Homelessness Public Health Street Stories

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


Tourist states with temperate climates, such as California and Florida, have long been magnets for the homeless. Los Angeles is the nation’s homelessness capital, with an estimated 73,000 people on the streets. A survey of 3,230 homeless people last year in Los Angeles County found nearly 7 percent living in vehicles, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

“It’s trending toward an increase,”
said Michael Stoop, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “People would rather live in a vehicle than wind up in a shelter, and you can’t stay on a friend’s couch forever.”

The above clip is from an article that ran in Briebart on Monday.
It described how an increasing number of people in Los Angeles are living out of their cars—like Richard. Except that he used to be living out of his car, but the thing has since broken down. Now he’s dependent on shelters and the Motel 6, the latter only when he has the money.

Also, Richard doesn’t live in LA but in Orange County,
where, according to this year’s County of Orange Community Indicators Report, there are 30,000 homeless who need a place to sleep each night, but there are less than 900 emergency shelter beds in the entire county.

It is deeply disturbing to realize that our social safety nets are so porous
that someone as intellectually vigorous and productive as Richard could so easily fall through them. Yet, along with the undeniably harrowing details of his circumstances there is also the fact that he has been able to accomplish quite a lot given his situation. Not only was Richard commenting on my blog and Marc’s, he was also one of three regular co-hosts over at Randy Paul’s blog, Beautiful Horizons, where he wrote smart, newsy, opinionated posts sometimes several times a day with seeming ease—like these from last June.

As I mentioned yesterday, I asked Richard to write a little about his present situation,
—which he said he was finding difficult to do now that his health was more tenuous. Yet a week later he sent me a first installment:

My name is Richard. I’m 61 years old. I’m part of a growing army of homeless people here in Orange County who are neither mentally ill— at least at the start— or chemically dependent on alcohol or drugs. How I got here is the story I’m going to try to tell. Up front, let me say it will be hard. I’ve never been very good at talking about myself and the idea of opening up about this is difficult.

While my family has Sicilian and Italian roots, my mother was brought up with all the Yankee values that one could expect of the Connecticut home where she was raised.

My father was the first in his family to go to college
and but, when he graduated in 1931, found a degree in French Literature was not a key to fame and fortune. So he found what work he could and raised a family. My brother was born in 1932. I followed fourteen years later.

I grew up in Norwalk, a working class neighborhood of Los Angeles
. We had a nice house – VA and FHA financed, of course.. The depression made my father risk-averse. I think he would have made a great teacher but he didn’t think of going back to school on the GI Bill. Neither did he join with friends in business opportunities that might have paid off handsomely. Instead, he stayed with the security of the post Office. But he always found time to instruct me in the Great World outside. Weekends were spent at all the museums, ports, and other diversions of Los Angeles. He was a great instructor.

That is all I have the energy for right now.
But before I go on I’d like to say a word or two about “Homelessness” and what it means. What does it mean to you for example? Probably the image of a dirty drunken or crazy middle aged man comes to mind. Well that is one view and its not wrong. But it’s not completely right either.

Yes we are dirty and we smell.
There are few showers on the street and even fewer bathrooms. And when you wear the same clothes day after day – the scent of Irish Spring is not yours. After a bit we stop noticing the smell, but we know that you do. It is one of the things that serves as a barrier to social intercourse. We know people are turned off from us and we draw away.

About the alcohol and drugs: Sure, that’s how many ended up on the street. But not all. A surprising number are working men in their fifties rendered redundant by this economy.

A lot can also be said about the shameful dumping that occurred in the sixties when we closed the big mental institutions but failed to create the half-way houses needed to bridge the gap. Living on the street is stress-inducing anyway – if you’re not clinically depressed, you likely have far more serious mental or emotional problems.

And, yet I see a lot of people like me, with disabilities
—maybe work related —that are not addressed in any adequate way.

It took me three days to finish this much so I’ll sign off. More soon.

But before I go, let me say this. I made choices. Many of them turned out to be bad.

Some of you have kindly expressed the desire to help Richard. Later today, I should have some information as to where you can send money, should you wish. I’ll post it as soon as I get it.


PART III on Monday

(The photo, which is not of Richard, came from the LA Homeless Blog.)


  • Thanks Celeste. I’ll keep checking back.

    I’ll share this thought: recently when I visited my old neighborhood of Santa Monica, I’ve been struck by the fact that I see some of the same homeless people that I reconized from when I lived there 15 years ago. They are still there. Living on the street. Years later.

    Okay, enough for now.

  • The story of Richard is one of hundreds of thousands across the U.S. His story and others are of concern to everyone. Too many families are living paycheck to paycheck. No matter how or why these people end up on the streets we must not judge them.
    10% of homeless on the streets have a pet and can not find shelter or motels that allow pets. A car is safe and warm. Their pets are nonjudgmental, offer comfort, and provide an emotional bond of loyalty. But the tragic part is, the pets of the homeless do not choose their owners and the owners have a hard time feeding them. “Feeding Pets of the Homeless” is a nonprofit organziation that is asking veterinary clinics as well as pet businesses to join the organziation so there will be more collection sites. The members collect pet food and take the collected food to food banks and soup kitchens which have agreed to distribute the pet food to the homeless and improverished they serve. The organization takes cash donations to provide grants for licensed veterinarians that will supply medical treatment and preventative care for those pets in need. Go to the website to learn how you can help.

  • Celeste: “It is deeply disturbing to realize that our social safety nets are so porous that someone…could so easily fall through them.”

    Genevieve Frederick: “No matter how or why these people end up on the streets we must not judge them.”

    Good grief. Social safety nets? Where’s that in the Constitution? Here we are trying to help Richard and now this has become a cause to blame society for individual difficulties because government hasn’t done enough. Even Richard admitted that he made mistakes, which really shouldn’t be the point at all. We’re not judging him, so don’t start judging “society,” which usually means that I’m not paying enough taxes.

    Any of you California liberals out there with an extra bedroom, car, and job are welcome to patch the “safety net” for Richard now before waiting on society and government.

    Richard, how would it sound to live in artsy Topanga, drive a extra car of a Woodland Hills resident who has both a Corvette and a GTO, and eat courtesy tamales and horchata from Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe?

    Charity with liberals rarely seems to begin with them sacrificing.

    Now, how’s that funding project coming?

    Hang in there, Richard.

  • Actually Woody I don’t really dig the Topanga scene. Now a nice place in Malibu – say Paradise Cove – would be more to my liking. ButI’ll settle for the Palisades.

  • In our lives, we suffer a lot.. We walk through on several trials, that causes us to give up. Sometimes we think life is so unfair because of the hindrance we’ve been through. We struggle a lot to survive, but when things went wrong and everything is gone, we find someone to blame on and ask “why me?”..But things are just not constant, things may come and go, if not today, tommorrow, or never. But we need to value things that comes along our way, looking back the past may serve as our guidance to a new and better path forward..

    “Every problem has a gift inside. We seek problems because we want their gifts.”


  • Just starting out with a free bag lunch program.
    please tell me where I should start. I will feed about 400 people to start.

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