• Ursula Vari

STORIES FROM THE STREET: IN THE COMPANY OF ANGELS

© 2020 All Rights Reserved


MEETING ESTEBAN, LEVI, STEPHANIE, RICHARD, DAVIS AND RAYMOND


With my usual Astro Burger stop and a trunk full of food, clothing, and hygiene supplies, I got to 6th and Broadway. I was beyond excited to present Tim with his brand new four-person dome tent. Driving up and down Broadway then on 6th street yielded no result. The burgers I got for Tim and David already had gone cold. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in downtown LA, even the homeless, who by now I called houseless or street dwellers, retracted only God knows where.


With COVID-19, food became scarce on the street, with businesses closed and no foot traffic there was no chance for the occasional dollar or dime in the hat. The houseless could only rely on good Samaritans who would occasionally drive to Skid Row and through the neighboring streets, handing out care packages. After close to 3o minutes of searching for Tim and the gang I aborted my mission. I headed up Broadway with the intention of cutting through one of the streets once I took care of the people lying on the sidewalk and eventually feeding the young man and elderly woman who lived in a tent on Hills Street.

I haven’t seen Richard in a few days and by the time I got to him with the food he no longer had his moving blanket or the cardboard pieces that shielded him from the concrete beneath him. With his charred skin on the bare sidewalk, he let out a sigh of relief when he saw me because he knew his dinner and water were secured, perhaps his only meal that day.

Further up the street a very handsome man with his flowing black locks lined the sidewalk leaning his back against the closed storefront. The wear of one year spent on the street only showed on his feet. With one disintegrated shoe on and the other missing he smiled as he recounted his time as a DJ in Midland, Texas. I wanted nothing more than for this man to be behind the decks again one day. For the moment, I could only offer the care packages and some clothes. He didn’t want a tent nor a blanket, proudly pointing at the colorful plush textile beneath him. He said he preferred his freedom to move-about instead of the confinement of a tent.

I gave a few T-shirts to Richard, when I saw the young man and the mature woman from Hill Street, the very people I was to drive to next. As if they knew I was coming. Levi, 48 had been with Stephanie, 69 for a little over a year. He proudly caressed the wheelchair-bound woman’s hair and face.

The two shared a tent and a beautiful, caring love for one another and a pearl of wisdom to the secret of relationships: “We never go to bed angry.” After giving them the usual food and hygiene care packages and a backpack for transport, I headed down Broadway.


I haven’t given up on finding Tim. A few trees from the Eastern Columbia Building I found my friend Davis who I met at the nearby Carl’s Jr a while back. He too is wheelchair-bound and although he insists he lives in Compton, I always see him in the same clothes at the same street corners or by the smoke shop on Broadway with his crumpled up CVS bag. I know he doesn’t want me to know the truth. So I just let him tell me over and over again about his home in Compton. I too gave him food and the burger that was meant for Tim because by now I knew I would not find my friend.

When I turned onto 6th Street again I saw a figure wrapped in a shroud torn beyond recognition. He wore no pants, he had no underwear on, just shoes and a once white t-shirt. With his faint voice he gave me his name and permission to shoot. Raymond, 49, was dehydrated, hungry and perhaps on some mind-altering substance I couldn’t decipher. I listed the items I had with me, he asked for water. I gave him a pair of pants, a clean t-shirt and a button down shirt first, then brought the care packages and water. I remembered my recurring nightmare of standing naked on a busy street and the terror it brought me. And I felt for this man, felt so deeply that my usual cheery voice turned somber. He had nowhere to go, no one to turn to for help, nothing to eat, no one to love. Not even himself. I realized he needed a bag to put all his items in, the food, the hygiene supplies, the 2 pairs of pants and t-shirts he got. I emptied the sizable Ikea bag my friends donated the clothes in and gave it to Raymond and with that I was to give one more try to track down Tim and the gang.


Down Broadway, then through the abandoned parking lot onto Hill Street over to 9th, everything was deserted. I just hoped that the guys were safe. Defeated, I headed to say goodbye to a graffiti artist I met earlier in the day.

At 6th street, I saw a familiar face. It was Raymond. He was already wearing the clothes I gave him 15 minutes prior. To hold up the size 36 pants, he used pieces of his old shroud as a belt. He was glowing, confident, coherent and a dignified person. I couldn’t hide my elation. I was thumping with joy for him. We walked together for a bit. Then he turned to me and said “My name is Michael by the way, not Raymond.” My eyes widened. “You know where I see you?” he asked. “I see you up there!” he pointed at the sky. I narrowed my eyes, bewildered. “I see you in the sky, that’s where you belong.” –he continued. I stood there confused. “My name is Michael, Archangel Michael and I know when I see an angel.” For two minutes I stood bound to his deep brown eyes, eyes to eyes, heart to heart. What if he was telling the truth and ha was an archangel carrying the message of love. What if the almost 60,000 homeless in Los Angeles are all angels, messengers trying to remind us what is important: to love one another and to be of service to one another but we are just too busy and self-absorbed to get the message. What if all 17 million residents in the city did something to help the angels of Skid Row and the thousands who live under freeway overpasses and the tents lining so many neighborhoods. As for me, I am grateful to my circle of friends who opened their hearts and stepped up to the task of helping bring assistance and love to the street dwellers. As for Tim, Edwin, David, Leroy and Kelly I will continue looking for them as I rejoice in the company of angels.



Much gratitude to Peter Galliaert, Stuart Peck, Deniz Kadem for sponsoring these food drives, Erika Konya, Chrissy Consolino, Travis, Chyna and Tara Brooks for all the love, support, food and clothing offerings.

All images © 2014-2020 Ursula Vari