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Richard LoCicero – Part XII: An Appreciation

December 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Although I have made much of my living writing about murder, mayhem and tragedy, I’m still having trouble putting down anything that is terribly coherent on the subject of Richard LoCicero’s death.

Fortunately, however, blogger (and WitnessLA commenter) Reg has written well over at Beautiful Horizons about why our friend Richard—the blogger, commenter, former college teacher, former Vietnam war military intelligence officer—was someone who mattered.

Here are a few clips:

His trademark was incisive commentary rooted in a deep reading of history and literature. He was opinionated but, more than opinion, he was informed and analytical. Richard’s knowledge of history was prolific.

[SNIP]

…Richard was a son of Southern California in it’s Post-WWII heyday. He served in Vietnam as an Intelligence officer and had a broad knowledge of the history of U.S. intelligence agencies. He seemed to have read every important book on the CIA ever published. And he’d taught for a time at university, although he’d long parted company with academia. I gleaned a few other smaller things reading his comments over the years – he had a passion for railroads and a taste for single malt scotch.

Richard died on December 15 in a skilled nursing facility in Santa Ana, California. Those of us who had gotten to know him in the often strangely intimate online world have been—-as many of you have expressed here—-completely devastated by the news.

It was early this past summer when we learned that the man whose wit and intelligence that we’d come to appreciate in various corners of the web, was homeless, living on the street, and suffering from a daunting laundry list of physical problems including congestive heart failure and all the complications of diabetes. We also learned that he did all his posting and commenting and reading in whatever public libraries he could manage to get to given the limitations of his ailing body.

After Richard confessed to his predicament, I asked if he would chronicle some of this experiences in journal form to be posted here. His email logistics in doing so were often quite challenging and working them out led to us talking from time to time on the phone.

Usually Richard would call me collect around the first of every month right after he got his new SSI check, meaning he had the money to stay for a few days at a Motel 6. This in turn meant, for a little while at least, he had access to a telephone. When we chatted, we sometimes talked about Richard’s physical condition, which was deteriorating, and the fact that he probably should get some kind of therapeutic help for the depression that came and went with increasing frequency. Other times he would give me his latest take on that day’s political news, and regale me with quirky and darkly funny tales from the world of homelessness.

Mostly, however, we talked about literature. Richard was one of the best read people I know—which is saying something. His love of good writing was deepened by his love for and knowledge of history, politics, the law, and a whole array of other topics. I inevitably came away from one of these nighttime chats (they somehow usually occurred around 10 p.m,) feeling I had gotten far more than I had given.

For instance, when in early fall of this year, I found myself on a George Orwell reading kick, Richard was the ideal conversational companion. He had read pretty much all of Orwell’s work, both the fiction and the nonfiction, and was able to discuss each book and/or essay with vivid and insightful enthusiasm. Even better, for my selfish purposes, he knew the work intimately enough to be able to give me unerring advice as to what I might want to read next.

To paraphrase the rock-and-roll poet, everybody dies, baby that’s a fact. But the thing that haunts in Richard’s case is that is the suspicion that our friend RLC died mostly because he was homeless. Or to put it another way, Richard’s condition deteriorated because he was too sick to withstand the rigors that homelessness imposes, particularly in Orange County, where the number of those in need of shelter so greatly exceeds the number of beds.

“I just need a room,” he kept saying to me. “If I have a room, I think I can handle the rest.”

But Richard never got a room until he was so sick that the only place possible was a bed in a skilled nursing facility—where the care may or may not have been adequate.

Richard LoCicero was a Vietnam Vet and a man with a big lovely mind, a wicked sense of humor, a stupendous amount of courage, and a generous heart.

The fact that we live a society that could find no room for him—literally not one room—is simply incomprehensible.

Yet, this post is meant to be about appreciation rather than grief or fury so, to that end, I think again I will defer to a clip from reg’s post at Beautiful Horizons:

…..rather than dwell on the obvious, I feel more compelled to look at what Richard accomplished even in the face of the most hopeless imaginable fate. His love of history, politics and prose; of sharp debate and wry observation; of reading, of writing and telling us how he saw it, drew Richard to travel miles many days, with a weak heart and a bum leg – literally not enough oxygen in his blood and fighting off infection – to spend an allotted hour in front of a library computer checking in with his “internet friends” and interlocutors, writing his commentary and then, no doubt, spending a few more hours in this haven from the cruelties of the street nestled in a book. I can’t imagine the intellectual will and physical courage that took and I didn’t fully appreciate just how profound Richard’s efforts were until they were done and Richard was gone.

Posted in Homelessness, Street Stories | 7 Comments »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless. The Last Chapter

December 24th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon



I had been remiss.
I hadn’t talked to Richard since before Thanksgiving and I somehow misplaced the telephone number for the skilled nursing facility in Santa Ana where he had been transferred.


I tried half-heartedly a couple of times to find it in my endless piles of papers and notebooks
with no luck. Stupid, I thought, and figured he’d call me.

The weeks passed, and I kept meaning to do more but somehow it did not make it to the top of my To Do list. I was busy. There was teaching, I had my MFA and book deadlines, there were other people with louder emergencies….yadda, yadda, yadda.

A million excuses.

Finally today, I thought I’ve got to find Richard no matter what it takes. It is, after all, the day before Christmas.

I called Coastal Community Hospital the place where I remembered he’d been last before he went to the skilled nursing facility. After several dead ends, I located the social services person who had made the transfer arrangements when Richard left Coastal Community back in early November.

(See this post for a bit of that back story And go here for all 11 posts about Richard.).

The social worker was a kind, intelligent-sounding guy named Dan, and he remembered Richard. They’d had a couple of good conversations, Dan said.

“Yeah, Richard’s really smart,” I said. “Not someone who should have been living on the street. He wasn’t working because he was sick. It wasn’t right.”

Fortunately Richard had given the hospital staff verbal permission to provide me with information about him, and Dan had notes to that effect. This meant he was able to get around the HIPA regulations. But he was doubtful he could find the transfer information this late in the game, he said. After putting me on hold for a few minutes, Dan came back.

“A Christmas miracle! I found it.” He give me the number for a facility called Country Villa Plaza.

“He wasn’t in very good shape when he left here,” Dan said. “So I imagine he’s still there. He told me when we talked that he’d finally realized he needed some help. But truthfully he should have gotten help sooner.”

Although short of a hospital, what alternatives were there? Santa Ana’s shelters are jammed five times over.

“Yeah,” Dan said glumly.

I called Country Villa Plaza right away. The young woman who answered the phone sounded very young indeed. She said Mr. Locicero was not in residence. I got pushy. I was his emergency contact, I told her. If he was discharged I should have been notified. Dan told me this is what I should say if they gave me any trouble. Since there was no one else that Richard put down as family at the hospital other than me, they would likely give me the information.

The young woman became nervous. “He was discharged on December 15,” she said.

“To where?” I asked. Dear God. He can’t have been foolish enough to go back on the street again. Surely.

“I’ll transfer you to medical records.”

I got Roger in medical records who seemed irritated to be working today, and was extremely reluctant to give me any information at all. He was suspicious of my inquiries from the get go, although what there was to be suspicious about was never clear.

“I know he was discharged on the 15th of this month,” I said. “I just need to know where. I should have been notified.” I repeated the mantra that Dan at the hospital had given me.

Roger put me on hold. When he came back I could feel that somehow the air between us had changed.

“I’m sorry to tell you….” he began.

He didn’t need to finish. My heart dropped through the floor ahead of his words.

“….that Mr. Locicero passed away.”

God damnit, god damnit, god damn it. I let him down. I should have called him earlier. I should have done something.

Richard, I’m so, so sorry. So sorry.

I tried to get additional information out of Roger, anything at all. Not that it mattered. I just couldn’t stand not knowing at least something. Surely Richard should not die without at least one person who knew him being told what had killed him? Was it a fast downhill slide? Was there something that could have been done? Where and how was he buried? Perhaps all pointless questions. I mean really what difference did it make now? But still….. Still. Attention should be paid.

Roger grew testy. “You weren’t on his card. There was no family member on his card. And you weren’t on his card,” Roger emphasized this again. “So I can’t give you any information. I am prevented by HIPA laws.” blah, blah, blah.

“Look, he’s dead!” I said finally. “Can’t you at least tell me why he died?” No, Roger said. He couldn’t. He couldn’t let me speak to any of his nurses either. After fifteen minutes of every kind of pestering, I gave up. Heck, Roger was within his rights.

And it was, after all, a bit late to do my pestering. A month earlier would have served Richard far better.

So, that’s all I know.

And it is terrible news.

Posted in Homelessness, Street Stories | 16 Comments »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless. Part X: LOS ANGELES

October 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

skid-row-4.jpg

I have more news about Richard LoCicero specifically—-
and about the state of homelessness in Los Angeles County in general.

Both reports are unsettling.

First let’s talk about Richard.

If you’ll remember when we checked in with him last week, Richard was back in the hospital for congestive heart failure, a condition that is much of the reason this well-educated, former-college teacher has been homeless for the past year or so.

A summary of the events that got him there is as follows: At age 61, Richard needs an ongoing oxygen supply to control his worsening CHF.

But, although getting a tank courtesy of SSI is not a problem, finding a safe place where he and the tank could live, was not an easy matter. Except for the time every month when he would use part of his SSI check to spend a few days in a Motel 6, Richard was on the street. Since a tank was way too heavy to lug around, he tried to make do without it. Thus his blood became less and less oxygenated, which in turn exacerbated his condition.

Then two Fridays ago, on October 17, something happened to push his health over the edge: Richard got robbed after he had fallen asleep on a bus bench in Anaheim. A guy came up and grabbed his backpack containing his money and more importantly, his medications—and just ran off. The combination of his already low oxygen levels and his now absent medication caused Richard to land in the hospital by the weekend. There he was immediately put on back on oxygen and treated for a multiplicity of other ailments.

(For those of you new to this story, the background on our homeless friend, Richard, may be found here.)

Richard remains in Coastal Community Hospital in Santa Ana, but his condition has worsened. For the past few days he has been in ICU, but as of last night at about 6 p.m., he was transferred to a unit that provides more care than a regular room, but not as intensive as ICU.

I spoke to his nurse last night, a very nice woman from Yorkshire, England, named Deborah (or is it Debra?). She was worried about his prognosis, she said.

As it stands now, the strain on his heart has been considerable due to the congestive heart failure, which is the worst of his underlying conditions. He still has the cellulites on the back of both of his ankles, which is causing him considerable discomfort. And he is diabetic, which does not help.

“And when he was living out of the street, he went without oxygen so often, for so long,” Deborah said. “It’s difficult to know what got damaged.

On the upside—if there is an upside—Nurse Deborah said she found Richard fascinating to talk with, and assured me that his intellect is still up and running. (I’ve talked to Richard several times, but holding the phone is hard for him, so the conversations have been brief.)

Last week, when Richard sounded better, I spoke at length with Anat Rubin, the former hot shot reporter for the Daily News, who got so fed up with the collapsing news business, that she went to work for L.A.M.P Community, as their director of public policy. (LAMP is well known Skid Row provider for the homeless)

Anat said that LAMP was going to try to send someone to see Richard on Friday or today. The idea was to bring him up to Los Angeles, and get him into one of L.A.M.P’s Skid Row facilities, in particular one that had some degree of onsite medical services.

Nurse Deborah said that she was not altogether sure if Richard could recover to the degree that he could be in a shelter. “But maybe. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

In the meantime, according to Sunday’s Daily News, a version of Richard’s situation (albeit without his plummeting physical problems) is being duplicated all over Los Angeles County as the economic meltdown combined with the mortgage crisis has produced a new stream of homeless who are highly educated and formerly middle-class.

Here are some clips from the Daily News report:

In Los Angeles County – the nation’s homeless capital - advocates say they are seeing real-estate agents, lawyers, business owners, pre-med students and other highly educated people losing their jobs and becoming homeless.

The Burbank Temporary Aid Center has experienced a 66 percent increase in requests for assistance in the last 18months, Executive Director Barbara Howell said. About half of those seeking help are middle-class people experiencing homelessness for the first time.

[SNIP]

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Homelessness, Street Stories | 8 Comments »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless. Part IX

October 21st, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

homelessness-street.jpg


I’m sorry to report that our friend Richard Locicero is doing quite poorly.

For those of you who are new to the story, Richard is a good pal of ours at WLA and a former college teacher who, for one reason and another—much of it having to do with ill health—is homeless.

(For earlier posts about Richard, go here.)

Now Richard is back in the hospital again, suffering from conjestive heart failure. It is the condition that lands him in the hospital every month or so. This time he has some sort of infection in addition, which he said is spreading. “Cellulitis,” he said when I asked the nature of the infection. “It’s affecting my lymph system.”

He was vulnerable to the infection because of poor circulation. And the poor circulation is caused by the CHF.

Richard apologized over and over for calling me and complaining, but I’ve made him promise to phone me when he’s sick or ends up in he hospital.

For months it has been clear that the CHF has been getting worse. Richard really needs to be on oxygen most of the time, but it’s almost impossible to drag an oxygen tank or the like around when you don’t have a stable residence. So he makes do on poorly oxygenated blood as long as he can, until he sort of crashes.

And then it’s back to the hospital.

To complicate things, the lack of oxygen makes him sleepy. Sometimes when he’s on a bus bench resting before he tries to make it to his next destination he drops off without realizing it and doesn’t wake up for an hour.

In his compromised physical state Richard cannot walk too far without sitting down again. Even with frequent pauses to rest, anything that isn’t close to a bus stop is simple no longer accessable. Because of the increasing physical limitations, although he’s very bright, well-educated, and skilled, he isn’t really terribly employable. His favorite way to pass the time is to take a bus to the nearest library where he can read in comparitive safety and comfort (Richard is better read than most people I know). In the library he can also go on line, of course, and read the news of the day. When he has the energy, he posts articulate (and often happily snarky) comments here, at Marc Cooper’s blog and at Beautiful Horizons.

But, of late, the requisite energy and the comments have been less and less frequent.

Late Friday night Richard was in the midst of one of his inadvertent doze-offs, this time on a bus bench located on a busy street near Disneyland, when a man calmly walked up and robbed him of everything he had, most of which was stashed in the rolling bag Richard brings with him everywhere. “The guy just walked off with my change of clothes, my medicines,
This means he has $2 to make it to the end of the month.

“I just let him take it,” he said. “I couldn’t stop him. I’m just so tired. So sick of it all. Because of the breathing problem, and the falling asleep, I’m an easy target.”

“That’s also why I haven’t been writing,” he said. “I’m too tired to get to a computer. I’m in really bad shape.”

******************************************************************************************************************

I’m going to call later today to find out if I can get him into a community for the homeless located on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted in Homelessness, Street Stories | 9 Comments »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless. Part VIII

August 6th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

homeless-with-dog-chubby-bat.jpg

It is the beginning of the month again,
which means Richard has gotten his SSI check and is spending a chunk of the money on a few days’ worth $49.99 nights at the Motel 6 in Santa Ana.

He landed in the hospital ten days ago when his funds ran out (as they tend to do by about the 25th of every month), then he got robbed of most of his possessions including his medication, and his health took a dive without his meds. But the docs stablized Richard’s chronic congestive heart failure pretty quickly and, within a few days, he was back out on the street again, but—having had a stretch of time where there was no worry about where to sleep, decent food was provided, and his body got enough oxygen for a change—he was in good enough spirits, post release, to provide a week’s worth of intellectually spirited comments at WLA and at a couple of the other blogs he frequents.

Here at WitnessLA, we can’t do much to fix the problem of homelessness. But what we can do, at least with Richard’s help, is to begin to put a human face on the issue. With this idea in mind, in addition to his personal dispatches, I asked Richard to write a few stories about some of the people whom he knows.

The first such story is below:

(For previous chapters of My Name Is Richard, click HERE.)

THE STORY OF S: THE LADY AND THE DOG

I happened to catch a little CNN today while eating lunch today at McDonalds (Yes, some McDonald’s actually have televisions), and the story was a feel good piece about a homeless vet and his dog. The dog was sick so the vet took him to a veterinarian and left the doggie there with two notes. One was to the doc asking him to euthanize the dog ‘humanely’ as he had no money for treatment. The other was to the dog itself explaining how much the vet would miss the pooch and what a void was coming.

Well the Doc was moved by note 2, and treated the dog instead of euthanizing it. The dog got better and now vet and dog are reunited.

Like I said: a human interest story with a happy ending.

The CNN story got me to thinking of a friend of mine. Let’s call her ‘S’ (not her real initial). S is a person I’ve known for over a quarter century. When she works, she’s a paralegal/legal secretary and she’s a whiz at California Civil Procedure. She often knows more than the lawyers, a fact that has frequently gotten her into trouble when she balks at some order that she knows is incorrect. I’ve told to just do what her bosses say, that if they’re wrong, it’s their necks on the line. But she is just as likely to walk off the job instead. And when crossed, she drinks.


S is not a lovable drunk.
At times she gets very nasty. She has burned a lot of bridges.

(Did I mention that S was homeless?)

But, whatever her moods, S has one love of her life, a little Pekinese dog that is cute as a button. He is also quite a defender of S. At night he would sleep at the foot of where ever she had made her bed, and warn off intruders with a menacing growl (or as menacing as a 17-pound ball of fluff can manage).

Last January S. moved to LA because of the promise of a job. (She had been living in Orange County where I live.) As I said, S. often does get jobs. Homeless or not, she has style. In her younger years, she was a model and she is an expert at thrift shop clothing. During the period a few years ago that she lived in shelters in Santa Monica, I bet few people she saw would have ever guessed she was homeless. (How many homeless people do you know who looked good enough to get themselves let into the party that was thrown when the legendary Chasen’s restaurant finally closed its doors?)

When S. left for LA she was living out of her car, a 450 SL that she’d bought used some years back she had a job and was able to save some money. (When S. worked, she could make $30 an hour.) On her way to this job interview, she got stopped by the police for running a stop sign. Since her license was expired (Three DUIs will do that) , the police impounded the car. She had no money to get it out of impound and, although I told her she could find another solution, she just let it go. (S. does things like that.) This meant she and her doggie were now back to pounding the pavement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Homelessness, Street Stories | 18 Comments »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless. Part VII

July 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


NOTE: This is part of a continuing series on long-time WitnessLA commenter, Richard LoCicero, who—due to a series of circumstances (and unbeknownst to his online friends and sparring partners)—has for the past few years been homeless, living first in his car and then more recently on the street in Orange County. For the full series click here.

*******************************************************************************************

Although he’d been dropping in from time to time to post in the comments section of WitnessLA, I had not gotten a personal update from Richard for a while. But then a week ago, he sent me this fragment of an essay:

As I approach what the writers call the “Autumn of my Years” I find myself once more enjoying a second childhood. That is, a second childhood courtesy of the law which makes ‘sleeping rough’ an offense. We used to have these things called ‘Curfews’ in California and it made it illegal for someone under the age of 18 to be out at night after 10 PM. Maybe some of you remember the TV Stations stentoriously announcing: ‘Its Ten PM. Do you know where your child is?’ Well those laws were called ‘Status Offenses’ and since only the status of age made it an offense the curfew got repealed.

Well, Homelessness is another type of ‘status offense,” and while nobody comes out and says it directly in this way, its illegal to be on the streets. As Celeste pointed out the other day you can be ticketed, have that ticket go to warrant and then, irony of ironies, be eligible for a period of government housing—called ‘Jail’—which is probably more expensive for taxpayers to fund than shelters or SROs.

Everyone I know on the street has a story about the hassling. It is part of the life. They also discuss having their belongings seized and their ‘camps’ razed.

(Yes Virginia, the homeless go ‘camping’

I’m wondering – is anybody out there aware of a room I could use? Just asking. I know its hard and all that but if I don’t ask….

Yesterday, Richard emailed another essay of sorts. When I received it, for some reason a whole chunk of the text was cut off. Frustrated at the truncation, I wrote him back to tell him so and asked if there was any way he could recover the rest.

In order to email or to post on a blog (He posts at Marc Cooper’s blog too), Richard uses a computer at whatever public library that is nearest where he is staying that day. Obviously this means that there is no way of saving text, or a file. So any archiving of the journal I’ve asked him to write, or anything else he might try to compose, has to be done by others. or not at all. Electronically speaking, each time Richard sits down at the computer he must rebuild from the ground up.

A few weeks ago, in response to my request, he was working on a narrative that was to describe how and why he went from college teacher to a man sleeping on public benches, but he had put that aside, he said, because right now it depressed him. I notice that Richard’s moods tend to dive as he nears the end of the month, which is premably when his money starts to run out.

Despite his difficult—often dire—situation, Richard is not, at least in my experience, prone to self-pity (although admittedly my contact with him has been limited to online or emailed exchanges, and more recently some phone conversations at the early part of July when he had the money for a few nights at a Motel 6, thus could be reached by telephone). But sometimes the circumstances of his life seem to rush together into some kind of critical mass that suddenly becomes too wearying for him to carry. Thursday seemed to be one of those days.

Right now I’m too disgusted so maybe I’ll try to rewrite the missing part later. But I’m totally flumoxed for now. You can’t image how depressed I am.

I don’t know where it went. This is getting old. I’m tired, and I can’t stay out on the street. Its much worse than living in my car. And I’m broke. And I can’t get to food kitchens so I’ll go hungry this week.

Yeah! I’m doin’ fine!


Then a while later, I got a this email.

An occupational hazard of the homeless struck today. Someone ran off with one of my bags containing most of my clothes and ALL of my meds. Now I’ll have to go and see if MediCal will replace them – there’s a limit on how many per month. I’m almost sure to end up back in hospital now. If I do I’ll call you from there.

Can things get any worse?

Scrambling clumsily for a response that might be even marginally helpful, I typed back the following:

This is horrible, Richard. Thereʼs got to be some kind of strategy. Youʼre so bright. It doesnʼt make sense that youʼre stuck in this situation. Let me know what happens.

Celeste, my “strategy” is simple. I need a place to stay. Now that I’ve lost all the contact info I’ll have to start over. But right now I’m too tired and depressed. Frankly, the only up time I have is on line where I can talk of other things. But the grim fact is I’m out of money and too sick to walk to the soup kitchens so my “enforced” diet is on again. Yeah, I really don’t want to say more but I’m nearing the rope’s end.

Sorry, don’t mean to bum you out. Its my doing, after all.

To be continued….

************************************************************************************************************
SIDE NOTE: The video above is a clip of Bruce Springsteen singing “The Ghost of Tom Joad” with Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine sitting in. It was recorded this past April on the second night of Springsteen’s two concerts at the Honda Center in Anaheim. I happened to be there and, as Morello blazed in with his bad boy baritone growl for the song’s second duet, all at once Bruce’s 1995 social justice ballad was reinvented as a hybrid of weapon and blessing, then blew itself through the roof with a force strong enough to heal the lame or start a new religion. This was especially true at the very end when Bruce nodded to Morello who, at the cue, launched into an incendiary guitar solo that this YouTube clip doesn’t really do justice. (But at least it will give you an idea.)

(And in case you can’t read the lettering on Morello’s custom stratocaster, it says: ARM THE HOMELESS.)

Look: obviously, listening to a song played by an aging rocker and his guitar whiz friend does nothing at all to help Richard or anyone else struggling with homelessness. But, still, the perfomance is loaded with passion and heart, and on dark days I figure we need all the passion and heart we can get. That’s probably true on the light days too.

Posted in Homelessness, Street Stories | 9 Comments »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless. Part VI

July 17th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

homeless-woman-leslie-may.gif

As the homeless capital of America, Los Angeles County has 73,000 homeless men and women; 10,000 without a home are children.

According to the latest figures on services in LA County, emergency and transitional housing and services are in short supply. LA County is short 5,000 emergency beds and 14,000 transitional beds in hospitals and shelters. For every emergency bed, there are 16 people who need it; for every transitional bed, nine people are waiting.

Okay, that’s the context. Now here’s the latest installment from Richard.


This has been a depressing period for yours truly.
The other while riding the bus down here I found myself sharing space with an old woman who was obviously homeless, like me. How did I know? Well, for one thing she was lugging around a suitcase – one of those contraptions with a handle and wheels – that was nearly as big as she was. For another her clothes were raggedy and she was missing her front teeth. And she just, well she seemed about as forlorn as anybody I’ve ever seen. I wanted to know: How did you get here? You’re probably a mother and grandmother so what about your kids? And your husband. Did he die? Did you get abandoned? Why aren’t you in a shelter? But I was too embarrassed to ask her any of these questions. And too ashamed.

Tolstoy famously said all happy families are alike while unhappy families differed. I can’t say how she fell thru the cracks but that she did fall was obvious. And now she’s out there on the street wandering around with a shell-shocked look on her face. Lately we’re told that we’re “whiners” and should get on our bikes and get over it. Well I don’t think this woman can. And, yes, I guess that makes me a bleeding heart as I contemplate a state that will spend a quarter million to warehouse a kid but can’t find the dough to put a roof over this lady’s head. I know I’m supposed to discuss my own condition. But, dammit, I’m a lot better off than she is. And the night doesn’t hold the terrors for me that it must for her.

So you conservatives out there. Let me just ask you a question. What would you do about this woman? Think she might respond to a little money thrown her way for a roof over head? Or would that sap her “animal instincts” ala Larry Kudlow?


That’s enough.
I will save my soapbox rants for another time and place. But right now I don’t feel like singing America the Beautiful. “Alabaster Cities undimmed by human tears.” Sure.

Posted in Homelessness, public assistance, Public Health, Street Stories | 9 Comments »

My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless…… Part V

July 10th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

skid-row.gif


NOTE: This is part of a continuing series on long-time WitnessLA commenter, Richard LoCicero, who, due to a series of circumstances (and unbeknownst to his online friends and sparring partners) has for the past few years been homeless—living first in his car and then more recently on the street in Orange County. For the full series click here.

************************************************************************************************************

When he can, Richard has been sending me some bits and pieces detailing the sequence of events in his life that led to his present condition of homelessness. Yet, over the weekend, while I was waiting for him to send me a bit more on that part of his story, I sent Richard an e-mail with a whole other list of questions:

1. Where do you sleep? And what are the difficulties in securing a good place to sleep?

2. What time must you wake up? Are there regulations about sleeping on the sidewalk? (There are in LA.)

3. Then where do you go to spend the day?

4. How do you get food? Are the soup kitchens good? Accessible?

5. What about clothing?

6. You stay very up to date on the news, is this just from online reading? Or do you have other methods?

7. What about books: You’re a very literary person,
a lover of words, do you do much non-news reading?

8. Who are your friends on the street? Is there much in the way of community?

Here is his reply:

Read the rest of this entry »

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My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless…… Part IV

July 3rd, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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My computer is having a psychotic break and I’m on my son’s laptop
so I’ll make this brief. But I wanted to bring you up to date on Richard.

For the short term anyway, things are better. A few very kind WitnessLA commenters sent Richard some funds, which he was able to use to get back into the Motel 6. He says he will send more detailed updates soon. In the meantime, here is a short, interim journal entry from Richard, sent late last week before he got the funds, but after I suggested in an email that one day he might want to write a book about his experience and he mused a bit in response.

Thanks for the kind words. I doubt a memoir is in me. I come from a long line of taciturn Yankee Italians (yes, there is such a breed) and find talking about myself as pleasant as a root canal. I only dropped these bits on you because it was getting hard to hide my condition. As I said, I’m largely responsible for being where I am. That’s not because I’ll let society off the hook. But anyone who has been living in this country the past twenty or so years knows that the margin for error has been drastically reduced and it doesn’t take much to plunge into disaster—bad health, lost job, you can see the ways. I note for one factoid the Reagan administration cut housing assistance by 89 per cent. Now what do you think that did to the availability of SROs?

When I was young, homelessness was an invisible issue. If you wanted to see street people here in LA your best bet was to go down to “The Nickel”—fifth St or our local “Skid Row” and look at the “Wino’s”. Michael Harrington was even more blunt – in his landmark book The Other America (credited with inspiring the “War on Poverty”) the first chapter is entitled “The Invisible Poor”. Harrington meant that in our affluent age (remember we’re talking 1960 now) we don’t really see poverty. We drive by the poor on the freeway or ride by them on commuter trains. So it’s a shock when we learn that they are still among us. Not anymore. I don’t know when it first hit me. Maybe the early 80s. But, all of a sudden, in places like Huntington Beach and Santa Monica I saw people living on the streets.


And now, of course, Richard himself is living on the street
. He says that, more than anything, he longs for a job—maybe something in front of a computer—that would allow him to work in his present physical condition, in return for a roof over his head.

PART V: The path from university teacher to joining the ranks of the homeless

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My Name is Richard. And I’m Homeless…… Part III

June 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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(Just to be clear, this photo is not of Richard)

As long as Richard continues to send me journal notes,
I’ll continue to post them. I received the installment below about five days ago. It seems it was written a few days prior to my receipt of it. (I guess at first, Richard sent it to the wrong email address and discovered the error only when it bounced back.)

While I know Richard is bit embarrassed by having the painful details of his life online,
I think the fact that people have been so responsive, while it doesn’t magically solve his problems, seems to have at least leavened his mood. (Am I right about this Richard?)

I also want to note that Richard’s is another one of those stories
that would be difficult or impossible to run in a conventional news outlet—-mainly because I have not yet verified all the details of his situation.

I’ve verified some facts. For instance, I talked to a girl working at the front desk of the Motel 6 where Richard has stayed in the past and, although she didn’t know Richard’s name, when I described a few of the details I knew about him, she placed him right away and told me far more than propriety probably should have allowed.

(I have no reason to disbelieve Richard’s story. So, in the absence of proof, I am going with my best judgment. I assume readers are making up their own minds.)

In any case, here is the next journal installment,
with still more to come:


I find myself with some time to do some writing
so I’m sending you this. Not at “MOTEL SIX” anymore. I’ll let you know when you can call me.

I’m tired all the time. Whether that is because I’m on the streets and can’t get enough sleep or whether i’m just depressed all the time and want to sleep all the time is a matter for conjecture. One thing is sure. When I had a car I could rest by flinging the seat back and sleeping more comfortably. That’s gone now. So is time. I depend on the buses – and fortunately for me OCTA [Orange County Transit Authority] is pretty good— and that means trying to get anywhere takes some time. It takes even longer given my health. I should be tethered to an oxygen tank. But that is impossible. What that means is my “saturation levels” are marginal. Doctors warn me it could affect my vitals (including oxygen to the brain. (Can you say “mini-stroke?”) And my ability to walk is circumscribed. I’m lucky to go a block. Therefore I limit myself to what is directly off the bus stops. So my world is quite small.

I lug my belongings around in two bags. I’m looking for one of those carryalls with a handle but will have to wait till next month when I have some money. I use the net time to catch up on news. My biggest worry is becoming totally detached from the world. Street people are not too informed.

Sorry but I’ve got to say it.
I miss meaty conversations. I miss people. On the street there is little chance for social interaction.

And then four days later.


I asked someone to E-Mail this to you
but it looks like you didn’t get it. I bounced back into hospital for two weeks. More infections. And just to add to the fun my “Oxygen Saturation Rate” – i.e. the amount of oxygen my lungs are getting, has dropped just below 90%. That means I need outside help. Great! The doctor warned me that serious repercussions would arise from not using a tank or a concentrator. Try lugging that around! So the priority now is finding a room where I can stash all this. Still at level one of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” I’m afraid. I’ll try to add to the journal. Think I’ll discuss my debilitating bouts of depression. All I want to do is curl up and sleep and never wake up. This is really bad. It is hard to be lectured to and have no real way to do anything about it.


PART IV ON WEDNESDAY

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