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  • Writer's pictureUrsula Vari



“Have no emotional investment and expectations” said my wise friend when I first started bringing care packages to the street dwellers downtown and the day validated her premonition.

When I pulled up under the awning on Broadway, I found Tim in an unexpected disarray. His usual placid and pain infused demeanor was a thing of the past. He seemed irritable and restless. He was twitching and quick with his words and upon seeing me he said he had to go to meet someone at 3rd and Figueroa. I asked who it was he was meeting, he didn’t answer. So I asked again. “Someone” he said fidgeting from side to side. He was wearing a new set of clothes and a brand new pair of sneakers and while he fumbled through his backpack I presented him with his brand new t-shirts, sweat pants, hoodies and the four-person dome tent I was excited to give him. He showed no emotion in his haste. He just kept saying he had to go jerking his body in the mid-day light. I am not quick to judge, yet I know the effects of crack cocaine, I have seen people having smoked it and the behavioral shift that pursued it. I watched him get off the ground and into his wheelchair within a few seconds, which in the past took him a couple of minutes, he was no longer wincing in pain, he seemed free from the ache in his left hip. I was puzzled. I gave him the food and his new sneakers, when someone from the bus stop yelled in his direction. “ Send me a pipe!”. Tim lifted his head in anguish as if his cover just had been blown “I don’t have it” and with that he launched into a one-minute rage filled screaming match with the stranger - at least a stranger to me. I remembered my friend’s prudent advice about emotional investment and thus kept my calm tone and politely said goodbye to Tim after giving him all that was intended for him.

Broadway was packed, with several businesses now open and the trickle-down traffic from the nearby anti-lockdown protest. Jaime, the street man I met the week before, was sitting at the bus stop waiting for the bus he never gets on with the bright Rialto marquee framing his torn clothes and disheveled hair. He reminded me of the medicine men I met some time back in Punta Chueca. Jaime was always quiet, he never spoke, he just bobbed his head to answer my questions. Sometimes, I would ask a question three times and watch him search for its meaning through my eyes or just stare into space. Then I had a feeling. Perhaps he just didn’t speak English. “De donde vienes”- I asked abruptly. His face lit up. And I saw his lips move “Venía de un lugar donde las montañas eran fuertes”, “ I have come from a place of strong mountains” he continued in Spanish “where the rivers are so clean you can see fish swimming”, his prophetic voice coloring the noisy street. I felt glorious having cracked the mystery. He wasn’t mute. I just had to speak the language he knew, aside from the language of the heart that we both understood. Mac, a young man asked me for food and he left my car with way more than that: clothes, hygiene supplies and a bag to fit everything in. He chose not to be photographed like a few other street dwellers and I understood.

I found Kelly wearing the shirt I gave him the day before, he was anxious and demanding to get his food. Again, not taking his coarseness personal, I left him with food and 3 more t-shirts.

Esteban was sitting on the same stretch on Broadway as the last time I had seen him. His face lit up when I gave him his own, personal tent and food. We went over the instructions on how to put the tent up and I left him with contentment knowing that he would have a roof over his head real soon.

In the quiet shade of Hill Street, Stephanie and Levi were enjoying the cleanest of air downtown Los Angeles has ever had. They were gleeful to see me. After the usual gifting of food, hygiene and clothing items, I shared with them how the community had come together after they had seen the work I do. I told them how there was Peter from Belgium, Stu from the U.K, Deniz from Germany, Erika from Hungary, Paula also from the U.K., Chynna, Tara, Chrissy and Travis, my incredible friends thinking of the people living on the streets and stepping up to fulfill the challenge of compassion in action. I left Levi and Stephanie with the promise to return with some clothing items for her.

9th street had its usual characters lounging in the shade of jubilant trees, Edwin, Kelly and Tim enjoying the early afternoon breeze. There were a couple of new faces. Pete, 68, was proudly clutching the 4-person dome tent I gifted to Tim. I didn’t say anything. A gift is a gift. If Tim wants to choose sleeping on the concrete without the slight protection of a tent, he can. I was no longer attached to the outcome of the gifts and care packages I distributed. Jason, a young heavy-set Caucasian street dweller came from Santa Monica. He said with everything closed and the streets cleaned up, there was no food or space for him by the beach, so he came downtown. He chose not to be photographed. He even refused to accept my food and hygiene care packages. “I live off the land” he said, which I found odd given the concrete jungle of our city. “ I mean, I don’t dig through trashcans, I just live off the land.” I didn’t force him to accept help.

Help is for those who want it. I remembered the time a couple of weeks prior when I came down to take Tim to the Weingart Center to start the process to get him an ID and set him up with social security benefits so I can help his transition from the street into a shelter. I had a dream for him that he will one day have his own apartment and be a chef and love his life. I remembered getting out of my car on Broadway excited that I had the time to take him to the office. “Tim let’s go.” I cheered him. “Nah, not today. Will go another day” came his answer. And I understood. Not everyone is ready or wants to get off the street and I can’t take it personal.

Daniel, 22, draped in a once-white comforter approached me and asked for food and clothes. With my clothing box empty, all I had to offer was food and hygiene items. His deep brown scared eyes darting from side to side. As he waited for me to bring the care packages, he muttered sentences only he could understand. I handed him the food and other supplies. “Can I get one more bag of food?” he asked. I brought him one more bag. He collapsed his tired body onto the concrete and attacked the bag of food like a wolf who hasn’t eaten in weeks. I imagined his family, his mother and his father, his siblings. He was someone’s son, someone’s brother; to the cops and the city he was just a homeless man.

Pete and I chopped it up about the good old times when he sang in clubs and private events, he belted out a few songs that left me in tears. “I don’t have a girlfriend” he said winking at me. I couldn’t stop laughing for a good minute. “I don’t mix work with pleasure” I replied coyly. Edwin came to tag team with him. We talked about his time at the Folsom State Prison and his annoyance with people stealing his socks and underwear when he launders them. I promised to get him some on my next run. I emptied my car, there was no food, no hygiene supplies, no tote bags, I even gave my blanket away that was for my dogs, they needed them more than my dogs did.

I made one last stop at Harvey’s at the El Pueblo tent settlement by the entrance of the 110 freeway. He was happy to see me and proud of me that I continued the work. Harvey was my teacher, a street dweller himself he educated me on what to put in the food and hygiene packages the first time I met him over a month prior. I truly had the best teacher. We chopped it up about the futility of the anti-lockdown protesters’ efforts and I complimented him on the great work he was doing “mayoring” the El Pueblo settlement. There, a few feet from city hall the tents and the streets are clean, the homeless belonging’s organized, drugs not used- or at least not publicly and amid the obscurity of street dwelling there is order and discipline and Harvey makes sure of that.

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

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