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Column: Hearing From Homeless Individuals on the Westside

By Joe Fasbinder

The thing you notice about the homeless in the Santa Monica-Venice area is – in addition to their hundreds of makeshift shelters – nobody has a last name.

“I’m Pickles,” says one guy.

Why Pickles?

“’Cause nobody don’t like pickles.”

Pickles has a welder’s mask folded back over his head and a pair of gloves – though they aren’t welder’s gloves. They’re winter gloves. He has a short-sleeve shirt on, so he’s not a welder. 

“Are you a cop?”

I assure him I’m not a cop. I have a business card that says I’m a reporter. Cops generally tell the homeless to move along, and Pickles has decided he likes it here, at in a grassy area at about Rose and Third, at the beach, maybe in Venice, maybe in Santa Monica. He doesn’t know and doesn’t care. 

How long you been out here?

“Since I was eight,” he says. “Didn’t like foster homes and I didn’t like getting messed up.”

He’s reasonably happy on the street, despite the rampant homeless-on-homeless thievery that he blames mostly on drug abusers. They abound. Their number isn’t known. They leave used syringes on the street, on the sidewalks.

Tom Oler seems to be happy, too. Maybe he doesn’t know. He’s sitting a short distance away, on the sidewalk eating Oreo cookies. He can’t answer questions, though, because he speaks so softly and his answers never make sense when you listen closely. He has tracks on his arms.

Thousands of homeless with severe mental problems live here and don’t even have makeshift shelters to sleep in. I ask where he got the cookies. He doesn’t know.

Buddy Love is a few blocks away, with his girlfriend Shelly. They both look reasonably healthy. Shelly is smoking part of a cigarette. I didn’t ask where she got it.

“There’s 52,400 homeless in the Santa Monica-Venice area,” she says. “14,l95 don’t even have a temporary place to stay.” She doesn’t say where she got the numbers but she knows how long she’s been among them on the street. Buddy Love isn’t sure.

She came to live on the street on or around her 14th birthday. “I was beaten at a home I shared with my uncle who raped me, and I was six months pregnant when I got kicked out. Nobody cared where I went. Nobody knows,”

She doesn’t know what happened to her baby. Her daughter was taken away by the Department of Children and Family Services.

“We’re family now,” says Buddy Love. They’re matched together with a couple of dogs. Shelly shares space with Celine, a pit bull with a very mellow attitude. “She’s a lover,” she says. Buddy Love has a dog, too.

That’s part of the problem. Many homeless people have dogs, and there aren’t a lot of temporary shelters which will accept pets. So Buddy Love and Shelly share a life outdoors with their dogs, all the time.

Where does the food come from? “Churches,” she says. “Along with dumpster diving.”

“Most of the good stuff is at the bottom,” Steve says. He got kicked out when his mother died and the house he lived in was divided up in probate. He admits it makes a mess that other people have to clean up.

A man who doesn’t want to give his name at all puts a hand on Buddy Love’s shoulder and tells him not to talk to me. Everybody shuts up.

In Santa Monica alone about 971 people were living on the streets or in makeshift shelters at the halfway point of 2019. That’s a slight decline from 2018, but comes up against 2017 figures that show that the homeless population in Santa Monica alone rose from about 700 to where it stands today. About half of those live in either downtown Venice and Santa Monica or all along the beach, into the most expensive parts of Venice. A county tally indicates about 47,000 homeless called the streets of Los Angeles County home in 2017.  

In contrast, an estimated 16 million people each year visit LA’s Venice Beach and its boardwalk market as tourists .

Thousands of people call expensive houses and apartments their home along the beach. Among those complaining about the influx of homeless people is Johnny Rotten, one-time punk icon with the Sex Pistols. Newsweek says the now 63-year-old is angry about the homeless vandalizing the multi-million dollar home he owns in Venice. He’s said to be “struggling to cope” with the countless “vagrants” in the area.

Moving on, John has a cardboard and cast-off hovel nearby. John is putting a blanket over one side, because it looks like rain. He doesn’t like the rain. He has a few belongings and they always get ruined in the rain.

A light drizzle starts to fall on the Westside of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and the homeless take refuge where they can. Nobody wants to talk to me.

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