STORIES FROM THE STREET: LESSONS IN COMPASSION
On Easter Sunday I descended onto the streets of downtown with twenty-one care packages in my trunk that I carefully put together the day before, this time refining them with fresh fruit and home-baked cookies donated by my friend Peter Galliaert. I knew Tim, Leroy, Darryl, Maurice and all the street dwellers I met before will appreciate that touch- should I find them. Driving down Broadway, searching for my friends under the awning adjacent to Clifton’s I was overcome with anguish. The streets were eerily quiet, yes we had the Great Lockdown in place but people were also staying in with their families for Easter and knowing this the homeless population too stayed away from the streets as the lack of foot traffic would not offer them much change or leftover food from the random passerby.
After making a U-turn, I noticed a familiar hunch on a lone figure on the sidewalk. It was Darryl from the day before sporting his black eye. I stopped and handed him a care-package with water and asked where Tim and the rest of the crew was. He motioned toward 9th and Hill and with the determination to find Tim I got into my car. The endless circling around the block got my dizzy and I couldn’t track down Tim. I headed up on Hill Street and found Devalo Polk, who was recently released from a nursing home and onto the streets, his swollen foot resting on his wheelchair. Further down the street I found Charles Metton who’s been on the street for 30 years.Then I caught up with my friend Davis who I met adjacent to the closed Carl’s Jr two days prior. He was thrilled to see me.
At some point I turned onto Broadway to find Richard in a state of confusion tucked against a quiet corner on the cold concrete. He devoured the contents of the care package in less than a minute as did his neighbor, Brila, 66 who hid under his moving pad.
Francisco, 29 walked by us and saw what I was doing and asked if I had more food. I gave him a bag filled with food and basic hygiene supplies and we sat on the curb for a little talk. By then I was drained and frustrated with our society’s indifference and our city governance’s incompetence to help these people. We are about to have 60,000 homeless people living on the streets of LA and to many “homelessness” is an abstract term. My dream is to have the influencers, the celebrities, the sportsmen we idolize pull their power together and come down on the streets, bring their influence and money and help these people get into safe houses, with social and health services – or at least bring them food.
I returned the next day to continue handing out food. Tim was thrilled to see me. We talked for a while about life and his old job of being a chef and bout his accident that rendered him into his wheelchair. I asked him if I found a way to get him off the street would he be willing to. He said yes. Further down the street I found Manuel in his sleeping bag, then by the Ace Hotel another soul in utter delirium. He was incased in old blankets, his shoes walked apart, a young man in his mid-twenties, hiding his sorrow and addiction under the weight of his blankets. I saw a homeless man approach the lost soul and handing him his own blanket. Jadobby has lived on the streets way longer than this young man had been alive. The senior Jedi that he was, he exhibited the highest form of human act: COMPASSION. You see, I have witnessed more compassion and kindness among the homeless than among L.A. folk with their nice homes and fancy cars. More kindness and respect than the people North of Sunset, in the Hollywood Hills show to their housekeepers. I saw Maurice the day before try to build shelter for a fallen street woman, I have seen them sharing their pizza slices. I have seen HUMANITY.
On 9th street I stopped to hand out food and water to Kelly who’s been on the street for two years and one last time I had a sighting of the blanket incased young man shuffling through Hills Street and into the obscurity of Los Angeles. We are a rich city with as many as 30 billionaires and close to 300,000 millionaire households in L.A. County, yet people perish on the streets every day. In 2018 close to 1000 homeless souls died in LA County mostly on sidewalks, alleys, parking lots, riverbeds and on bus benches. Is this the American dream? I dare re-write Gandhi’s famous quote: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its homeless are treated.” You be the judge of how we are doing as a nation.
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