Red lights were spinning tenaciously atop both cop cars; sirens silenced, as if in anticipation.
Something happened, but what?
Uniformed men had convened near the store exit talking, in a tight-knit group of about five or six officers, holding ground in a relaxed stance that only surfaces once the enemy has been identified–and disposed of. I recognized that stance: saw it the first time when the cops took my father away; placed him in the back of their squad car, then stood next to the open rear door (as if in victory ) while they went over the details of the arrest. The little girl in me can still recall the scene vividly. It was hard to see my daddy in cuffs. Guilty as he was. It was seared into my brain. Forever.
My daughter and I pulled into the parking lot of our local grocery store last night and two OC Sheriff’s vehicles were lined up like a shield of steel against the curb in front of the far entrance. Spotted another down the aisle across from them, just pulling away from an oxidized, rusted out, dilapidated old VW van. I recognized the vehicle immediately. Inhaled sharply, and heard myself whispering, “No.”
Hope that man didn’t break any laws. Clearly, someone had broken a law. I understood the police were doing their jobs. If there was a theft, a holdup, I was was/am grateful for their brave service. My stomach sunk though. Hope it wasn’t him. Please don’t let it be him.
Concern heightened my curiosity. Pulled into the aisle adjacent to the action and became a looky-loo. Had to know.
Don’t even know his name. Heard he’s a gentle soul. An older gentleman, who served in the Vietnam War. Veteran. Suffers from PTSD. To this day. SUFFERS. Asks nothing of anyone, but to be left alone to read in his van. Reads all day, every day. Wait—he does ask to sleep most nights in our parking lot where he feels safe. He does occupy one space, but there are always plenty to be had. Guess we are forfeiting that. But who cares?
Still, vagrancy is not permitted. Spotted him. His head was bowed. As if he knew he was guilty. But of what, really? Geez.
All any of us truly know for sure is that this guy has no other place to go. He needs to feel safe–he feels safe with us.
As a former person who spent a good deal of her childhood years on the streets of Los Angeles, I can tell you this:
Lack of safety screams at you through the silent judging stares of every stranger who walks by, at the turn of every glaring headlight, every public restroom you enter, every motel room you have to leave behind.
Lack of physical safety is a greater reality for those of us without walls, and doors and locks to keep the undesirables out too. Many street dwellers are dangerous addicts. Fighting for their next fix. At any cost. Many are just broke. Don’t want to hurt anyone. Both realities exist.
A daily struggle to hone your instincts, and stay safe. Precautionary measures are a priority but difficult to manifest.
Lack of a lumber bearing home makes us, by definition, undesirables. No matter how we ended up there. Think about how we judge those living in trailer parks? Even they are considered beneath the earth’s crust.
Lack of emotional concern arises for the homeless because often times we are perceived as complicit in our circumstances. I was a child. I can assure you, I was there not of my own accord. Mama was Bi-polar.I witnessed her inability to move us somewhere, anywhere, else. She simply could not.
Lack of understanding that many are solely existing in poverty because holding down a job, raising a family, maintaining an emotional stability is up to their DNA, not their lack of desire to set goals, is rampant.
Lack of an abode,does not mean a lack of morals, ethics or a desire to be a proud owner of a home.
Lack of a home at any time means you will hopefully perceive those who are living in their cars, on the streets in shacks made of cardboard, in dark stinky back alleys, or along the polluted highways and parks hidden among the bushes, with consideration and grace, compassion and knowing. That you will proceed with caution as you proceed with caring. That you proceed at all, with kindness and love.
Had my daughter with me that night, and I felt no cause for concern. WE ALL FELT SAFE. Shouldn’t be a problem.
No cuffs. Maybe he had nothing to do with the commotion going on up at the store? Maybe he was part of a clean sweep, after the fact? Never did find out. Either way, we all knew according to the law, he had to go.
Saddened we went into the store, bought some fruit, milk, and coffee. Thought about purchasing some fresh fruit for our homeless friend as well, but something told me he wouldn’t be there when we checked out. I was right.
“They made him leave.” My daughter said in protest, “What?! Why?”
Rules are rules.
Learned this a long time ago when my family was homeless. Most nights we’d drive around searching out the streets with heavy tree cover, casting shadows wide enough our car would not be noticed, or we would often pull into deserted parking lots after hours–only, our game plan led us behind the shopping malls where nobody wanders.
Our alarm clock? The early morning arrival of noisy, exhaust fueled diesels unloading that day’s fresh supply of groceries or wares as they backed into the long docks lining the back of the strip mall of shops.
Sometimes, we’d get really brave and stand our ground until the store employees showed up and called the police.
Then we’d run.
Being homeless takes courage. The boundaries are blurred, or nonexistent. The rules don’t apply equally to those who don’t pay taxes. When you are not appreciated, when you are not paying your way, you are not given consideration in a healthy protective way. You are a blatant nuisance. Period.
Haven’t been back to the market to see if he returned. My guess is, he has. Ladera residents have been welcoming to this man in need for the most part, even putting together a fundraiser to gather gift cards, food, and clothing for him. I have heard of several who stop by with Starbucks for him and stand and chat as well. He is friendly.
Hope they will let him stay. If he respects our citizens and doesn’t put them in fear, I personally don’t understand why he has to go.
There are more rich teenagers living here passing down their addictions, causing intentional vandalism, throwing raucous parties, and whizzing recklessly around town in daddy’s Mercedes-Benz’ running down little old ladies like me, that I am more concerned with. Evict them.
Everyone needs a community. Hope he knows, we are his.
Photo: ©Julie Anderson All Rights Reserved