LOS ANGELES — Many know the Los Angeles Mission to feed homeless people, but they also have several other programs to help those in need.
The Mission's outreach director has been finding permanent housing for dozens of their homeless clients, which is no easy feat amid the pandemic.
Zion Turner is one of them.
"I've never had my own key before to my own place," he said.
On Tuesday, that changed. Turner signed the lease to his brand new apartment in Hollywood, just in time to be home for the holidays.
"Welcome home," said his new property manager.
"Thank you so much," Turner replied.
Moving day is a big day for anyone, but especially for the 32-year-old who became homeless just a year ago.
Last Thanksgiving looked very different than this one, he said. He was living on the streets in Lawndale and had hit rock bottom when he asked Antwone Sanford, the Los Angeles Mission's outreach manager, to take him in.
Now, as he moves from the Mission to his apartment, he reflects on the first night he spent at the homeless shelter.
"I was nervous. Yeah, I [have] never been [in] this type of environment before," Turner said. "That's what took me so long to get here. I was on the streets for three months because I didn't want to come here because I was scared."
With only a bag and the clothes on his back, he was welcomed with open arms for the first time in his life. Growing up a foster kid in group homes, Turner said he couldn't find his self-esteem.
"I wanted to gang bang. I wanted to surround myself with drugs and guys that didn't really have any ambitions for their future. And I chose that, and that's how I ended up in the streets, ultimately," Turner explained.
It's been a long journey to get here. Turner spent years sleeping on couches and floors until 2018 when he decided enough was enough. Antwone Sanford enrolled him in Fresh Start, a program that offers clients education, temporary housing, and emotional and spiritual counseling — everything needed to integrate back into society.
"There's all kinds of needs, every day something different," Sanford explained. "People's situations are different, but we use our resources to show them hope and provide help and opportunity for each and every one of our clients."
Even if it takes more than once, the first time Turner graduated from the Mission's program, he fell off the horse and returned to the streets, he said. But last year, he decided he was ready to make a change for good.
Sanford let him return to the L.A. Mission's restart program, and although he's helped about 60 other people like Turner get housing in the last two years, Sanford said he is still amazed to see him evolve.
"It's a God thing. It's amazing," he said. "I'm in awe of God, and I'm really grateful to see how Zion has been cared for and supported and how he's taken initiative and stepped up and be better and do better and look for better in his life. I'm excited about that."
Turner is excited too. A year ago, he never would've imagined the Mission would welcome him back with a full-time job and the resources to get the first place he's ever called his own, he said.
"If I had a dollar for every time someone said, you gotta go bro. Man. I'm at a loss for words, kind of. I think I'm gonna cry maybe. I don't really get emotional like that," Tuner said.