The prop­erty they carry

For many of Los An­ge­les’ 26,000 home­less res­i­dents, pos­ses­sions are life­lines

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - GALE HOL­LAND gale.hol­land@latimes.com

The Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil is ex­pected to vote Tues­day on pro­pos­als to make it eas­ier for the city to re­move home­less peo­ple’s be­long­ings from side­walks and public parks. Pre­vi­ous ef­forts to seize prop­erty left on side­walks and to ar­rest home­less peo­ple for sleep­ing in the streets were struck down by fed­eral judges. But faced with an 85% rise in en­camp­ments in the last two years, the city is look­ing for new ways to clean up home­less en­claves with­out run­ning afoul of the courts. Many of the city’s 26,000 home­less res­i­dents live in tents or lean-tos, and gather pos­ses­sions both prac­ti­cal and per­sonal. Here is a look at a few of these peo­ple and the things they keep close:

Brenda Bryant, 54, San Ju­lian Street, skid row

Bryant keeps a plas­tic bucket for re­liev­ing her­self, a whisk broom, a dust­pan, tooth­brush and tooth­paste, and a gallon jug of liq­uid soap she mixes with bleach and wa­ter to keep ants off the side­walk in her camp. She pours baby oil down the storm drain to keep the roaches from com­ing out at night. “Be­lieve it or not, baby pow­der and oil does it for roaches,” Bryant said. A Tinker­bell blan­ket lies at the tent en­trance, and her face cream, Let Your Beauty Shine hair prod­uct and pink hand mir­ror are or­ga­nized in a plas­tic tub that once con­tained Coun­try Crock spread. At­tached to the tent flap are notes, on Hello Kitty-bor­dered pa­per, that she leaves for friends when she’s away: “Make your­self at home,” signed “Peaches,” her street name. Bryant was re­leased from jail last year but was “put out” of hous­ing af­ter she failed a drug test. “I’m an ad­dict,” she said, tears slid­ing down her face. She keeps a stor­age bin at a city-funded ware­house with ex­tra items for when she gets a place to live, which she fer­vently hopes will be soon. “I’m a tick­ing time bomb,” Bryant said.

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The city main­tains more than 1,400 bins on skid row to store be­long­ings seized dur­ing street cleanups or vol­un­tar­ily stowed by home­less peo­ple.

Ter­rion Brown, 27, 5th and San Pe­dro streets, skid row

Hold­ing a Bi­ble, Brown leans against a bro­cade sofa cush­ion on top of a mat­tress in his side­walk lean-to — a tarp stretched across shop­ping and pull carts and a panel screen. A tod­dler’s plas­tic key­board in bright pas­tels is handy. “It brings back mem­o­ries of my child­hood,” he said. A green baby buggy with a sun­shade is “for re­cy­cling, or maybe my fu­ture kid if I have one.” Brown said he fell out of a two-story win­dow as a tod­dler and was taken away from his mother. “Span­ish was my first lan­guage,” said Brown, who is African Amer­i­can. He said he’s been home­less and in and out of jail since leav­ing foster care, and hopes to move to Or­ange County or some­where where “peo­ple are not trip­ping on stuff. I want an en­vi­ron­ment with peo­ple func­tion­ing off beau­ti­ful, bril­liant things.” * One in five youths who ar­rive at shel­ters come di­rectly from foster care, ac­cord­ing to a study cited by the Na­tional Coali­tion for the Home­less.

Edna Brous­sard, 48, Wil­shire Boule­vard and Al­varado Street, MacArthur Park

Brous­sard has one tent for food, bed­ding, clean­ing sup­plies and cloth­ing, and a stor­age tent for plas­tic bags of sum­mer clothes, blan­kets and baby clothes. “I’m ex- pect­ing,” she said. She uses scis­sors to fash­ion a makeshift wash basin out of a gallon jug of drink­ing wa­ter. “You cut the top off and fill it with wa­ter and put your rag in there,” she said, hoist­ing the plas­tic bot­tle. She keeps a sewing kit, with a thim­ble and tape mea­sure, in case her fa­vorite shirt needs mend­ing, Brous­sard said. A half-empty can of Gravy Train is for the lit­tle white dog named Squir­rel that a woman dropped off four days ago. “I don’t know why,” Brous­sard said. She said po­lice pushed her and her friends out of the park, so they moved their tents to the side­walk just out­side. As she talked, tourists leaned out of a sight­see­ing bus to take pic­tures of the camp. “They do that ev­ery day,” said Brous­sard’s hus­band, who would not give his name. Brous­sard said she has mul­ti­ple se­ri­ous ail­ments and lost her apart­ment nearby when her son was ex­tra­dited to Texas. “It’s not like I want to be out here,” she said.

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Los An­ge­les is the least af­ford­able rental mar­ket in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to Har­vard Univer­sity’s Joint Cen­ter for Hous­ing Stud­ies.

Rocky Wil­son, 51, North Al­varado Street, Echo Park

Wil­son and his wife, Christina, 53, tether their tent to a tree on a hill­side me­dian sparsely planted with cac­tuses. It holds things “dear to us,” Wil­son said, chiefly a por­ta­ble DVD player and 100 movies — in­clud­ing the Avengers, John Wayne and a cou­ple of Shirley Tem­ple films. “It’s our nightly en­ter­tain­ment,” he said. A flow­ered tin recipe box for Wil­son’s mar­i­juana sits on top of an old book of short sto­ries. “It’s my medicine box,” Wil­son said. A dream catcher hangs over pil­lows crowded with stuffed an­i­mals for Mar­got, their big-eared Chi­huahua. Bone­shaped, leop­ard-print pil­lows are ac­tu­ally squeaky toys and two stuffed Olafs — the snow­man from the movie “Frozen” — were his wife’s, but Mar­got took them over, Wil­son said. Out­side the tent is Mar­got’s de­signer bed, do­nated by an an­i­mal res­cuer. A shav­ing mir­ror hangs from a tree branch, and Wil­son planted an Amer­i­can flag and a Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tion read­ing “Be­ware” around a cac­tus. A stranger stuck a sparkly whirligig in the dirt. Raised in Echo Park, Wil­son said he just got off pa­role and can’t find an af­ford­able apart­ment. While he was pan­han­dling, a lit­tle girl brought him an over­sized stuffed panda. “She walks up and says, ‘Je­sus loves you and so do I,’” Wil­son said. “When a lit­tle girl is hand­ing you some­thing like that … it’s touch­ing.”

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A quar­ter of the na­tion’s 600,000 home­less peo­ple keep pets, ac­cord­ing to a Ne­vada-based ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, but most shel­ters do not al­low them.

Charles Smith, 66, free­way un­der­pass, Echo Park/ His­toric Filipino­town

In the dim con­crete un­der­pass, Smith as­sem­bled from junk what looks like a four-poster bed with a canopy. Sep­a­rate rows of men’s and women’s shoes line ei­ther side of it. Smith said he gives the shoes and snacks, in­clud­ing peanut but­ter and lemon­ade, to his friends in the neigh­bor­hood, where he has lived for 22 years — the last one in the streets. “Lucy, Lucy,” he yelled across the street at a mo­tel maid he said has helped him out with food and clothes. The gov­ern­ment got Smith, an Air Force vet­eran, an apart­ment in Bald­win Hills a month ago. The place is beau­ti­ful, he said, kiss­ing his fin­ger­tips and toss­ing them away, Ital­ian-style. But “I don’t have a TV and I don’t know any­body” there, Smith said, so he comes back to his un­der­pass pied

a-terre. One of Smith’s friends lies on the bed amid crates topped with a derelict boombox and dish an­tenna, pots and pans and clean­ing sup­plies. “It’s like a home away from home,” Smith said.

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More than 2,700 home­less vet­er­ans live in Los An­ge­les, an in­crease of 6% over the last two years.

Robert Allen Thomas, 57, San Ju­lian Street, skid row

Thomas, an en­tre­pre­neur­ial type, tosses bot­tles and cans for re­cy­cling and garbage into three sep­a­rate trash cans. He brought a mat­tress in on his own pri­vate “U-haul” — the bot­tom rack and wheels of a shop­ping cart. An of­fice chair tossed out by a down­town cor­po­rate build­ing made its way to his camp. “We need to sit down too,” he said. A grad­u­ate of Ho­race Mann Ju­nior High and Cren­shaw High School, Thomas said he has been liv­ing down­town since 1978, in be­tween jail­ings. “We used to cook out here with big garbage cans,” he said. “Now some guys have por­ta­ble stoves.” He said he re­sells food — if it’s still hot — that comes in free to skid row. “If it’s cold I give it away, or feed the cats around here,” he said. “I ap­pre­ci­ate it, but it’s like a big mess here al­ready.” On the fence be­hind his tent he hangs fancy women’s cloth­ing: an ivory ban­dage dress with midriff cutouts and a fuch­sia top. “I have lady friends who need cloth­ing,” Thomas said. “I say, ‘What you got for me?’ They say, ‘I got a hat.’ It’s called look­ing out for your­self.” A pur­ple flower stuck in the fence was from a lady friend, he said. “That’s my flower,” he said. “Some­body told me I look like a flower.”

Pho­tog raphs by Katie Falkenberg Los An­ge­les Times

TER­RION BROWN lives down­town on skid row at 5th and San Pe­dro streets. He says he’s been home­less and in and out of jail since leav­ing foster care. Among his be­long­ings is a tod­dler’s plas­tic key­board, which Brown says “brings back mem­o­ries of my child­hood.”

SHOES THAT Charles Smith has col­lected sit by his other items un­der the 101 Free­way near Echo Park.

EDNA BROUS­SARD, who lives by MacArthur Park, has a sewing kit in case a shirt needs mend­ing.

ROCKY WIL­SON, who is mar­ried, with his dog in Echo Park. He also has a por­ta­ble DVD player.

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