Homelessness Street Stories

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

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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.


  • Celeste,
    Crushing news. But NO, you had NOT been remiss. I doubt that you even begin to realize the many many lives that you touch. You go about your life, doing your job but it is much more than that. Your rescued me once many years ago and I doubt that you even have a clue. There are oh so many others that you touch. Richard was one of them. Faceless. Certainly not newsworthy. But you took (and continue) the time to give much more than “just the facts”.

    I haven’t known many angels in my lifetime – But Celeste Fremon is one of them. We all should be thankful. I know that I am. I am also certain that Richard is too.

  • Celeste, you’ve got a big heart and I know that Richard feels the same in his new and better place of reside.
    Continue to fight the good fight and that I’m sure would please Richard along with countless others who now suffer in this Dickinsonian nightmare (especially the last eight years!), it’s both sad and uplifting that so many are struggling for survival but still fighting for humanity
    and for human rights and dignity.
    God bless you and have a wonderful holiday season

    Of América
    Roberto Lovato on Dreaming Beyond the Walls of “Civilization”

    Hope for the Holidays
    December 23, 2008

  • Tragic news – I can’t respond to this right now. I linked it at Cooper’s. I think the first commenter said everything that needed to be said regarding your reaching out.

  • Damn.

    I check in here now and again, reading what Celeste has to say and, of course, looking for updates about Richard.

    Thanks Celeste for all you did and continue to do.

  • Ah, Celeste … I’ve had a bad feeling … Had started to email you … but, life…

    I share your helpless sorrow, and the empty ache of if-only.

    Thank you for doing what you could, on Richard’s behalf, and ours.

    I will miss him.

  • Ahhh, Richard was one of the good guys. I will miss his commentary. Celeste, sorry for the loss of your friend. But, he is still with us in our memories.

  • I had a feeling about Richard that something wasn’t right. I hope he knew that we cared before he passed away, because we did. I don’t think that more phone calls would have changed anything, though. The die was likely cast long before we knew him well, and it would have been almost impossible to reverse the course. We already miss you, Richard. For you, the pain is over.

  • Thank you Celeste for everything you did and for all of this sad information. At moments like this it is difficult to say anything that is not ridden of cliches. Suffice it to say that RLC was indeed a good guy. And it is dumbfounding that society cannot find it within itself to provide authentic safety nets to salvage millions of others like him.

    I of course have no idea what Richard’s final cause of death. I do know that he suffered from chronic congestive heart failure. That often can be a fatal degenerative condition as you know.

    You, in any case, should bear no regrets. You did more than anybody to try and find a solution to Richard’s dilemma. Sometimes whatever we do isn’t enough.

  • Celeste, Jeff and Marc are right. You tried, unlike others, but sometimes there is nothing that can be done. It’s like the scenes in “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray keeps trying to save the life of the homeless man, but the end is always the same. As the nurse told him, “Sometimes, people just die.”

    You made life for Richard happier and let him know that others care. That was special, and you can take away joy from knowing that you did more than one can be expected to do, and Richard was better for it…and, it taught us many lessons in caring and sharing.

  • I know of RLC as a very smart, well informed and interesting person who would often comment over at Marc Coopers blog. He always had something interesting to say and consistently broadened the diologue over there. It was only a few months ago when I learnt of his personal struggles which left him on the street, while suffering a series of health related problems. His writing about his life and the narrative of others on the street were featured on this blog. and like all of RLC’s contributions, they make for compassionate and intelligent reading. What shines through his story and the stories of others is IMHO moral failure of a society which allows anyone to becomes invisible and uncared for. I miss RLC’s comments over at Cooper and I am deeply sadenned by his passing

  • What Marc said. Every last word of it. You have no reason whatsoever to feel that you were remiss. You were a positive force for him.

    I’m just sick. I invited Richard to write on BH precisely because he was sharp. The world is a little dimmer today.

  • I couldn’t respond for days after reading this — although I didn’t agree with many of his views, he was a powerfully intelligent voice right upto the last postings, where he wrote so movingly yet without trying to manipulate our emotions (why it WAS so moving, really) about his struggles to survive on the street. Too bad he couldn’t have found his way to that final home earlier, but like all the previous people say, you’ve certainly no reason to blame yourself — you gave him a forum where his voice continues to haunt us, make us continue to ask the hard questions about homelessness and more.

    It certainly made me aware of all the “shouldas” in my own life, like the elderly neighbor whose hospitalizations with each hip fracture were longer and longer, and every time I visited, her convalescent homes were less and less grand as benefits were maxed out and Medicare kicked in — until she finally will never never home to the house she loves. “If only” I’d spent more time visiting with here there, in her garden next to the Mayer lemon tree…

    May we all remember to show some love to those around us.

  • Thanks to everyone for their kind words sent my direction.

    Late Sunday night, Monday morning, I’ll put up a post in appreciation of Richard.

    However when I got this news on the 24th, I felt I owed it to those who had come to know Richard here and elsewhere, to get the fact of his death out right away. But I honestly didn’t have it in me to write anything other than the sort of real time narrative I posted above, which included my own unmoderated and unfiltered emotional reactions to the shock of hearing that Richard was irretrievably gone, emotions that included—and still include—careening and not entirely choate feelings of deep distress…..with many “if onlys” attached.

    I know many of you out there understand completely as so many of you have eloquently expressed your own difficulty in writing about Richard too immediately.

    Anyway, back soon.

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