American Voices Homelessness Writers and Writing

The New Homelessness: Writer Rodger Jacobs Fears Being on the Streets

Rodger Jacobs, a wonderfully erudite, warm and funny California writer, author and documentary producer is teetering on the edge
of homelessness and is frightened of what life will hold if he falls off that edge—a possibility that, at the moment, is looking all but inevitable.

At the request of editors at the Las Vegas Sun who know him , Jacobs wrote an account of his situation, which the Sun printed on Sunday.

I knew Rodger had moved to Las Vegas and was having financial trouble because of a worsening physical condition. But I didn’t know things had gotten this fiscally perilous until Rodger dropped me a note Sunday night to alert me to the story in the Sun.

Below you’ll find the editor’s note and the beginning of Rodger’s piece. It is worth taking the time to read the whole thing—and then to take an extra moment to send him whatever good wishes you can. (However, if you have some freelance writing assignments to spare, send those instead.)

Editor’s note: Think “homeless” and most minds turn to scenes of disheveled men and women living in makeshift tents along Foremaster Lane near downtown Las Vegas. Many of them have adopted homelessness as their lifestyle. But the Great Recession has created the new homeless, people with good work histories who are victims of unemployment and foreclosures. We won’t necessarily find them sleeping on a downtown sidewalk. We asked Rodger Jacobs to tell his story, in his own words.

As I write this, taking a brief late night respite from packing books into boxes, I am just days away from an uncertain future, a Black Tuesday when the Sword of Damocles will, under legal edict, fall upon my head; and, as the ancient Greek and Roman tale of Dionysius and Damocles urges, I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes for a few brief moments.

Within a matter of days I am going to become one of the more than 13,000 homeless people living in Clark County and, frankly, I am frightened.

I am a 51-year-old professional writer; throughout my 20-year career I have been an award-winning feature documentary producer (“Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes” and multiple educational documentaries), a trade and arts magazine journalist, a successful playwright (“Go Irish: The Purgatory Diaries of Jason Miller”), a true crime author and a literary event producer. For the past two years, I have enjoyed my role as a book and literature columnist for Pop Matters, a popular online journal of cultural criticism.

But in the larger scheme of things, my credentials are utterly meaningless. In less than two weeks, my girlfriend and I will be without a home in a town where we have no friends, no family, and apparently no safety net to catch us when we fall.

I have been medically disabled for the past eight years; my primary source of income is my monthly Social Security disability payment of $926 and whatever supplemental income I can earn within the $1,000 monthly limit, but with jobs in the freelance market few and far between in the new economy, several months often pass without additional income.

My girlfriend, Lela, and I relocated to Las Vegas in 2007 from San Francisco to care for my terminally ill mother; the plan at the time was to liquidate my mother’s meager estate upon her passing, see to her funeral arrangements and return to California. But by the time my mother succumbed to her illness two years ago this week, the recession had hit, jobs for myself and Lela — a freelance editor — were scarce, my health was worsening, and we found ourselves effectively stuck in Southern Nevada. We were living a hand-to-mouth existence, with no savings and uncertain where the next month’s rent was coming from — let alone money for groceries, transportation, prescription and doctor co-pays and medical supplies not covered by Medicare…..

Read the rest.

The photo, by Sam Morris of the Las Vegas Sun, was taken as Rodger talked to one of his editors to see if he could expedite a check he is owed. Reportedly, the editor wasn’t able to do anything about speeding up payment.

UPATE: Commenter sbl pointed out that the blog Griffith Park Wayist has information as to how someone can help Rodger if anyone has a mind to do so. They’ve also posted the video that the Sun made of Rodger and his circumstance, which is assuredly worth watching.


  • The Griffith Park Wayist blog/ “mulholland terrace” has been following this story for days, and suggests a way to contribute – with at least some success they report.

    This is very upsetting, makes me think of Richard L who wrote so eloquently about many topics and about his own struggles with health issues on the streets of L A with tragic ending: I hope at the min. Jacobs finds a clinic to treat whatever his illness is before it becomes too debilitating. Doesn’t MediCal (or the NV equivalent) cover cases like his? WHO does one see in the maze of government bureaucracy to find what programs may exist to help him?

    I feel so helpless and frustrated that no one has been able to suggest real affordable housing and pray he comes to a much happier end.

  • Reading on I see it’s explained why Rodger can’t get help from NV social service agencies: he only has an expired CA driver license, and the issues involved in getting a birth certificate notarized; also wouldn’t he have to take a driving test, or are there other ID’s? (What about the g.f., does she also have no ID?) Shows the importance of making sure your DL is up to date, and acquiring credit cards with some credit available while you can. At this downwardly spiraling point, every little thing seems to require insurmountable obstacles that for most people, are so routine. (And some “cousin,” too!)

    Whatever it takes, he MUST get the ID and access the free healthcare available to MediCal patients. Quite a litany of physical problems, and the fact that he sees himself and his g.f. as so old that it’s almost inevitable to be in poor health, shows they’ve clearly been on the edge for a long time. (I’m sure I’m not the first person who’s advised him to quite smoking, too! Although I know it must be better than some other alternatives to combat the stress and depression.)

    OR what if he they rented a place back in CA, since they have nothing to keep them in NV? Are NV’s resources otherwise superior to those of our financially struggling state?

    Also, again, the mentioned blog gives an email for Jacobs for those who want to find out how to send some money.

  • Wait, isn’t housing in Nevada supposed to be “affordable?” At least by LA standards? I feel terribly for this man. This is when some savings as well as a safety net of good friends with a spare room would come in handy.

  • Joe,

    Our savings were depleted in April on the cost of deposits and movers to get into this money pit of a house. Yes, rent in Southern Nevada is at its lowest point in the city’s history: $600 will get you into a decent apartment here. But then again there are the costs of deposits and movers to be met; we have literally no friends or family here so we would have to hire outsiders to transport us, that’s why we are going into a weekly/monthly rental at an Extended Stay hotel, slightly more expensive than a one-bedroom apartment but no utilities to pony up for, save phone expenses. Also, most apartments here require a one-year lease for the sweetheart deals and we want to get the hell out of Clark County and back to L.A. as soon as possble, probably the end of October.

  • I spent more time than I care to admit reading the comments to the newspaper article about this gentleman’s plight. It seems that the notion of blogging has engendered the new American pastime, a la Beck and Palin: “THAT OF KICKING A MAN WHEN HE IS DOWN.” What ever happened to the so called Judeo-Christian ethic of “giving him a hand up?” Its as if it has become a badge of honor to demean the vulnerable and manifest such an uncaring attitude. Where has people’s humanity gone? I am so sick of hearing these people speak with such self-righteousness. Excuse me while I go vomit now.

  • Jorge, as a bonafide bleeding heart liberal, I’d usually agree with you. But Rodger’s problem is not insurmountable — in fact, there are several ways around it, which I believe is what sparked the commenters’ outrage to his essay. Those commenters were unnecessarily cruel in their remarks, but I think what frustrates them is the way Rodger is throwing up his hands, completely defeated, when it’s so clear that with just a little resourcefulness, he can make this work.

    Also, Rodger — the rent in LA is atrociously high as I’m sure you’re aware. While you’re trying to get on your feet and procure employment, I’d really suggest you’d stay where it’s cheap. If I were you, I’d hunker down for a year and try to save up.

  • What’s a bleeding heart liberal? I hear that phrase a lot. Is it a liberal with a heart condition?

  • People are saying some pretty harsh things online about Rodger Jacobs. First off, let the man smoke, let him have his only vice, with those health problems who can blame him, yes, it isn’t good for you but neither are a lot of things. Plus, the man isn’t lazy as some on other websites have said, being a working writer is hard work, you put in long hours for little pay. I think his girlfriend should secure a part time or full time job though other than being a freelance editor. And yes, the internet has hit a lot of writers hard in the pocketbook but they’ll just have to adapt more to the online world like newspapers and magazines are doing. Rodger and his girlfriend have it bad but not nearly as bad as some people. They’d fit in more in San Francisco or Los Angeles than Vegas, despite the higher rents. Hope things get better for them soon.

  • First of all, does anyone have ANY idea how debilitating it is to nurse someone – especially someone who is terminal? I can’t believe the comments about this situation. Nursing a terminally ill relative – let alone a mother – is exhausting. Things are put aside (like, renewing licenses). You live from moment to moment, hoping for some good hours in each day. If any single one of the commenters had anything close to this experience, they would know full well what happened here. If Rodger wasn’t attending to his mother, Lela probably was. Someone has to attend to the patient while the other gets groceries, gets to the pharmacy, calls the doctor, takes the patient to the doctor, monitors blood pressure, diet, etc., etc. It’s no wonder both of them have health problems – caring for an elderly relative is exhausting, highly stressful (seriously – every moment is frightening) and nerve wracking. This is an indication of our failing health care system just as much as it is our employment opportunities. I know one family who took two full years just to recover from caring for their parents, and it was because they also became ill. I lived through it, as well, and it is one of the most difficult, high stress, exhausting experiences ever.
    Shame on Nevada and everyone who had anything rotten to say about this situation. Especially shame on the McDonald’s commenter!

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