The People Under the Bridge

The Homeless Encampment Under the I-10 Bridge Over Centinela Avenue in West L.A.

There is no monolithic group which falls under the term “homeless.” It includes a wide variety of people, some of whom are in transition to a better life, some of whom are out of their gourds, some of whom want to be able to take drugs and drink excessively without police interference, and some of whom are psychotic criminals.

In Los Angeles, they are begging for “spare change” by every freeway onramp and in front of virtually every convenience store. Many of them have sad stories to tell, some of which are partially true. They stretch out on bus seats and commuter trains and ride back and forth all day, occasionally hassling the other riders. The police are reluctant to deal with them because so many are vectors of communicable diseases. (I once worked with a secretary who was married to a U.S. Marshal who contracted tuberculosis from escorting a prisoner.)

Unlike the terminally Woke, my attitude toward the homeless is not: “Oh, the poor homeless!” In my mind, I separate the ones who are capable of being re-housed and following rules regarding behavior, booze, and drugs from those who actually prefer to live and die on the streets. It is my belief that most of the homeless fall into this latter category. I regard them as intractable bums who should be locked up.

Most bum encampments are surrounded by piles of trash of no earthly use to anyone. Martine and I have seen some bums emptying trash cans into the street or even setting fire to them. I am not inclined to be gentle with such rapscallions. Unless these sociopathic types are incarcerated, setting up a tent on the sidewalk will become an attractive alternative to anyone who is not interested in anything but destroying their minds and bodies.

On the Bus

The MTA Santa Monica Blvd, #704 Express

Since I am now on a fixed income, I avoid expensive parking lot charges. For some of the places I hang out, I take the bus: It only costs 35¢ a ride rather than, say, the $25.00 or more it would cost to park downtown or $10.00 it would cost at the Fairfax Farmers Market. Today, I had to endure the abusive chatter of a Tourette’s Syndrome bum who was serially abusing all the passengers on the bus. Fortunately, he disembarked in Beverly Hills, where—no doubt—he started abusing the tourists who congregate there.

The Many Aspects of Tourette’s Syndrome, On the Surface and Below

I have found that Los Angeles has a fair number of angry African-American homeless persons who are angry and verbally abusive. Several months ago, on the same bus line, a bum started shouting at me. Angrily, in Hungarian, I told him I hoped he would be f*cked in the ass by a horse. Not hearing me right, he thought I was using the N-word at him, which is something I would never do. That ended with the police being called by the driver and the bum being evicted from the bus.

This time, I saw this bum approaching from a hundred feet away, enraged at the world and various unspecified rednecks. I knew he was going to be trouble. Fortunately, this particular bozo did not pick on me in particular; so I was able to maintain a neutral pose.

When I read the papers about the growing number of homeless in Los Angeles, I rarely see anything about mental illness and drug abuse. And yet those are the dominant characteristics of most homeless. It is not shelters they want (that would impinge on their freedom, such as it is), but either mental healthcare or drug treatment—that is, if they would submit to treatment at all.


Talking About Homelessness

Most Discussions About Homelessness Are Too Vague

As an independent (no party) voter, I am dismayed by the way most liberals view the homeless. For one thing, I refuse to take a bleeding heart view of the hobo encampments that are spreading across American cities, particularly in the West. When I think of the homeless, I have three populations in mind, with a lot of overlap among the categories:

  1. People who, for various reasons, are homeless
  2. People who are addicted to various drugs such as alcohol, heroine, cocaine, and crystal meth.
  3. People who are mentally ill.

The Venn Diagram above shows that there are many overlaps. Some of the homeless have some hope and expectation of finding a place to live. These are mostly homeless who are not addicted to drugs or mentally ill. These constitute the majority of homeless who are living in organized shelters.

Wherever drug addiction and mental illness are involved, it is much more difficult to find shelter. These shelters have rules regarding drugs, alcohol, theft, and violence. Many of the bums in Los Angeles would not be likely to live in a shelter, if only because they have no intention of following the rules.

If you have about an hour to spare, I recommend you watch this video by news station KOMO entitled “Seattle is Dying,” which takes a no-holds-barred view of the dire homeless situation in Seattle:


Martine Is Back!

Martine at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo

This morning, as I was watching the movie Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), the doorbell rang. I thought, “Who could that be? Is it the Jehovah’s Witnesses? LDS Missionaries?” I opened the door to find Martine with her suitcase. She had taken buses from South Central LA to Union Station, and from there the 704 bus, which drops her off two short blocks from home.

Martine had stayed at a women’s shelter run of Volunteers of America near Broadway and West 88th Street, in the heart of South Central. The facility contained some forty bunk beds on each of two floors, sleeping some one hundred sixty women. Martine, who is by no means a sound sleeper, had three nights of no sleep on a mattress that was too soft for her bad back. She had no complaints about the way she was treated or the food that was served, but she could not tolerate another sleepless night. Fortunately, I had purchased for her a senior TAP card with a few dollars of stored value which enabled her to take buses at a discount without having to worry about exact change, so she could take a bus virtually anywhere in the county at will.

During her absence, I was less worried about her because I knew she was being well cared for. Plus she called me three times during her three day sojourn at the center, though I was not able to call her. I suspect that most of the women at the shelter were there because they had been abused by husbands and boyfriends. How were the receptionists to know that I was not an abuser?

Martine’s “escapes” are a symptom of her depression. All I can do is demonstrate to her that I continue to love her and that she can trust me. In all her actions, there is no sign of enmity or exasperation with me. As she stood at my doorstep with her luggage, there was a big smile on her face. I can accept that.


Talking About the Homeless

Homeless Encampment in Los Angeles

There are several ways of talking about the homeless. For one thing, I do not think they can be all lumped into one category. Therefore, I rarely speak about “the homeless” as a whole. Some are temporarily without an address and have some reasonable hope of finding one, especially if they are a family. One does not usually encounter these transient homeless on the streets. More likely, one runs into a mostly male population of homeless that fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • The mentally ill, estimated by the City of Los Angeles to comprise some 40% of the total.
  • Veterans of the armed forces who were unable to make the transition to civilian life. As I live within a couple miles of a large Veterans Administration hospital, I see quite a few of these.
  • Hardcore bums who like living on the street and are unwilling to have any of their perceived rights and privileges abridged. Some of these are involved in drug dealing and theft.

There is a tent encampment right across the street from my apartment consisting of some ten hardcore bums. They usually do not bother the street residents unless to steal a bicycle or small grill, or to beg for cash. Since there are a number of charities that provide meals, I almost never give cash to a street person. Cash received by the hardcore homeless usually falls in the category of CBD money: in other words, for cigarettes, booze, and drugs.

I have seen a few hardcore female bums, mostly on the bus, and usually find them to be sad cases, frequently mentally ill and fiercely unapproachable. Martine saw one of them defecate on the sidewalk of our street in the open. Seeing Martine’s facial reaction, she called her a racist.

Given the variety of motives that moves this population, I shake my head in despair when journalists persist in talking about “the homeless” as if there were a single solution for all. There just isn’t.


Back to Bedlam

Title Shot of Val Lewton’s Bedlam (1946)

Title Shot of Val Lewton’s Bedlam (1946)

Originally, it was called Bethlem Royal Hospital or St. Mary Bethlehem. Over the years, the British mental hospital has moved from Bishopsgate to Moorfields to Southwark, where it is now, a reputable institution associated with Kings College London. From its period of notoriety in the 18th century, where the glitterati paid admission to see loonies chained to the wall, it was better known as Bedlam.

There is a wonderful Val Lewton film of the same name, starring Boris Karloff, that was released by RKO in 1946 (see above). In it, a sane young woman is forcibly admitted to the insane asylum when she refuses to odious attentions of a powerful rake. Like almost of all of the Lewton films I have seen, it is a delight. It includes a rebellion of the inmates against the infamous Boris Karloff, who plays the head physician at Bedlam.

Poster for Val Lewton’s Bedlam

Lobby Card for Val Lewton’s Bedlam

The reason that Bedlam the movie comes to mind is my realization that we have little progressed from those bad old eighteenth century days when the mentally ill were mistreated for the amusement of visitors. Now, things are almost worse. Ever since the 1980s, the mentally ill have been on their own.When they receive any attention at all, it is usually by the police and prison guards. Instead of getting the medication that helps keep them on an even keel, the mentally ill are mistreated by guards who punish them for their non-normative behavior.

Recently, several Orange County, California police beat up and killed a mental patient named Kelly Thomas who was living on the street. In their various police academies, the police are trained to deal with malefactors, and not with persons who have a tenuous grip on reality. The police were tried and acquitted by an Orange County jury.

The outlook for the mentally ill who are loose on the streets is not a good one. Perhaps even the old Bedlam would have been an improvement.