The Census count next year is expected to be a challenging endeavor, with potentially millions more of the homeless and “in transit” to find and count. Prior numbers ranged from less than 250,000 to 3 million, depending upon the level of advocacy. I know for a fact that “official” counts are inaccurate; many of the homeless deliberately seek “shelter” in places where they won’t be found, whether to avoid police harassment, to steer clear of mental or violent hard cases, or they just want privacy. Undocumented workers are also being told by immigrant advocates to shun census takers.
I have my own homelessness story to tell. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become cynical on some subjects and radicalized on others, but there was a time in my younger days when I was absurdly naïve and trusting. One day I fancied that Los Angeles would be a stimulating location for a new start in life. I bought a ticket on a Greyhound bus, pocketed my life savings of about a $1,000 and off I was in search of an exciting new career (in what I hadn’t yet thought of). It was a 2,000 mile trip, mostly dull and uncomfortable, even when we stopped in Salt Lake City, where while I was admiring the gardening on the grounds of the Mormon temple compound I was accosted by a very attractive female who tried to convert me to Mormonism. Back on the bus I found myself seated next to a new partner, who told me he was from Los Angeles, and would be glad to help me find a place to stay, and maybe even a job; he was such a fine fellow that I showed him my roll of bills. My new friend informed me that he had just left Texas, where he and his brother were helping to tidy-up a acquaintance’s abode by moving some of his more expensive belongings into the bed of their pick-up truck, while he was gone. That is until the police arrived after a neighbor reported the goings-on, and they were obliged to high-tail it through a few yards and over a few fenses, leaving their truck behind.
Now, I’m certain that most people would be wary of “assistance” from a character of this sort, but I didn’t know anyone in L.A., and this guy seemed most willing and surprisingly friendly, given that even my name was a matter of indifference to him. When we arrived in L.A., we sat in someone’s front lawn at noon and smoked some pot that he happened to have on him, and this had absolutely nothing to do with making uncomplicated my new friend’s aptitude for stealing things that were not his—like of all my money while I was asleep. When I discovered my deprived situation, it didn’t matter if I was in a haze or a daze; I walked aimlessly for about twelve hours around town trying to concentrate my mind on the most proficient and painless way of killing myself. I finally collapsed in an abandoned school house full of broken glass; I fell into unconsciousness before I could consider their uses.
By the time I awoke at the dewy break of dawn, sunshiny with birds chirping and all that other crap, I had forgotten the previous day’s tribulation and was ready to start afresh. What was that lyric from the song Me and Bobbie McGee? “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” I thought that being a beach bum in Santa Monica would be fun, until some kids started throwing mini firecrackers at me while I trying to sleep on the ledge of a lifeguard shack. Someplace down the beach was an open restroom, where I hid in a stall when company arrived around 2 am. I won’t describe the activity that occurred in the adjoining room with the sink, because this is a PG site; thus ended my career as a beach bum.
A couple days later someone who ascertained my impoverished situation while I was discreetly scanning the garbage cans outside a McDonald’s suggested that he had a place for me to stay for awhile; I found myself in house in North Hollywood run by Christian-types of the fundamentalist variety. I won’t say that it was difficult to abide by their rules, but I sensed right-off that I wasn’t going to “fit-in.” One day we went on a tour of the local churches; by evening I was ready to go home, but the “brothers” were not. The next stop on the itinerary had one of those rituals where you stand, sit and kneel every five minutes; it was fortunate that I was on my knees when sleep overcame me, because everyone around thought this pathetic sinner was deeply in prayer, and ought not be disturbed. The next day it was more of the same. I decided that I couldn’t fake it anymore; while we were waiting outside another church, I decided to take a look around, and kept on going.
I was one of L.A.’s homeless for another five weeks, had enough of that career move, and decided to visit an Army recruiting center in Crenshaw, back in the days when they took everyone.