Think Of The Homeless

There are over 30 million Americans who live on the streets of our nation. Can you consider giving something to a shelter near you? Your fellow human beings need socks because they walk everywhere. Food and shelter are great too, if they will take them. So please give.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reviews by Hubie Goode: No Going Home, An Interview With The Homeless Part 2

No Going Home
Part 2

An Interview With The Homeless

John worked as a taxi driver in New York City for over a decade before becoming disenchanted with the “living inside of a pinball machine” existence of the big city and he hopped a greyhound bus headed west. After ending up in Southern California he landed a job as a 7-11 night clerk. What he didn’t expect was the clientèle that frequented these kinds of haunts in the middle of the night. All too often the customers would grab beer and snacks and just walk out. There were also a few hold-ups at gun point over things such as a submarine sandwich or a bag of donuts.

“I could have been killed over nothing,” John tells me shaking his head in confusion. “So I got the hell out of there.

In 1996 he moved to Santa Monica but has only been able to find part time work. “It’s hard to find anything here,” he admits. “If I had known it was like this, I would have stayed where I was.”

John was now one of the huge hordes of single men who are homeless on the streets of Santa Monica. Statistics show the majority of homeless are single men with no families and no employment. The total of Los Angeles homeless is around 90,000 and a big section of that is ensconced in Santa Monica. A huge number if you consider that a football stadium can seat about 66,000 spectators.

He was at the time commuting from a mattress store where he was earning $9 dollars an hour, part time, from the area in which he now lives, but the bus trips every day take almost two hours each way. The cost took huge bites from his salary which was about the same as he makes from welfare now. Santa Monica was cracking down on the deluge of homeless men and women who peppered the streets and choked the third street promenade, turning away many customers who would otherwise spend money in the over priced, affluent area. Northridge is like small town America in comparison and sometime in 2007, after sleeping on the streets for a year, he was laid off from the mattress store. Another invisible victim of the mass recession.

“I was at first sleeping on the corner in a sleeping bag, and then I started to feed the stray cats. I built them some homes and then decided I needed one too. So I built this tent.”

There were no stray cats to feed in Santa Monica, he couldn’t find any. The cats here in Northridge disappear during the day and no one knows where they go. After some time of taking care of the kitties, he ran into an entire society of people who do the same. Feral cat activists will donate food to John so he can take care of the “lost boys” of the cat world.

One person who is a feral cat defender and supporter of John’s work, has told me by phone that John is really a very kind hearted man. “He takes a real offense at the state of forgotten cats and people who don’t have much.” It was when John was ticketed by the railroad company for pitching his tent on the property that his defender became enraged. “They don’t care about anything but money. If John were to die today, they would simply call the coroner and have his stuff trashed. It would be all over before you knew it.”

In 1880 the railroad was such a problem that newspaper reporters and settlers to the area were convinced that it represented corporate greed and political corruption that was taking over the country. That’s 1880! The attitudes of the railroads all across the country towards locals was so prevalent that it even inspired movies like Once Upon a Time In The West.

A few months ago the railroad sent a Union Pacific police officer to John’s tent. These men are fully commissioned and work with local, state and federal agencies, so I am told by those who know. They were alerted to John’s presence by the railroad tracks by local businesses and citizens.

“While we are certainly concerned for the homeless,” I am informed by email. “We certainly have to look out for the health and welfare of all citizens and businesses in the area. The presence of someone trespassing on the railroad’s land poses a dire threat and danger to everyone.”

According to John, “The police officer was not listening to anything I had to say. He seemed to hate poor people. I explained to him why I am here several times and he turned a deaf ear to me.”

John was then told that if he did not leave within three days that he would be ticketed. He was then given a summons to appear in court in a three counts criminal case: Lodging without permission, trespass on rail property and general trespass. The courts biggest concern is for the health and well being of the surrounding citizenry, and this is a misdemeanor crime, so says the courts.

The local councilman also states that there have been consistent complaints to his office about the man living in a tent behind the store just a block or so away from the councilman’s office. The office would not say just who had made those calls, since all information must be kept confidential.

A staff member of the office visited John also, and during the visit referred him to some services that could assist him. The councilman’s office repeatedly states that its concern is for both John and the public. Not a short time later the matter was then considered to be a county problem and no longer a case that could be handled by the councilman’s office.

A long time real estate assessor tells me that if indeed it is a county problem, then the Railroad cannot legally serve trespassing documents to John based on the very spot he has chosen to live. “Because of the flood channel below him,” the assessor states. “John is not on Railroad property.”

When John went to court that day, several people who had taken up his cause also showed up to provide the court with the homework on property ownership vs. county land that the assessor had discovered. The prosecutor was taken aback and befuddled to see the evidence. Evidence that should have been basic investigative work for any prosecution office. The prosecutor asked for a continuance.

John has been defending himself since his court lawyer told him to just plead guilty to trespassing and get on with his life. John still faces trial in the near future and the prosecutor’s office has yet to respond to the legal land ownership evidence. There has been nothing but back and forth between all offices concerned and the case is stalled until someone can discover if John has broken any laws at all.

How this all began is a real mystery though, since newspapers have also gotten into the fray. They have found that those so called businesses that complained about John are all smoke, as no one will repeat the often chanted mantra of the system that local businesses complained. In fact, many told the papers that they have no problem with John at all. Most local employees and citizens didn’t even know he was behind the store.

John says that ever since the local mall sold space to several high profile retailers that his tent has been visited often by police, security guards and three people who flashed fake police ID’s and then messed with his belongings. He filed a crime report with the police but was ignored.

Investigating the incident has been difficult to do since no one knows who has jurisdiction. So the impersonators get off scott free. The local police have repeatedly offered city services to John but he has refused to take them. Admittedly, the police say, the complaints they get are about the cats he feeds, not about John. “His personal behavior has been quiet and reserved,” the police say.

PATH, People Assisting the Homeless, has said, “The system is failing to respond to John’s needs in the proper fashion. Finding him a place to live is the answer, not wrangling over who’s property he is on.”

According to PATH, the longer a person stays on the street the more emboldened they become as to remaining there. Even if John loses in court, he will still be back on the street somewhere, and probably the whole process will start all over again with a new group of people.

During our last midnight run to feed cats, John and I stop at a McDonald’s and he offers to treat me. I decline and he declines to eat for himself. “I’m like this,” he tells me. “Because my father was abusive. He would come at me with a stick for the littlest things. He thought I was lazy.” He then takes a long moment to stare unfocused out of the window. “I can’t shake it. It’s just the way it is.”

“What about you, John?” I ask him. “What are YOU responsible for?”

He perks up and says, “The cats.”

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