were living on Skid Row when they were interviewed by a free-lance writer and his wife. They got her into a detoxification program, then arranged for her to enter a 90-day program in Long Beach for American Indians. While Mary gained strength, they cared for her son. Later, they helped her contact CLARE and get into the Mar Vista home.
Mary is trying to find some members of her tribe, the Chumash. She is preparing to go to school but wants to find a job where she can work outdoors. She helps pay part of her rent by doing yard work and repairs around the women's home.
Elena, whose husband is an addict, said, "I'm happy to talk about this. I want this for other women, so they will have a chance. I think there are so many women out there who need a place like this. I have doubled my salary and skills since I have been here."
Linda, 32, has a son who is 9 and a daughter who is 15 months. Linda, whose parents were alcoholics, was abandoned when she was 6 months old. Her grandmother took her in. When she was 9, she was sent to live with her father. He molested her, she said.
Linda and her husband were both alcoholics and drug addicts. When he was arrested and sent to prison for bank robbery, she managed to get a job but lost it because of her drug and alcohol use.
She said she became a prostitute so she could buy drugs and she and her son moved from hotel to hotel. She became pregnant again while she was a prostitute, and a friend persuaded her to join a support group that would help her fight her addiction. She moved into the CLARE home in January.
At Saturday's meeting, she celebrated her 10th month of sobriety. She also announced that she has found child care for her little girl and will now be able to go to school.
To these women and their children, Ruth King is like a mother or a kindly but firm grandmother. King said that she and her husband are alcoholics but have not had a drink in 20 years.
The rules at the home are reasonable, but adherence is required. No drug or alcohol use is allowed and no violence is permitted. Infractions of these rules means automatic eviction.
The women come to the home with only their personal possessions. Everything else has been donated to CLARE. The women know that King is apt to visit them unannounced at any time.
There is a washer and dryer, which the women take turns using. The garage has been turned into a crude recreation room, but a donated VCR was stolen not long ago. The women don't have any money for recreation. When they come home from work or school, they have to clean their apartments, cook, bathe and feed their children.
Women who graduate from the home tend to move into nearby apartments. This way they have access to CLARE's numerous support groups and can always drop into the Washington Boulevard office and chat with King.