Among the 30 individual honorees at the 14th Annual Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition Success Breakfast was 63-year-old Richard Friedland, who survived homelessness, living in a van with his three sons, and now holds down a job at Whole Foods market and an apartment in the Pico Neighborhood. Richard’s story is not typical; but then, no one’s is, really.
Friedland grew up in Connecticut, but had lived in California for some time before becoming homeless. He has been self-employed throughout his adult life, from managing singer-songwriter Michael Bolton to owning his own produce business. When his water-purifying company fell apart and his long-term marriage broke up, he had to leave what had been the family mobile home in Point Dume and take to the streets with his sons in the van.
Through a pamphlet distributed by the Santa Monica Housing Authority, he eventually found Upward Bound House, a WSHC member in Santa Monica with an emphasis on helping homeless families. It took a year before he was able to enter the program. He worked where a man his age could find it, including telephone sales of lists of foreclosure properties. “That was hard for me,” he says, “because I don’t like selling anything I don’t really believe in.”
Eventually he found work in the Whole Foods produce department, but it is work carrying produce rather than selling it. “I want to talk to the customers and recommend this or that,” says Friedland, a vegetarian since 1967, but that’s not his job now. He would like his own Farmers’ Market booth, and he’s making plans to get there.
During his time of homelessness, Friedland was able to get the oldest boy a place of his own. With the help of Coalition members, he and his sons now have a two-bedroom apartment through the Section 8 program, and the boys are doing well – one at Santa Monica College and the others in middle and high school.
“Life is what you make it,” he says. “If you go through hard times together as a family, it will only make you stronger.”