Homelessness Street Stories

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


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.


Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission, said he’s also seeing professionals and other middle-class people coming into the mission who are experiencing homelessness for the first time, including former mission donors.

“We had another donor … who was so depressed at the prospect of becoming homeless that she committed suicide before she kept her appointment with us,” he said.

Carolyn Jones, 47, a mother of three who volunteers and donates to the Union Rescue Mission, ran into hard times herself recently after her husband was robbed while going to make their rent payment.

Jones, who spent 15 years working as a nurse until she became disabled after a slip-and-fall accident in 2001, became homeless after she and her family were evicted from their apartment in Los Angeles. Now, she and her children are living at the mission.


In a county that has more than 250,000 millionaires, about 73,000 people are homeless on any given night, according to the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. About 40 percent are women and children.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 13,500 homeless children, a 35 percent increase over last year.

Experts estimate in Los Angeles, only 12 percent of the homeless find shelter each night. The rest sleep on the streets and in vehicles, parks and abandoned buildings – a practice that has become increasingly dangerous as attacks on the homeless have nearly tripled in the last decade nationwide.

Richard used to live in his car, which was much better and safer, but then it broke down, and he had no money to fix it. So he ended up on the street, cyclically getting robbed, bouncing in and out of the hospital.

With any luck, when he is released from the hospital this time, he will be well enough to transition to a place like L.A.M.P. And if he is lucky there will actually be a space at L.A.M.P for him, if—after the damage the street has done his health—he is able to take it.

Those spaces are getting fewer and fewerat all of the shelters and housing facilities, say experts.

We are confronted with an unprecedented increase in family homelessness at precisely the same time that we confront a substantial reduction in resources,” said Phil Ansell, director of programs and policies for the county Department of Public Social Services.

The state recently cut about $50 million in funding for DPSS, forcing the agency to reduce staff and eliminate contracts.

Things fall apart, as the poet said.

I’ll give you a new update on Richard as soon as I have it.

Photo by Richard Hartog, Los Angeles Times


  • I hope Richard gets back on his feet and gets some real help, God bless him. But something has been wrong in our society for quite a while when there are so many unfortunates living out on the streets and at the same time we’ve had the Masters of the Universe “The Haves” with so much material wealth that it’s obscene in it’s scope and abundance.
    At times it seems like something out of a horror movie, the High Brahman executive class living in guarded gated luxury and excess and the “Have Not’s” and homeless staggering around like the zombies in the old flick “Night of the Living Dead”.
    Watching the financial news this AM I see that this economic system that Ayn Rand described as “Objectivism” (really just laissez faire Capitalism at it’s worse), is collapsing by the minute and taking much of the world economy down with it.
    Could be that something better and more humane will replace it and that the misery endured by so many in this land of plenty will be relieved somewhat with a new more humane US Administration, I hope so.

  • I’m always pulling for Richard. Still, are there no rooms or garage apartments in L.A. where someone could allow him to recover and live?

    Celeste, what you fail to address is that families and churches can be and should be the first sources for help. They are better equipped, more caring, more reliable, and longer giving than government and agencies that rely upon government funding. Richard may have lost that link to survival, but others should be encouraged to try those first…and, churches and families should be encouraged even more to reach out to those close to them and in need.

  • Woody, for the most part the shelters are not government agencies at all, but non-profits—which are feeling the economic downturn in a big way (I just didn’t include that part in my post as it was already long). I imagine the churches are also feeling a big pinch.

    Churches do a lot for the homeless. But there’re are more people in need of help, than there are resources.

  • Prayers for Richard. Unfortunately programs like PATH are for homeless who are healthy enough to be retrained for a job. Being ill on the streets must be terrible. (No family he can stay with, I assume?)

    Celeste, on a different subject, the Public Safety Committee held its Jamiel’s Law discussion today, and it was another case of clowns to the left of me (Reyes, Cardenas and company) and fools to the right (Zine, Smith and company), all challenging the LAPD who held up articulately. (Or was it the other way around, clowns Zine/Smith and fools to the left?) Gates’ clarification was very cogent, that SO40 was supposed to empower cops to report criminals “suspected” of being illegals to the feds, if the Times’ quotation is accurate. Your contact Sergio Diaz talked about the fine line they walk and the arguments you presented earlier, re: encouraging law-abiding illegals to cooperate against the gangbangers who terrorize them.

    When LAPD brass said politics preventing them from enforcing the provisions that already exist in SO40, I think it was clear that the former (Reyes and company) were the problem. Smith and Zine couldn’t seem to grasp that Espinoza was released by the County Sheriff’s dept. and blaming the cops for a federal (and county) matter was not even to the point, so Zine’s motion would have had no bearing on Shaw’s tragic murder. Makes you feel sympathy with Jack Weiss, caught in the middle and blamed by the rightwing kooks for not pushing Zine’s grandstanding and clearly unnecessary motion. I feel sorry for the Shaws who’ve been used by rightwing media and Zine and company for their own PR purposes.

    The LAT article didn’t even make the distinction between LAPD/ the city and Sheriff/ county clear so that the general reader will still have only LAPD in its mind — look out for that if there are any more comments sections on their blog. Definitely that nuance will be lost to the readers of the Daily News.

  • WBC, thanks for the heads up—and the good and pithy analysis. I’ve been deep into book writing (punctuated by occasional tending to random student questions) all day today and have ignored the news.

    Clearly I need to snap back to the so-called real world.

    About Richard, I seem to be the only person checking on him, so I don’t know what the deal is with family.

  • Celeste, thanks you so much for keeping all of us updated on Richards situation. Over the years I’ve gained an incredible amount of insight from reading RLC’s comments over at Coopers blogs, as he’s always been amongst the most interesting, informed and witty of the regulars. I just found about about his painful struggle, being homeless and sick, a couple of days ago, after coming here. I was shocked. I’ve been forwarding his writing and stories, which you’ve posted here, to friends…Thinking of Richard

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