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Pregnant and homeless in Hollywood

Episode Summary

Mckenzie Trahan found herself pregnant and homeless in Hollywood. We get into her struggle to find housing and take care of her child.

Episode Notes

In 2018, the L.A. Times began to follow Mckenzie Trahan, a pregnant homeless woman living in Hollywood. Over the next four years, a Times reporter, photographer and videographer tracked Trahan’s life as she tried to find housing and become a mom. Today, we hear about her journey. Read the full transcript here. 

Host: L.A. Times photographer Christina House

More reading:

Pregnant, homeless and living in a tent: Meet Mckenzie

She spent decades as a nomad. But her daughter’s pregnancy brought her back to L.A.

We chronicled one homeless woman’s motherhood journey since 2018

Episode Transcription

Gustavo: Hey, what's up. It's Gustavo Arellano. And you're listening to The Times, daily news from the L.A. Times. It's Tuesday, July 19, 2022. 

Gustavo: Today I'll be passing on the mic to my L.A. Times colleague Christina House. She's one of the many amazing photographers we have on staff. Today, she brings us into the life of Mckenzie Trahan, a young woman in Hollywood who’s struggled with balancing motherhood and homelessness. 


Gustavo: Christina photographed Mckenzie starting in 2018 and learned how tough it is to be both pregnant and homeless. Sadly Mckenzie's story isn't uncommon. There's about 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles and homeless young women are nearly five times more likely to become pregnant than housed young women. 

Gustavo: Just a heads-up this episode contains explicit language. 

Mux out 

Mckenzie: I was taking prenatals. Uh, I'm homeless. OK. I was taking prenatals and I ended up getting everything I had taken and the prenatals that I had got taken. So right now I don't have any prenatals, which is what's is something I was hoping I could take care of today.

Christina: Back in August of 2018, my team was interested in telling the story of the unique situation of being homeless and pregnant on the streets of Los Angeles. Surprisingly, my colleague, Gale Holland, who covers homelessness for the Los Angeles Times, received a call from a woman telling us that her daughter was pregnant and living in a tent above the 101 Freeway. And while she was away at court earlier that day, a Caltrans crew came through and sweeped through her encampment and she lost everything. 

MUX IN "Time to Think"

Christina:  Quickly…my colleague, Claire Collins, a videographer, and I drove out to a Denny's on Sunset  Boulevard in Hollywood. In the parking lot in the back, we climbed through a chain-link fence and walked along a dirt steep embankment above the 101.

Ambi in 

Christina: It was August. It was dusk. And that's where we found Mckenzie Trahan.

Mux out 

Mckenzie: You know, my mom always said the person she was scared to be turning into was like a drug addict who left and got tatted up and was on drugs and had babies early. And I became that exact person."

Christina: She was young, 22 years old. She was tall and lanky with blond hair and high cheekbones. And she was 6 months pregnant.

MUX IN "Time to Think"

Christina: Mckenzie was up against many barriers. The first one was looking for housing for her and her unborn child. She knew that she had the best odds of keeping her child if she had a roof over her head. Another barrier was being able to be seen by a doctor.

Mckenzie: I haven't seen the doctor because of this whole primary caregiver thing with Medi-Cal. I don't even know what I'm having. Ha. And I'm due in November. 

Christina: She found the medical insurance system difficult to navigate, and the clinic was very far from where she was living at the moment.

Mckenzie: So when I tried to make my appointment, they denied me and told me I had to come here. And this is far from, from where I'm at.

Christina: Plus she wasn't able to find a job easily.  As a convicted felon, for many employers, it's a deal breaker. And then there's also the stigma of homelessness. Those are just a few barriers that McKenzie had to overcome.

MUX out 

Christina: Mckenzie's mom, Cat, grew up in rural Louisiana, Cajun country.

Cat: I remember a few things from my childhood, but really not much.  

Christina: She was taken from her birth mother and placed in foster care.  

Cat: But I remember being in the white social services car in this back seat and looking up and seeing my mother and grandmother on the courthouse steps sobbing as they were driving me off. I was five and a half years old when I went into foster care. 

Christina: And Cat, as an adult, struggled herself with poverty. She also lost two children to foster care, including Mckenzie. 

MUX IN "Dust Radio"

Mckenzie She was a good mom. Like, I'm not saying she wasn’t a good mom, but she just had her own issues, you know? And then like I wasn’t the greatest kid. 

Christina: So as you can see, intergenerational trauma has been passed down to the next generation. 

MUX bump 

Christina: They spent some time in Florida and they have fond memories there, camping and swimming with manatees and fishing. But Mckenzie and Cat were living in Louisiana and after Hurricane Katrina, they headed west.

Mckenzie: I grew up with my mom traveling. I guess you could say since I was 6. It's been more of like a homeless runaround from state to state.


Christina: They lived in Arizona, then Nevada. And at age 11, Mckenzie ran away and started using drugs and she landed in juvenile hall.

Mckenzie: Excuse me to say, but I'm a typical fuckup I guess. //  I ran away from home at 11 and started to do drugs and was in and out of juvenile hall.

Christina: And a year later, Cat decided to move her and Mckenzie out to California, where they could get a fresh start.

Mux out

Christina: In Ventura, California, Mckenzie had a hard time fitting in here. And things started to downward spiral from there. She was sexually assaulted by a friend's stepfather. Things weren't going out the way that Cat had hoped them to. They were fighting a lot. 

MUX IN "Reflective"

Mckenzie: I just don't think that she knew how to be there for me the way I needed. Like, I always say now, like you can't help a person in the way you find fit, you have to help a person, like the way that they need, you know? 

Mux beat 

Christina: Mckenzie ended up in a psychiatric facility and later a group home, bouncing from foster home to foster home and ultimately ended up in a home for troubled girls in Laverne, California. From there, she ran away, jumped on a bus and landed on the streets of Hollywood. She was 13. 

Mux beat 

Christina: She was not housed. She didn't have a plan of where she would stay. When Mckenzie ran away from these group homes it was impossible for Cat to know where she was. Just like any mother, she panicked.

Cat: I'm kind of stubborn. I was searching for my daughter. I found my daughter, my daughter's back out here. I'm trying to look for her,  I'm looking for her again. You know, like all those years of bringing her home and stuff and dealing with CPS cases and juvenile hall and, and where is my child? Is she safe every night? You know, that will make a person crazy. I was crazy.

Mux out

Christina: When Mckenzie landed on the streets of Hollywood, she befriended other kids who were on the streets for many of the same reasons as she was. They came from similar backgrounds. They were also in and out of foster care. Together, they formed their own families and street crews. Their crew went by the name “Dedicated Soldiers.”

Mckenzie: The fucking aspect of having a family, no matter like blood or not, shape size, color, it doesn't matter, you know, like that's the whole point. We don't have to be blood.

Christina: Life on the street also led her to start to sell drugs to support her own habits and one man that she sold dope to actually kidnapped her and handcuffed her to a toilet in a hotel bathroom.

Mckenzie: That was my first-ever experience of shooting up. I got forced to shoot up heroin, coke and speed. They tried to put me on the streets and then it never worked, that's why I got beat up. I ain't never been a prostitute in my life and never will be. 

Christina: Her kidnapper one day brought her to a Jack in the Box in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, and unbeknownst to him that was a kick-it spot for her friends … her crew. 

Mux in "Temper Tired (a)"

Mckenzie: And my friends seen me with them and they fucking got me away from him, beat the fuck out of him. And I got, went to jail three days later, but whatever. 

Mux beat 

Christina: I see just the … the roughness of the day in and day out drama and watching your back, and I understand how forming community can protect you.

Mckenzie: I feel like my whole life has just been written for me. Like I'm just supposed to be stuck here. Like I'm not supposed to get any further.

Mux out 

Christina: So … Mckenzie had actually been pregnant while homeless before...twice. First time was when she was 16, she was living on the streets with her boyfriend, Sean.

Mckenzie: I got pregnant with Sean and I was 16. I had him when I was 17.

Christina: She and her boyfriend moved in with her mother, Cat, in a converted garage in Mid-City and Cat and Mckenzie's boyfriend fought a lot. There was tension with their landlord, and when Mckenzie was alone after the baby was around three months old, a social worker arrived and found the home filthy and was accusing Mckenzie of smoking marijuana and possibly other drugs around the child. Mckenzie says she never did drugs around the child, but Mackenzie was a minor. She was sent to a group home and the boy was taken away. And although she was given family reunification services, she was couch surfing and homeless, and it was difficult to keep up with the required visits with the foster family that lived far away. And today that child is being raised by his paternal grandmother.

Mckenzie: It broke me, but you know, like I really wasn't ready to do that at that time. You know what I'm saying? Like, I didn't have anything or nobody, or know how to take care of myself or anything like that. 

Christina: Mckenzie later connected with a new partner and she graduated from smoking meth to injecting or slamming meth.

Mckenzie: I didn't stop shooting up ‘till like 11 months ago. I regret that so bad. I lost my damn mind. Almost died doing that, dude.   

Christina: And at the age of 18, she found herself pregnant with her second child. She got clean. She moved into a program for homeless, expectant mothers who have a background in juvenile detention and foster care. And after her second child was born, the father went to prison, Mckenzie relapsed.   

Mckenzie: I started shooting up again. I asked my friend to watch my son for me.

Christina: Her friend had a checkered history in child welfare in other states and the baby was taken from her.

Mckenzie: But because I have a past with personally myself being in the system and my kid, first kid being in the system, they didn't give him back to me. They gave him to his dad and I did a prison term. And when I got out, he got married and had another baby and moved to Texas with my son.

Christina: Mckenzie's really grateful that the family members of her first two children were able to step in and raise them when she wasn't able to. She didn't get to celebrate any of her son's birthdays with them. And that was hard for her to grapple with, being able to call herself a mother, knowing that she wasn't with them long enough to claim that she was.

Mckenzie: When people get their kids taken and stuff, you know , it's always thought like, oh, they did something horrible. 

Mux in In the Debris  

Mckenzie: Maybe they just don't have like, the skills, you know what I'm saying? Or like family or things that everybody else has or thinks it's so easy to do. You know? It's like, cause it's not.

Christina: You know, we're products of our past and you do what you can with the resources you were dealt with.

Mux out 

Christina: So....this time around when Mckenzie got pregnant, she actually considered an abortion because of her past experiences. Plus she had just broken up with her boyfriend Eddie. But then.... 

Mckenzie:  I called my mom. What she said was going to lead me to, you know, know what to do. She was like, this is your chance baby girl. I was like, “You bitch, oh, I have to keep it.”

Mux in 

Christina: Mckenzie, like many women, played her options over and over in her mind and she ultimately decided this pregnancy would be different. She was 22 years old. She was older. She had lived more life experiences. Eddie, the father of her child, had gotten back together with her and agreed to co-parent. 


Christina: She had her mother by her side this time, and she also had a bond with her case manager, Leslie, and she really wanted the baby this time. 

Mckenzie: Because it all starts with a mom, right? You have a mom. I have a mom. I want to be a mom because like, what's the one person in the world who needs me? 

Christina: And she knew that she had to get placed in housing to have the best chance of keeping her child this time around. It was clear that Mckenzie needed to get housed, stay clean in order to ultimately break the intergenerational cycle of homelessness.


Gustavo: We'll continue Mckenzie's story, after a quick break. 


Christina: So… I was with Mckenzie when she had her first ultrasound.

Tape: The lips and the nose are right here. Here's the bottom. Do you want to know gender? I think you should probably wait for the surprise. No, no, no. Tell me. All right, here is the gender. That's a girl.

Christina: When the doctor delivered the news to her that she was having a baby girl, she FaceTimed her mom immediately and told her the news.

McKenzie: It’s a girl.   Okay. I just want him to call you and tell you that, mom. Imagine if you had a picture so you could see… Yeah. 

MUX IN Ave Maria

Christina: We left the doctor's office. She was giddy jumping. Very excited for the baby's arrival.


Christina: So days before Mckenzie delivered her child, via cesarean section, she was placed into a transitional housing apartment for women ages 18 to 24, who are either expecting or have children under the age of five.

McKenzie: Yeah, I will move into a place tomorrow. Wow. That's exciting, what palace? PATH, it’s transitional living, a studio apartment. That’s great. 

Christina: And when she was brought up to her apartment for the first time to check it out, they had a bassinet and clothing, a playpen and all the necessities that she would need for her child. And she was extremely emotional and grateful to the program for helping equip her with all the necessities because the baby was coming days later.

McKenzie:  It's good. And then there's the things about like, there's no elevator and there’s stairs and then there's nobody going to be able to come and help me.

Christina: So McKenzie would have to lift the stroller and child up two flights of steps while recovering from her C-section. What she had to leave behind to be housed was quite emotional for her too. Her friends, many of them were still living on the streets. She had to leave behind her dog because the studio apartment would not allow for pets or visitors.

Cat:  A new mom needs her mother's support. I can't stay with her because of the rules of her program.

Christina: So her mother couldn't come up and help her. The baby's father couldn't come up and help her. A few friends helped her pack up her tent and load up her case manager Leslie's car the day she moved to her new apartment. 

MUX IN "Abstract Reflections Underscore"

Christina: They stood around the car and said their goodbyes and it was emotional for Mckenzie. I saw her shed a few tears and she had to kiss her dog goodbye as well.

McKenzie: I try my hardest to stay away from the people who I considered at one point friends or family who are not on the same path as me. Like they're still getting high, stealing, fighting, et cetera. I would rather lose all those people than lose myself from my daughter. You know? 

Christina: Mckenzie had a lot of mixed emotions at this point. Because in the days leading up to the birth, she moved into a new apartment. But moving into that new apartment also meant that she’d have to leave her friends and family on the street. So…she had to prepare herself to be a mom all on her own. 


Tape: Are you ready to have a baby? No? You have to answer your phone. I’ve called you seven times. No you didn’t, good morning. Yes I did, you wanna see? We're having a baby today. I’m so nervous. I’m so nervous. 

Christina: The birth of Mackenzie's daughter was on a fall afternoon. She laid in the hospital bed, holding this small child and tears running down her face, smiling at her mother, at the baby's father, Eddie.

Cat: Ahhh! She said momma! Want kisses? 

MUX IN "Cerebral Cycles Underscore"

Christina: While McKenzie was still in the hospital, a social worker showed up in her hospital room. We don’t know exactly how the social worker arrived at her bedside, but what we do know is that the social worker came with an allegation of general neglect.  

McKenzie: I just didn't expect him to come to the hospital. //  She's two days old and there's about 13 people taking care of me right now. I'm in a hospital, so there's nothing wrong. And there’s nothing happening, she’s not going anywhere, ever. 

Christina: A neglect charge is brought when a parent does not physically abuse a child but fails to provide adequate food, shelter and supervision…these charges actually account for most removals to foster care, including nearly 90 percent of the cases in Los Angeles County over the last five years.

McKenzie: They're trying to find a reason to take my daughter. That's just what they do.

Christina: The allegations weren’t enough to take the baby and McKenzie was allowed to go home with her daughter. 

Mux out 

Christina: When Mackenzie is back at PATH with her daughter, she goes downstairs to meet with Eddie and they walk down Washington Boulevard, like a happy family, just still gleaming from the magical cloud of a newborn child in your life.

Tape: Baby ambi 

Christina: But soon, the reality of the hard work it takes to raise a newborn starts to set in. Her mother couldn't be there, the baby's father, Eddie couldn't be there and her waking up in the middle of the night she mentioned that she wishes she could just push on Eddie and say, it's your turn; you're getting up with a baby this time.

McKenzie: I'm lonely, believe that. You end up finding that you're lonely sometimes but it’s worth it though, you know what I’m saying. 

MUX IN "Focus a"

Christina: Her days were filled with appointments.

McKenzie: I have step-up, which has substance abuse, mental health, education specialist. I see an employment specialist downstairs. I see my caseworker here downstairs, and this was all once a week.

Christina: Mckenzie and Eddie even volunteered to be drug tested.

McKenzie: The point behind it is to show that I have no reason to be scared and that I would like it to be seen that I voluntarily want them to know that I'm not on drugs. Like I have nothing to hide type of thing.

Christina: Mckenzie was terrified that she would lose another baby, so she was doing everything she could to keep that from happening. Mckenzie was seeing a drug counselor once a week…meeting with him. And..both her and Eddie’s results were clean. But…Mckenzie was not enrolled in any sort of comprehensive drug treatment program…[and] she had a lot on her plate at the moment. 

McKenzie: Dude. I'm still looking for a job // and I'm tired. 

Christina: The staff at PATH strongly encourage women to find work. PATH’s federal grant was contingent on increasing women’s incomes. Mckenzie also really wanted a job. So she started going to a job training program at a technical college where she reads a “hopes and dreams” speech. 

McKenzie: I hope I can teach my daughter and my other two children that anything is possible no matter what you come from, as long as you speak life into your goals and know that no matter what barriers you have or what barriers you think you may have, you can do anything.

Mux fade out 

Christina: She went to a dress for success location to find clothing that could help her dress appropriately for her one and only interview she was able to land.

Mux in 

Christina: After a while we noticed that Mckenzie was starting to struggle and the PATH  Gramercy staff they started having, um, like run-ins with Mckenzie. One incident: she dropped her daughter off at the daycare that was provided on the ground floor of the housing building. And they mentioned that there was milk encrusted inside of the bottle. And Mckenzie said that the bottle brush they provided to her went missing and she was not comfortable asking for another one from them.

Mckenzie: I'm just not used to asking for help. I need to look for another program. Like I can't do it. I’ve kept my mouth shut for a year dude. Like I’m good, bro. My grievances never go replied to, like… 

Christina: So yeah Mckenzie wasn't getting along with staff at PATH and she desperately wanted out. She wanted to move from this temporary housing into permanent housing through what’s called a housing voucher. But the housing voucher system is a very complex one and takes a really long time. Many homeless people were waiting up to a year to get theirs. Housing vouchers come with so many conditions and requirements that some of the housing authorities even hire consultants to help them stick to all the rules. 

Christina:  So Mckenzie clearly qualified for a few placements, but the tricky part would be her not being considered homeless because she was currently in a transitional apartment. And that would be a disqualifier for her getting into permanent housing. So it was a very complex situation. 

MUX out 

Christina: Even though Mckenzie was glad to no longer be homeless, she certainly missed the sound of the freeway. Sitting in her apartment with her daughter, the silence was quite stifling. She also missed her friends, her community, her support on the streets, 

MUX in 

Christina: someone to talk to.

MUX beat 

Christina: There did come a moment when she returned to the tents to visit with some friends back in Hollywood. 

MUX Out 

Gustavo: More after the break. 

Mux beat to hard out 


Christina:  Mackenzie’s baby was nearly one when Mackenzie and her friend were // on their way to buy a car when they were pulled over by Sheriff's deputies. 

Christina: Sheriff’s deputies found a meth pipe and a loaded gun in the vehicle. Her friend later pleaded guilty to the gun charge and Mckenzie was arrested on suspicion of felony drug possession. That same month, a confidential call came into the child protection hotline alleging that Mackenzie was neglecting her child. The caller said a room check at path gramercy had found her apartment in a nasty state with dirty dishes, cigarette butts, and spoiled food strewn about.  An emergency response worker later wrote in a protective custody application to the dependency court that Mckenzie had missed drug testing appointments. 

Mckenzie: They’re going to take everything from me, bro. Like, dude, I did everything they asked me to do, man. And she fucked up my housing vouchers, I did everything they tell me dude. And so I was frustrated, so I stopped answering the phone and they took my daughter because shit. Sobs. 

Ultimately, a court ordered that the child be removed from Mckenzie’s home and placed in foster care 

Christina: One day the social worker had her meet him at a McDonald's restaurant and she couldn't physically hand over her child herself. Um, Her friend had to do it. And Mckenzie and her friend described the scene as her daughter screaming and crying “mama mama,” as they handed her over to, um, authorities and how devastating that was for her

Christina: After that day, she never returned back to her apartment at PATH Gramercy. It was too depressing to be surrounded by her daughter's things and being alone in that room. She responded with going back and living in a tent alongside the freeway, not too far from the tent that I met her the first day in 2018. And inside the tent, I found her clinging to her daughter's blanket. And it was extremely heartbreaking to see her there. // I had seen her on such a high with hopes and dreams, just like the rest of us and extremely in love with her daughters. 

Christina:  For me to see Mckenzie back laying in a tent near where she started was really hard. 

Mux in 

Christina: What was clear to me as a pregnant woman, carrying a child at the same time as Mckenzie, while working on this, is how easy it is for us to overlook our privilege of being able to, as a working woman in America, being able to access services and be able to have my own car, to drive me to appointments and not being criticized for being a homeless person. The discrepancies were crystal clear and it was hard for me to leave her in her tent to go home and sleep in my bed after being out with her each day.


Christina: I just hope that this story helps reevaluate how we as a society are able to better help people with addiction and struggles with homelessness, help them keep their families together.

MUX beat 

Gustavo:  Mckenzie did go through the voucher application process again. And in May 2020 she finally got a voucher and moved into an apartment in East Hollywood, then to one in Glendale. McKenzie was able to visit her daughter in person, and then during the pandemic they did video chats. But Mckenzie’s lawyer told her that she was inconsistent in meeting her visitation schedule and other requirements. So, Mckenzie’s parental rights were terminated in September 2021 — under California law, a near-irrevocable cutoff that ended her contact with her daughter.

To read more about McKenzie’s life, go to la times dot com slash hollywoodsfinest and read the in-depth story by GALE HOLLAND….You can also see CHRISTINA HOUSE’s photography and videos by CLAIRE HANNAH COLLINS. Again. That’s la times dot com slash hollywood's finest.  

MUX bump to hard out 


And That's it for this episode of The Times daily news from the LA Times. Surya Hendry, David Toledo and Ashley Brown were the jefes on this episode. And Mark Nieto mixed and mastered it. 

Our show's produced by Shannon Lin, Denise Guerra, Kasia Broussalian, David Toledo  and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistants are Madalyn Amato and Carlos De Loera.

Our intern is Surya Hendry. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Neito and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmin Aguilerra and Shani Hilton. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. Like what you're listening to? Then make sure to follow The Times on whatever platform you use. I'm Gustavo, we'll be back tomorrow with all the news and desmadre.