Part two: the homeless
One day on Carlos Avenue in Hollywood last month, just south of the 101 Freeway, I met a woman who called Raven. She said that she was 29 years old, that she had been homeless since the age of 17 and that she had been heading west in June since. his home in Ohio.
Like so many others, in so many other places, Raven wanted a change. And for worried minds, the West is always waving.
But she was suffering from an autoimmune disorder and she ended up believing, soon after her arrival, that Los Angeles had nothing but rotten options.
"I could sleep on a couch and get raped," Raven said.
Or she could find a job and hope not to get sick and lose it, which had already happened. But even with a decent salary, Raven said she could not afford a place for herself. Not with these crazy prices. So, instead, she was reading tarot cards on Hollywood Boulevard when she could find a taker and lived in a tent on Carlos Avenue, "with typhus, rats, and humans (dung) everywhere" .
I told Raven that I had met frustrated and frustrated locals in the area who wanted to recover their sidewalks. They were also tired of tiptoeing with human waste.
Raven's jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed.
"So why do not they open bathrooms?" She asked, growing anger. "We need housing and we need … respect. People pass by us and make fun of us, and we are more afraid of them than they are of us. How dare they!
Hollywood has long had a dark belly. Perhaps darkness, rather than glitter, has always attracted the greatest number. Maybe there were always more people running from something rather than something. But I have never seen it as broken as it is now, with a flourishing trade and an amazing social collapse side by side.
You see damage everywhere. You see the pain of abuse and neglect, you see the heartbreaking effects of mental illness, you see how drugs can clear your eyes and anchor someone in the street, and you see a little of the relief that get to know that you are in a place, finally, where it is not necessary to hide one's sexual or gender identity.
"These are people whose story is" my stepfather tried to kill me at age 3; I was raped at 5 years old; I was a prostitute at 14 years old. "
Amie Quigley, Director of Community Services at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
Young people who go through the youth service center called My Friend's Place are often hurt by experiences with foster families and juvenile justice in Los Angeles and elsewhere, said program director Erin Casey. They do not go out on the streets for methamphetamine, said Casey, but if they stay there for a long time, the powerful drug can help them temporarily "manage the trauma", even if it destroys them slowly.
The downward spiral is hard to escape, but sometimes there are happy ends. During a visit to My Friend's Place last week, I met a 40-year-old woman who had been a client there and later became a doctor. Sheryl Recinos stated that she had found herself homeless in Hollywood after escaping from a dysfunctional home in North Carolina to travel to Los Angeles, and then being raped after her death. arrival.
It has taken many years to trust any adult, said Recinos – including the book "Recoil: The Age of the Majority in the Streets of Hollywood" – and to believe that My Friend's Place was actually trying to help. Young people on the streets of Hollywood today probably think they will die young, said Recinos.
Understanding them is not possible without knowing it.
On Carlos Avenue, Raven's friend Joe told me that he had recently arrived in Los Angeles, Tennessee, in search of a woman he had met on the Internet. But like Hollywood herself, she was a tease, a dream. Joe said that they never even met. He was evicted from the downtown bus station for attempting to nap, then headed to Hollywood with little money and even fewer projects.
"I just want to get a legitimate job," said Joe, who told me that he had considered embarking on comedy, investing in bitcoin or saving enough to buy a vehicle in which he could live.
In the meantime, he said, he gets some of his meals back in garbage cans.
"You do not dig to the bottom," he says.
I asked Joe if he knew why more people are not going home when they find out how hard it is to survive L.A.
"Many of them can not go home," said Joe. "Many of them have warrants."
Social workers go to Hollywood to watch the Ravens and Joes and ask them if they're okay. One of these workers was helping Joe get into LA Joe's homeless service system, born out of state, did not have a social security card or birth certificate. that would make it almost impossible for him to find work or housing, but the social worker promised to help him.
Well, I thought it would be great if Joe made this difficult transition from homeless to housing.
But I had another thought too:
How many Joes Los Angeles can she handle?
I'm not saying that there should be no net for those who stumble, get sick or get fed up with an economy that buries more people than it lifts.
But with nearly 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County and limited resources, taxpayers who can barely cover their own cost of living should they pay for each newcomer arriving from California or the nation?
I am not convinced that we are helping those who need it most. An average of about three homeless people die every day in L.A. County, while countless other people are suffering from a monstrous madness in the public eye. I do not think we are working hard enough to reach the poor.
"We do not distinguish," said Kerry Morrison, who is working on a pilot project to improve the mental health treatment of the most severely disabled people in Hollywood. "You can come to California, sleep on the street, buy drugs – which is easy to find – and when you're ready, you can line up to get a good conditional housing. And this is not sustainable. "
In the same street where I spoke to Raven and Joe, a wheelchair user spoke nostalgically about her family in Idaho and her child, who was in foster care. Another young woman living in a tent said that she was pregnant, which will probably put her on the waiting list for housing.
A young man who left Oregon to get away from his problems a few years ago told me that he had found more. As we spoke, he ran a finger across the bridge of the nose, wondering if it was broken. He said he had been skipped twice in recent days.
An hour later, I saw some of the people I'd talked to sitting in a circle on the sidewalk, passing a piece of aluminum foil and sniffing a line of something.
Methamphetamine is everywhere. Fentanyl too. They kill people.
In Hollywood and much of LA County, the housing shortage is only part of the problem.
"100% of the world's population suffers from trauma," said Amie Quigley, director of community services at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, surrounded by encampments and providing services to people with serious mental illness. "You do not meet anyone who works well but who is going through a difficult time. … These are people whose story was' my stepfather tried to kill me at age 3; I was raped at 5 years old; I was a prostitute at 14 years old. "
Quigley tries to "redirect with love" people, as she describes her mission, and sometimes it means sending them back to where they come from. Quigley felt that church staff had arranged for some 40 people to get on a bus and go home until this year. In general, she said, she will speak to someone who is in a difficult situation in Spain and asks if she plans to go home. Then comes the question:
"Do you think I should?"
Quigley answers honestly:
"I would like."
Quigley said she would not buy bus tickets for passengers if she did not think it was the best choice for them and they would make the decisions. She tries to make sure that there is someone on the other side of the world who can give them the opportunity to build a better life. If all this checks, she could say:
"You have to be in the safest place you can be right now, and that's not it. You have to go where you can get the best care, and I do not want to see you on the sidewalk in three years. "
Quigley lives near the church, but said she no longer feels comfortable returning home through the Gower / 101 Underpass. From her office, she hears the cries of tents and crying of a dog regularly beaten by a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress.
"Domestic violence is out of the subject. We take care of it in the tents and I had to call the police because this guy was screaming to his wife that he was going to kill her right outside my door. We were screaming in Pasadena, "said Quigley.
Quigley speaks of the "competing virtues" of people who want open camps and homeless people who do not want to be harassed and assembled when they have nowhere to go.
We may need to regulate how long a person can stay at the same sidewalk, said Quigley, and perhaps we should charge other states for the services we provide to their residents. According to Quigley, a person in difficulty but "semi-capable" may be in jail for about a year and find housing in front of a California native, schizophrenic and on the street for a decade.
"We need to determine who should be eligible for housing in Los Angeles because it can not work for everyone who is going to have trouble in Cincinnati," Quigley said.
"We need new tactics."
Alicia and her sister Tea, both 22, and her friends Gray and Keni, aged 20 and 23, respectively, lived near the Carlos Avenue building, where residents were pleading for the relief of noise and noise. l & # 39; space.
Now they are in shelters in Hollywood, are paired for housing and are waiting for their new homes to become available. I found the four of them one day sitting on the sidewalk, in front of the bridge deck on Schrader Boulevard, passing in front of a joint.
"Instead of talking to us and talking to each other as human beings, the first thing they did was to call the police," said Alicia when I told her about the residents who were fed up.
She added that someone shouted at them out the window one day, calling them homeless bitches.
"It's always rude before kindness," she says, but respect breeds respect.
She added that if residents complained about their taxes by paying for homelessness services, she would not lose any sleep.
"Sorry, your generation was disturbed by the youth," she said.
The four m's told their stories of broken homes and assessments of their mental health. Gray comes from Southern California, but Alicia, Tea and Keni come from Michigan. Alicia said that she left after being raped.
"It's either being homeless in Michigan and choosing to die from cold, or coming here and living semi-comfortably until we have all our dreams come together," said Alicia, who told me that she had done research on homelessness before heading west. set to Hollywood.
"I would rather be in the city center," she said, "where there are more services."
There are approximately 2,000 homeless people in Hollywood, and the Schrader Shelter has only 72 beds. She is one of the lucky few, but I wonder if Schrader is working in a way that can really make a difference.
Heidi Marston, Program Manager at the LA Homeless Services Authority, said that Schrader is still settling but that he has had more success in the beginning than others. shelters. When I asked how many people had moved to permanent housing since the opening, the authority provided them with information that they came from Mayor Eric Garcetti's office.
Twenty-six people have been matched with housing and another 16 are ready to be as soon as housing becomes available.
But only four have been housed until now.
In eight months.
And how many homeless people have arrived in Hollywood at this time?
In Los Angeles, we always wonder when things are going to improve. But there is no compelling reason to believe that they will not get worse.