Today wasn’t only another Cahuenga Library Mini Clean-Up, but the one-year anniversary of the native plant garden at the Library. So I went out to European Baking Co. on the way to the Library on Santa Monica Blvd and got a small red velvet cake for the volunteers.
I got to water the plants as well and noticed that the aloe planted in the alley side of the Library one year ago was starting to flower:
It turns out this month the volunteer force was comprised of only Amanda Colligan and I. Fortunately, the amount of trash was manageable and we were able to get the job done.This time though I had a different experience cleaning up the Library.
It’s no secret that homeless people either like to hang out or even sleep on the Library grounds. Yes, this bothers me, especially when they leave trash behind, or stuff their belongings behind the bushes. But I wanted to try something different this time…I decided to talk to them.
I’m no expert on homelessness by any means, but I have had prior experience being exposed to that world when I volunteered in the Great Homeless Count for Los Angeles County in 2005. One of the main things I learned was that people are homeless for many different reasons, which is primarily why it’s so difficult to find a solution to homelessness.
There was a thin woman with greying brown hair who was napping on the built-in seating at the front of the Library. She saw me sweeping and offered to move aside. I asked her how long she had been staying here, how long she had been living on the streets, where she had been living before she was on the streets. I asked her what her name was.
She told me she had been staying there with her boyfriend. She recently stayed at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and is taking medication for anxiety. She had been staying at the Library for the past three weeks, and had been living on the streets for about a year. Previous to being homeless, she lived with a relative in the Valley. She mentioned something about having a son, though it didn’t sound like her son was living on the streets with her. Her boyfriend’s name is Carlos, who is an alcoholic and is presently off drinking somewhere. She’s in her late 50s. Her name is Annette.
She was one of those people who couldn’t stop talking, and normally that annoys me but I was patient this time as I’m sure she doesn’t have many chances to converse and express herself to others. Though dirty and physically emaciated, she is coherent and can articulate her thoughts normally. She talked about being on Social Security and having to go to the SSI office on Vine Street to pick up her check, which was in the form of a debit card, but she admits to constantly misplacing it. She also talked about her relationship with her boyfriend, who is at least a decade younger than she is. though he isn’t physically abusive she worries about his alcoholism and how he can be verbally abusive. She openly wonders whether she should just leave him or stay with him.
When I finally had the chance to talk, I asked Annette if she was hungry. She confirmed.
As Amanda and I finished up our cleanup duties, we had celebratory cake with some of the Cahuenga Library staff in their breakroom. Everyone enjoyed the cake, which seemed to also have a cheesecake-like frosting. I briefly stepped outside to bring Annette a piece of cake and a cup of water, with one condition – that she throw away the plate, fork and cup in the nearby bus stop trash can when she was finished. She thanked me for the food.
I realized during talking with Annette that one thing did not happen the entire time we conversed: at no point did she ever ask me for any money.
I left Annette by telling her I would contact the people I know at PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) to see if they could refer both her and Carlos to any resources, but that they might not be able to come until Monday.
Dealing with the homeless takes on a totally different dimension once you actually get to know them as a human being.