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