Faces of homelessness in Los Angeles
Cal State Northridge journalism professor David Blumenkrantz traveled to four locations in the San Fernando Valley in August to photograph and speak with homeless individuals in an attempt to spotlight — and humanize — the issue that has risen to crisis proportions in Los Angeles. Here are some excerpts from those encounters.
Kim and Isaac Sofer
Kim: [We stay in] Van Nuys, usually around the Super King. Well, we do as much as we can. It’s a struggle, but we do it. We usually have a tent. We really haven’t had any troubling situations because we’re both kind of stand-offish, where people don’t want to mess with us. People … want to keep away from us. We kind of put that out there. We have to. That’s the only way that you stay safe out there, is to put something, or you’re going to get your ass beat …
Isaac: The public just thinks that all homeless people are drug addicts and the scum of the earth, and they don’t even consider them people.
Kim: The way they look at us and the way they talk to us. …
Isaac: They’re people out here, if you take just —
Kim: — consideration to say hello —
Isaac: — a minute, two minutes to sit there and talk to them, you’d find out that 90 percent aren’t monsters or drug addicts and a lot of times that they just —
Kim: — want a friend.
Isaac: Are just going through a rough patch —
Kim: — need a smile —
Isaac: — had life s— on them and that’s what they’re doing. They’re sitting there, trying to survive, trying to get to a better place, but nobody’s giving them a chance.
I basically live in the Valley. I work, and I spent all of my money on rent. So I just choose to stay in my van. Otherwise, I’d probably have to spend most of everything I make on rent. Since 1998, I think it was. I park it where I can. I’m a paratransit driver for Access …
I’m in pretty good health. Well, if I can find affordable rent, like I said, I probably could rent an apartment, but to spend everything, everything I own … I probably have too much saved to qualify for any type of rental assistance. Maybe, I’m not sure, but I’m just waiting for a situation where I can find affordable rent. Basically, that would be $400, $500 a month, maybe. Because when you start renting, what happens is, you make the same thing and your rent keeps going up, so you may go into a situation where it’s affordable now, but later, it may not be.
I come to this location [North Valley Caring Services] for showers. I earn enough to eat OK, you know. I do eat here sometimes, sometimes not. The assistance here seems to be pretty, you know, pretty good. I mean, I just go about my business and I shower a couple of times a week. Otherwise, I just kind of live a normal life, besides sleeping in my van.
I’m 44. I was born and raised in Chatsworth … I’ve been homeless now for five now … I worked for the movie industry. I’m a scenic painter. You know, I do the sets. If this wall was just given to me and they said, “OK, make it look like New York City,” then they’d film on it and it goes on tape. But you work 12 months, 12-hour, 16-hour days and then you’re off for six to eight months. And by that time, bills are paid up, debts are paid up, you end up with nothing. So it was really hard for me to try to keep money to get rent to pay first and last. It’s really difficult. That’s like the hardest thing. …
You’re one paycheck away [from] being homeless. Everybody in this world is, you know. And the ones that are homeless that want to get out of the situation get mixed up with the drug addicts and thieves and the scummy ones that never take showers and totally take advantage of every system possible and don’t try to help themselves.
But then there’s us, there’s the other half who try to do what we can to better ourselves to get us back into the real world and to do better things. I mean, most of us have 10 toes, 10 fingers. We can work, but they just don’t give us jobs because you don’t have a mailing address. You don’t have a mailing address so there’s nowhere to send anything from work. You have no shower sometimes, you know, and they’re capping all the hose faucets and everything all around the whole city. I mean, you can’t go anywhere to find a hose to just rinse off. Even when it’s 110 [degrees], they don’t care, they just cap them off. Because the homeless will go there, they’ll find a spot, and they’ll shower there.
I got evicted from my place. I’ve been homeless four months now. They’re trying to raise up the rent, trying to up the rent, so they found a way to evict me. They made up some stories that I owe this sum and owe that much money, but I went to court and fought it, but eventually I lost so …
Currently now, I have a job, thank God. I work at Walmart, so I keep, I hold on to that job. Very grateful. It’s not easy, you know? I just got used to sleeping in the car, you know? That’s very hard. This guy tried to rob my car one night and tried to steal my car, but luckily he didn’t pull out any weapon or anything like that. I usually park it at work. They let me park over there.
This [MEND Poverty] is the only place I take showers or a friend’s house, sometimes. I have a girlfriend. She’s in Alabama. So, I’m trying to save up money and probably move back over there with her. I usually hang out at the library, read some books, you know. Sometimes I go out to the park, just keep in touch with nature, exercise, move around. Basically that’s what I do pretty much when I’m not working. I don’t even pay attention to society anymore. I mean, my focus in life is just to better myself, you know? I don’t really care about what other people think about me. I don’t really care about that. I’m just here to survive and try to better myself. That’s my priority right now.