Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Sun, 23 Apr 2000 16:59:29 -0700

HOMELESS PEOPLE'S VIEWS, News, Alerts, Actions & Research
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The year I began cleaning Dick Clark's windows and Mary Crosby's 
home, I lived alone in a three-bedroom bungalow on Broad Beach, the 
nicest beach in Malibu. I had pocketed a couple of thousand dollars, 
and I felt I might be able to make it through some heavy rains.

When it began to rain, people began cancelling jobs and talking about 
waiting till after the rains (3 or 4 months). Then the front end of 
my '81 Subaru fell apart, piece by piece. After it had eaten up my 
entire savings replacing axles, brakes, calipers, rotors and things I 
knew nothing about, my only financial cushion was gone.

Then my landlord gave me notice, and I had to get out. Without even 
the money to pay first month rent anywhere, I began to live in my car 
at the campground at Leo Carillo Beach on the western end of Malibu. 
It happened so fast, it took me awhile to accept the fact that I was 
homeless. It honestly doesn't sink in very rapidly. Even when you are 
driving around seeking a safe-looking place to park and lock yourself 
in for the night, you tell yourself it is only temporary.

I discovered the trick to the campground after a few nights. There 
was an $8 charge normally, but if you came in after the rangers had 
gone and left before they arrived, you didn't have to pay. I still 
had the Crosby job, so I was earning enough each week for food and 
gas, but nothing more.

I spent about four months living in that car, which seemed to shrink 
daily. I can't begin to tell you how depressing it was. It was 
raining a lot, and all I could do was sit or lie in the car, reading 
when there was light. I sincerely believed that one could find 
valuable understanding in every experience that life throws in our 
direction. As time passed, however, my search for some valuable 
lesson disintegrated into anger. I began to drink a lot of beer 
during that period to ease the pain. It occurred to me that some 
homeless people who become alcoholics don't necessarily follow the 
drink into homelessness: it becomes the quickest way to ignore what 
has happened, and dull the torturing thoughts which can make a bad 
situation one hell of a lot worse.

At the campground, I realized that a lot of the people were there for 
an extended period, even though there were 14-day limits. Many were 
families with children, and one or both parents would go off to work 
during the day.

They were making enough to feed themselves, as long as they didn't 
have to pay five hundred to a thousand dollars rent. Many of them 
paid the daily fee, for which they received a campground with 
fireplace and public showers, and packed up and left for one night 
every 14, before coming back for another two weeks.

I had been living in Malibu, California for over three years, and I 
had no idea that there was a whole community of people who lived at 
the campgrounds.

Unfortunately, my deepest personal journey into the world of 
indigence was occurring under the eaves of the homes of some of 
Hollywood's wealthiest people. I had no desire for wealth. But 
cleaning Dick Clark's windows or Mary Crosby's home, and then getting 
in my car to wait for the sun to go down so I could park it for free 
and sleep in it, gave rise to emotions that I neither understood nor 
could control.

I thought about how many of the places where I worked were just 
weekend homes or one-month-a-year homes. The rest of the time they 
stood empty - huge homes with massive bedrooms, restaurant-style 
kitchens, cathedral dining rooms, and totally empty. The owners were 
in Europe, or shooting a picture somewhere, or only came for two 
months in the summer.

Hundreds upon hundreds of empty palaces, but not one with a spare bed 
for the hundreds of homeless people parked at the beach or squirreled 
away under the brush in one of Malibu's many canyons (where homeless 
people without cars lived).

The ending of the rains that winter was like waking up from a 
nightmare. Jobs began reappearing, and finally I could afford the 80 
dollars a week for which someone had offered me a room in their home.

My God, what a luxury it felt to sleep in a bed again, and have a 
shower and toilet right next to the bedroom, and a kitchen to make 
some food in. Who cared if it was shared? I had my fill of locking 
myself in bathrooms of restaurants or office buildings to make a 
clean, private place to shit and then brush my teeth, sometimes 
getting rousted out by an impatient security guard. I was long ago 
weary of the loaf of bread, mayonnaise, mustard and cheese that 
traveled with me as lunch and dinner. The number of daily 
humiliations that accompany homelessness are incalculable.

"Poverty Sucks!" was the caption of a poster that hung framed on the 
walls of a few homes I worked in. It showed a man dressed in English 
riding attire, leaning against a Rolls Royce with the arrogant sneer 
of the priggishly rich on his face. Some people who chuckle over it 
have no concept of how deeply poverty sucks to those who stew in it, 
and the hatred of the affluent that impoverishment nourishes.



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