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Group to Provide Housing for Teen-Age Mothers


Among the many memories Beatriz Olvera Stotzer harbors from her teen-age years in Boyle Heights, one strikes a nerve. It is the memory of several young Latinas becoming pregnant and seemingly being pinned with invisible scarlet letters by their families and the community, a situation that Stotzer believes helped launch the girls into a cycle of poverty and undereducation they were unable to escape.

In the end, their children--including Stotzer's goddaughter--also paid the price.

"A few of my girlfriends got pregnant when they were teen-agers, and now their daughters have turned out the same way," said Stotzer, who works as a manager for the Department of Water and Power. "My goddaughter is now a teen-age mother, just like her mother was."

As president of New Economics for Women, a nonprofit development company founded in 1985 by a group of feminist Latinas who last year opened the Casa Loma family housing project in Westlake, Stotzer is helping develop a project to pluck some young mothers from the cycle of welfare dependency, giving them and their children a chance for a better life.

Last week, Stotzer's group initiated the renovation of the Hotel Cortez, a five-story 1921 structure around the corner from Casa Loma at 375 S. Columbia Ave. that has been abandoned for almost eight years.

When completed in September, 1995, La Posada--"the inn"--will provide affordable two-year transitional housing for up to 60 teen-age mothers and their children, with on-site child care, counseling, job-skills training and an educational resource center, all intended to help young mothers finish high school and work toward becoming self-sufficient.

"What we're doing is filling a gap in service," said Maggie Cervantes, executive director of New Economics for Women. "We're trying to reduce their long-term dependency on welfare so they will be able to finish their education and support their children."

Living in a nurturing, supportive environment will provide the girls with a sense of self-worth, Stotzer said.

"Our society doesn't approach teen pregnancy in a compassionate way," she said. "We tend to look at these girls as throwaways. What La Posada will focus on is saving not just one but two generations."


La Posada, which is being developed with $4.5 million in public and private funds, will provide young mothers ages 16 to 21 with efficiency apartments consisting of a bedroom and bath. Community kitchens and meeting areas will be provided, along with a play area for children, laundry facilities and a small convenience store that will provide job training and employment opportunities.

New Economics for Women will also help those who are under 18 become legally emancipated so that they, and not their parents, will be responsible for their lease.

The idea of a local transitional home for teen-age mothers is long overdue, said Heather Bryant, an intake coordinator for nearby St. Anne's Maternity Home. St. Anne's, which has long housed and educated pregnant teen-age girls until they give birth, can only keep residents afterward if they are wards of the court, and must release them once they turn 18 or as soon as their infants reach their second birthday.

"There needs to be another step," Bryant said. "A lot of times, these girls are uncomfortable living back at home, or get kicked out. So they stay with their boyfriends, and if that doesn't work out, they stay with their friends. They don't learn stability, moving from place to place."

Stotzer believes that one of the main reasons many teen mothers find themselves on their own with no choice other than to accept public aid is because of social prejudice, especially within the Latin American community, where familial rejection is commonplace.


"What hurts me most is that, as a society, we treat girls who get pregnant as being tainted," she said. "In Latin culture, they are often seen as prostitutes who are no longer pure. People ignore the fact that there was also a man involved who wanted his sexual desires satisfied. It's a double standard."

Sherry May, who directs the Adolescent Pregnancy Childwatch program of Los Angeles, an advocacy group for teen-age parents, said the absence of an alternative to welfare also hinders the personal development of teen-age mothers, who accounted for 23,970 live births in Los Angeles County in 1992.

"The problem is that there is no consistent support for these women," she said. "This is where New Economics for Women will help these mothers. It's the kind of comprehensive approach that is missing from many of our (public) programs."

Stotzer hopes the combination of an accepting environment and on-site social and educational support services will prepare the teen-agers at La Posada to move in a positive direction.

The group hopes to accommodate those who are interested in moving to either Casa Loma or Villa Mariposa, a similar housing project under construction nearby, when their two years at La Posada are up. This would allow them to continue to benefit from the support programs provided by all three facilities.

"They'll be able to walk back and forth," Cervantes said. "It's always been NEW's philosophy to develop within a small geographic area, so that we can better provide service to the community."

Once La Posada nears completion, New Economics for Women will begin accepting applicants referred by teen pregnancy homes and programs as well as public social services. They also plan to advertise some of their vacancies, Cervantes said.

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