This morning in the Los Angeles Times, there was the story of a homeless man in South L.A. who had passed away in the previous week (by Sandy Banks).
I thought about how quickly this man had spiraled from relative security, living in his own apartment to living for a decade on a street and dying homeless. Nevertheless, the article was successful at shattering the anonymity of the homeless – that indeed, in spite of the current situation in which he found himself, he had developed caring and charismatic relationships with many people in that neighborhood. But no matter how much people looked forward to seeing him, he still stayed on the street and died on the street.
It made me remember the time in our son Chris’ life when he was just out of high school and took a job as a security guard in the Macy’s Plaza office tower in downtown LA. He worked the night shift, and on his patrol, he encountered many homeless people around the building. His job, of course, was to move them along, to discourage them from loitering around the building. But what he did instead so moved me. He didn’t exactly befriend them, but he talked with them and always interested in their histories, he gave them a few dollars, or took them some old clothes in a bag from home, and brought their stories home to us in the morning when he returned, exhausted, in the early hours.
I remembered, too, how my well-educated, financially secure and sophisticated mother, late in her life became obsessed with the notion that she might become a bag lady. It was incomprehensible to me where this idea came from, but I think the fear of that end sometimes fueled her long hours as a journalist.
Recently Chris moved out of the crazy peoples’ house that he lived in for two months until the landlord lost it and went after the other roommate with a knife. I urged him to move out before the end of his paid up month had passed. It occurred to me that I was encouraging him to become homeless, but he has returned to live on his uncle’s fishing boat, where he will be working next year. The life of a fisherman is about as economically mercurial as any profession, and Fisherman’s Wharf is a hub for homeless and destitute people. It saddens me that the city in which my son has chosen to live and work has virtually no housing for low income people. That he basically has to sleep in his office in a sleeping bag in order to make a living as a deck hand. Doesn’t seem right, does it?