STORIES FROM THE STREET: I GOT MY EDUCATION– PART 11
Finally, the tents arrived and with them in my trunk, along with twenty care packages, I headed downtown. I wanted to talk to Tim and see if he was ready to go to the Weingart center, although I sort of knew where his head was at. When I got to 9th and Hill the crew was dozing off in a slumber. Tim’s eyes were distant and tense. My last encounter with him left me to believe that crack cocaine was behind it all and yet again, I got the same sense. He didn’t want to talk, he took the food and clothes that I brought for him and closed his eyes leaning his head against his beat-up wheelchair.
Edwin was happy to see me. Though scattered and slightly restless from hunger, he demanded his care package. He scored big that day. Aside form food and his hygiene kit he got a brand new utility cart that my friend Mae sent, a four-person tent from my other friend Stu and some clothes from John. He was pleased that Christmas arrived early for him. The only thing he lacked was mayonnaise for his tuna - which he voiced rather loudly. Kelly was his old disgruntled self. I gave him the usual food items, clothes and a brand new backpack and headed back to my car.
Across the street I spotted Jaime wearing the pants and shirt I gave him the week prior. His thick brown hair gave him a regal appearance despite years living on the street. “Hola amigo. Tengo comida para ti. Espera me!” I yelled across the street. He stopped and smiled in recognition. Now that I knew the language to use with him it was easy to get his attention. After giving him food and the hygiene kit, I handed him some more clothes. As usual, his face told the story of disbelief: “Are you really giving all these things to me? Do I really matter this much?” His rugged hands with overgrown nails clutched the items he received as he shuffled away onto Broadway.
Further down on 7th and Broadway I encountered a group of men some on blanket embellished cardboards leaning against the padlocked storefront. They all wanted tents but I only had enough for 4 of them. Joe Cartright, 61, told me about the good ole years as a barber and the challenges of twenty-seven years spent on the streets, while Emmett, 63, recounted his time as a landscaper. I was happy and proud of him as he commenced the process to transition from the street into an SRO, single-room occupancy housing. With an interview on the horizon to determine if he was eligible for that kind of accommodation, he was hopeful. Emmett explained the bureaucratic hurdle a street dweller has to go through to apply for government assistance. It occurred to me that most houseless people on the street don’t have it as together as Emmett.
Many suffer from mental illness and addiction, which hinders their chances of ever getting off the street. For a moment I dreamed up a squad of bright-hearted people canvassing the streets and one by one talking to each homeless person evaluating their condition and holding their hands through the transition process, walking them into the Weingart Center or the L.A. Homeless Services Authority as many of these men and women don’t even know where to start or have the clarity to know that they have a chance.
I asked Joe to share his tent with Emmett until I was able to get him his own, because I had already given the other tents to two members of that congregation and I was saving one for Charles who was in a wheelchair. The Dallas native has been on the streets since 2002. He was overjoyed with the four-men tent across his lap. His eyes glistening with tears as he rolled through Spring Street towards Skid Row.
On my way home I stopped by Levi and Stephanie’s tent just to be met by two uniformed cops standing just a few feet from the lone blue cloth dwelling. “Is everything ok?” I asked. They nodded. “Are you here for them, officer?” I pointed at the tent. “No, we are here for you.” one of the officers said. We laughed as I called out Levi and Stephanie’ s name. But no one answered from the tent. Perhaps they are searching for food somewhere on Broadway, I thought and drove around the block one last time. I didn’t see them. Yet, I pulled over to hand out a few more bags of food and hygiene kits to street dwellers rolling around the grime of the downtown sidewalk, many too far gone to recount their names or where they were from, only to be a statistic on some inept city official’s desk.
Much gratitude to Stuart Peck and Deniz Kadem for sponsoring this food drive, to Mae Brunken and John Horowitz for the clothes, and to Chynna Pope for the help in assembling the packages
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