Homelessness Writers and Writing

The New Homeless: LA Writer Rodger Jacobs Gets Short Term Relief

Monday night I got an email from writer Rodger Jacobs
in which he delivered good news about his seemingly imminent plunge into homelessness that I posted about Monday.

His email read in part:

“I think we’re going to be okay, Celeste, for a few months at least; some kind (and mostly anonymous) benefactors have stepped forward. We rented a room at the Budget Suites Extended Stay hotel on Rancho this afternoon — with media in tow — and it is very conveniently located to shopping, affordable restaurants, and (this is what thrilled me) both a Barnes and Noble and Borders Books only three miles away. The room is about the size of your basic studio apartment with fridge, stove, microwave, basic cable, and wireless internet (five bucks a week).

As my friend Rudy Wurlitzer is fond of saying, keep the wind in your sails even when there is no wind…

Oh — one more thing I forgot to mention: in light of our circumstances (and the media presence), the Budget Suites waived all deposits for us, which saved us about $75.

Meanwhile, in the Sun’s comment section and around the web, the reactions to Rodger’s essay swung wildly between two extremes. There were those who opined with varying degrees of disdainful fury that Rodger’s situation merely evidenced some kind of failure of character and will.

More often, however, those who commented were empathetic—evidently figuring that, in this economy, given a few really bad reversals of fortune, all too many people could find themselves facing similarly scary circumstances.

Rodger tells me he will have a follow-up essay in the very near future–which I will, of course, post as soon as it is available.


  • Rodger, I hope you’re reading this: You’re clearly a smart guy and good writer, and you’re right that the economy has made things difficult, but your situation is not impossible. You can make this work if you’re resourceful. You get $926 a month. In Nevada, you can find a one bedroom apartment for 400-500 bucks a month fairly easily. Even if you and Lela don’t earn another dime, that leaves you roughly $100 a week to live on — food, utilities, gas, which is very doable with some smart grocery shopping. (There’s really no such thing as “affordable restaurants.”)
    And frankly, you smoke cigarettes, which is an insanely expensive habit. Lela posted in the comment section that your buddies send you money for tobacco. Your buddies aren’t doing you any favors – if they want to help you, and if you want to help yourself, you’ll put that money towards your living expenses. Sorry to be so harsh, but you’ve gotta know you’re going to get shit for that.
    Also, I understand Lela has a condition where she can’t sit or stand for long periods of time. How about house cleaning? She can go at her own pace and pick up an extra 50 or so bucks each job. There are ways to make this work…
    Will you consider these options? What do you think of all this? I’m offering these ideas/solutions to empower you, and I hope that they’re received in that light. Hope to hear back…

  • Kelly, allow me to explain something about the cigarettes: Lela and I do not go to the movies, go out to dinner, rent DVDs, take vacations, shop for anything other than groceries and pharmaceutical needs (I have not bought a new stitch of clothing since 2006), go out for drinks with friends, or buy each other gifts for birthdays and holidays, and all the other common, everyday things that most people do to feel human. And it is not because we spend hundreds of dollars of money on cigarettes — smokes are cheap in Nevada, especially in the smoke shop at the Indian reservation. It’s the only vice I have so I will say it for the last time to you and everyone else — lay off! I don’t need this petty B.S. at a time like this.

    And as for you and all the others going on and on about $400-500 a month apartments. First — have you seen those apartments and where they are located? I have. I assume you’re in L.A. so let me equate it this way: what if I recommened you move to a cheap apartment in South Central? Get my drift? Further, do you realistically think $100 a week will pay groceries, transportation, gas, electric, water, cable, internet, and phone for two people? Who’s the one living in an untenable world now?

    Lela can get housekeeping work? Not with a bad spine, which you acknowledge she has and, further, clearly you know nothing of the unemployment situation in Nevada — 14 percent. There are currently 13 people for every one job opportunity in Las Vegas. Do you know how many professional housekeepers she would be competing with, and she with no experience in that field? Housekeeping is one of the top industries in Nevada with hundreds of unemployed professionals laid off from luxury resorts and hotels right now. Did you really think that one through? I don’t think so.

    “Smart grocery shopping”? You’re assuming that I do not know how to wisely shop? Pray tell where you get this information … you know NOTHING — zero, nada, zilch — about my shopping habits. That was simply an arrogant comment to render, Kelly, and extremely rude.

    In summation, Kelly, no, I will not consider your options because they are, quite frankly, moronic. No affordable restaurants out there? Ha! Ever had a 39-cent taco from Del Taco? That was what I had for lunch today, pal. Now kindly sit down and, with all due respect, STFU until you, as the article invited you to do, an invitation you clearly rejected, walk a mile in my shoes.

  • Rodger, I know that people have been downright cruel in their response to your essay. Almost everyone who commented has told you – and in not the kindest terms – to quit your whining and “man up.” I’m sure that’s incredibly hurtful to you – to have your very manhood attacked by complete strangers, people who know so very little about you. I’m sure you’ve gone to sleep at night furious, crafting comment-responses in which you succinctly rip these people a new asshole. I know I would. And I get the sense that now all your anger towards them is being directed squarely at me. So let me say this, and let me be very clear about it: A handful of commenters – including me – never had any intention of tearing you down or belittling you. We are trying to HELP you. Give you ideas, empower you, and yes, challenge some of the choices you’re making and encourage you to consider new ones.

    Here’s the other big issue: HOMELESSNESS is not the thing hanging over your head, so I think if you drop that term, people will probably be nicer. You’ve already said yourself that you COULD get an apartment, just that it would be a shithole located somewhere equivalent to South Central. You wouldn’t be sleeping on a sidewalk, you’d just be living in a crappy rathole next to the freeway. Does that suck? Oh hell yes, but it’s not even close to homelessness, so let’s be very, very clear about that and call a spade a spade.

    When you really boil it down, Rodger, this not about sleeping on a sidewalk, it’s about going without. You’re 51 years old and you don’t want to do that, which everyone understands. You don’t want to live in crappy, hotter-than-hell Nevada, you don’t want to rent a sad rundown apartment, and you don’t want to deal with all the maniacal penny pinching that’s obviously in your future. This is the time in your life when you should be enjoying the fruits of your labor. I completely get it. But the fact is, you do not have to be homeless. You CAN have a roof over your head, and two people CAN live on $100 a week. Frankly, I’ve done it for less. You don’t NEED cable TV, internet, and two different cell phones. You can use the internet in the library (or no internet at all) and get ONE pre-paid cellphone to use in emergencies. Or even NO CELLPHONES, considering 15 years ago nobody had them, and we all actually managed to survive.

    You’re going through a rough patch and your life is going to suck for a little bit. But if you hunker down, you can ride out this shitstorm and end up okay…

  • I’m glad Kelly clarified her comment. It’s impossibly awful having everyone judge someone’s life choices especially when they’re both ill, but when you write about it so eloquently you invite it, and it’s unfortunate people have been harsh. There would be nothing wrong with a little more of a safety net in our society like in some others, that’s for sure. But I must admit I too was put off by something as seemingly insignificant as the passing reference to “affordable restaurants” Kelly picked up on, given that the studio apt. has cooking facilities and frig. You can buy a loaf of bread and sandwich fixings, a head of lettuce and a tomato, and make something healthier than high-sodium fast food for a fraction of the price.

    My parents came to this country as immigrants and never went to even the cheapest fast food restaurants until they were relatively set over a decade later – like Asian immigrants today, they cooked every last bit out of a chicken and some noodles and a head of cabbage, an onion and a carrot…and it was tasty, and I never felt we were suffering. They both went to work in thread factories then a horrible chicken processing plant til they learned to speak English and my dad got a job in his field. Meanwhile we lived in a dump with stuffing coming out of the used furniture. Only later did I realize how poor we’d been.

    Admittedly they were in good health at the time, but they were also raising a couple of small kids and had to work the night shift taking turns baby-sitting. Also rents were cheaper – but the compromise was pretty much like what you face in Nevada. They never went to movies and “saved” everything they made. If they knew how tough it would be they’d never have come, and only did so because an elderly aunt was planning to make them her heirs, but that didn’t work out.

    My concern for you guys is your healthcare needs – if NV has better MediCal (or whatever they call it there) I’d get treated before coming back to CA. And you must be eligible for food stamps and other services, which a skilled social worker or advisor could tell you, or you can surf the net – the website for CA food stamps has an online “calculator” where you plug in your income and expenses, and it tells you how much you can expect. Unfortunately the automatic number thingy doesn’t take bad health or healthcare expenses into account unless you’re over 60 but you sure qualify anyway, for maybe a few hundred a month, on which you can shop and eat very well.

    NV may be similar, but my guess would be they’re not as over-burdened as the LA city agencies are, where I’m told you have to wait forever and are brusquely treated, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

    I won’t presume to know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, though – and I know that the net is a lifeline for writers so that’s one “luxury” I can certainly see. Not to mention that sitting around without even a computer to surf and no other entertainment would be really depressing.
    I hope that ultimately your gift of writing so evocatively pays off, and opens people’s eyes to how even the most brilliant of people can be knocked down by a series of unlucky events especially if they haven’t been too foresighted about things like opening credit card accounts while they could. (I’m REALLY lousy about that stuff too.) Wishing you both well.

  • Kelly, I beg to differ with you on one issue: yes, I do need cable, internet, and a cell phone. E-mail and telephone is how people contact me for work when it is available. I also do a fair amount of political writing and C-Span and the cable news networks are vital on that score. Because of my health conditions and the medications I take my hours are very erratic but normally I go to bed at 5:00 AM and wake at 11:00 AM or noon; my most productive hours for writing are between 9:00 PM and 3:00 AM, when most libraries are closed. And, no, I cannot change my hours because it is the meds I take, once again, that cause the erratic nature of my waking and sleeping (I am currently on 11 daily maintenance medications).

    One other thing: I don’t know how YOU define “homeless” but I now have no fixed address and I am renting by the week. Yeah, I’m not on the sidewalk but I do not have a permanent home — any reasonable student of semantics would call that home-less. With that much said, I know you mean well, Kelly, and I appreciate it.

    SBL, no I do not not qualify for supplemental nutrition assistance, as food stamps are called these days; my Disability income is considered “excessive”. I’ve already been down that road.

  • Kelly wrote:

    “I’m sure you’ve gone to sleep at night furious, crafting comment-responses in which you succinctly rip these people a new asshole.”

    Yeh, I’m sure that’s what’s running through his head when all he’s had to eat in the past 12 hours is a 59 cent taco. Don’t you have a husband or boyfriend to beat up on, Kelly? As Rodger said earlier, back off! Your heart is just in the wrong place.

  • Roger, Your responses to the various “shoulds” and misconceptions indicates to me that you are not identifying with a down-and-out victimized character, and why should you? You seem to me to be a good friend, a good partner and a good writer who is having a temporary hard economic time. I wish you all the strength in the world getting through this.

  • Off The Wall, apparently you didn’t read the comment section of the Sun in which Rodger DID in fact furiously rip these people a new asshole again and again (and quite understandably so, as the commenters were far from kind in their responses to his essay.) If people were kicking you when you were down, yes, I do think you’d be pissed at them AS WELL as lamenting that 39 cent taco. In fact, I bet Rodger’s experiencing a whole range of emotions simultaneously right now — I certainly would if I were in his shoes.

    Also, I’m sorry that you misunderstood me, or feel that my heart is in the wrong place. Like I said to Rodger, I mean nothing more than to help him, to say, “Hey, there’s a way to make this work such that you’re not living on a street corner. Let’s get out the calculator and figure out where you can temporarily budget cut. Life will certainly suck for a bit, but you can make it work, and you’ll at least have a roof over your head while you ride out the storm.”

    I’m not sure why you were offended by this, but you obviously were. Mostly though, it’s disappointing to me that you decided to publish such a mean and spiteful response to me. It that really necessary? Being that mean? Telling me to go “beat up on my husband or boyfriend” instead? Somehow I don’t think you’d be that awful if we were standing face to face, and I’d like to think that just because we’re hiding behind the anonymity of the internet doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all to be cruel to the people we disagree with.

  • Kelly, thanks for telling us what Rodger’s thinking. It just so happens he comments at this blog, so I think we’ll let him take it from here. mmmkay? You’ve made your point…ad nauseum, I might add. You could have summed everything you’ve said to Rodger up in one sentence. But instead you went all Dear Abby and stretched it into this annoying, long winded attempt at prose. To reiterate what Rodger said to you earlier, and I’ll paraphrase him, not speak for him…STFU and back off, until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes!

  • Somehow I don’t think you’d be that awful if we were standing face to face, and I’d like to think that just because we’re hiding behind the anonymity of the internet doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all to be cruel to the people we disagree with.


    Yeh! And like you would go up to someone like Rodger on the street and recite to them that long winded lecture on money management. But I can tell you this much…If I ever saw you, or anyone, giving someone like Rodger that kind of shit in real life, you bet your ass I would intervene in the same way I have on this blog, as any decent person would.

  • Off the Wall, Rodger and Kelly were doing fine on their own. And then you turned the exchange into a personal attack—which effectively halts the conversation on the thread unless someone is willing to come back in kind.

    If they do come back in kind (which Kelly has not) then all genuine exchange halts—which is precisely what has happened on some recent threads.

    Please dial it back. Thank you in advance.

  • You’re wrong, Celeste. Kelly was the first to personally insult someone.

    Here’s a direct quote of hers:

    “Sorry to be so harsh, but you’ve gotta know you’re going to get shit for that.”

    First off, she’s admitting to being harsh, which means being unnecessarily rude or degrading. She also admits to giving one “shit”, which means to harass someone.

    As Rodger himself pointed out, she lost her little “I’m not here to insult anyone” card when she insinuated he needed to do “smarter” grocery shopping. She’s basically saying he’s in his position because he’s stupid, Celeste. We have a subject of one of your blog entries here and I think he deserves a little more respect, especially considering his plight.

  • Kelly means well, Off the Wall, of that I have no doubt, but she has engaged in a lot of projecting on how she would behave in my position and we are seeing an abundance of that in the comments at the Las Vegas Sun as well. Kelly’s comments are mild compared to the sheer anarchy at the Sun; I think the article isn’t even being read any longer, everyone is simply feeding off the comments (and there are almost 400 comments at this point).

    I would greatly appreciate it, Kelly, if you would cease with imagining what I am thinking and feeling — so far you have not even tapped the ball for a base run.

  • […] at Celeste Fremon’s Witness L.A., her most recent of three postings (“The New Homeless: L.A. Writer Rodger Jacobs Get Some Short-Term Relief“) has 15 comments, including a calm but somewhat heated back-and-forth between myself and a […]

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