We live in Los Angeles. Friday night (5/11/12) at 10p, my man and I decided to take our 14 year old doggie Trax for a walk in her favorite park where she picks up all her p-mail. She’s one-thousand years old and has to be driven there, it’s just around the block and she lives for her visits to this park.
We were walking with her when this homeless man (Fred) asked us what happened to our park?…how it used to be a nice, safe place for them to go, and how he was happy we drove up because apparently there were some drunk juveniles smashing bottles all over the sidewalk, and when we got there they vacated the premises. He expressed how it was starting to feel dangerous as they were smashing bottle after bottle on the concrete. The other homeless person in the park (a woman we speak to often…we’ll call her Betsy since she asked that I not use her real name), was walking toward the road, too far away to speak to. Fred said that it happens all the time and that Betsy has had eggs thrown at her. Betsy has told us on another occasion of being harassed in town many times. Fred got me thinking, so I did some research. It should be safe in my neighborhood park, even, if not especially, for those who have to sleep out there. It should be safe in every neighborhood…for all of us. I live in one of the most affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades, and this is going on. It can only be worse in other areas of LA. So big deal, right?
The big deal is, are the homeless safe outside even in a safe neighborhood? Let’s explore this a bit.
Have you ever wondered why these people do not use the shelters? So have I.
Shelters are more dangerous than sleeping outside. People steal what little belongings you have, women are raped without anyone stopping the assaults, people are stabbed and beaten, and many of the people there are carrying contagious diseases. What’s more, they never change the sheets on the beds nor are these places cleaned, they smell horrible and most of them do not have adequate supervision, if any at all. Most shelters will not allow someone in a wheelchair or on a walker because they do not want to be liable for them getting injured under their roof. Homeless people advise one another to stay up at night and sleep during the day since one is less vulnerable during the daylight hours. They are told it’s safer to walk around at night, ride the bus or train, than to sleep. The luckiest homeless person is one who owns a car. At least they can lock themselves in their car at night for some protection. You know, we’re so used to hearing the term ‘homeless person.’ we are desensitized to it. This should not be such a rampant problem in this country. At the very least, they should be safe out there.
Have you ever wondered why these people have a problem getting and keeping a job? So have I.
There is blame in the question itself. Millions of people who grew up in this country are so severely damaged by their ‘families of origin’ that they do not have the tools to take care of themselves in this violent, video game, dog eat dog society and culture.
Have you ever wondered why these people don’t just ask family or friends for help? So have I.
If they had family and friends they could turn to, do you think they would be living on the street?
Okay, so back to the problem at hand. Today (5/14/12) I found Betsy in the park and spent about 45 minutes talking with her. She said that 2 years ago, she used to talk with the teens of the neighborhood, they knew her and liked her and she liked them. She said they helped her out, bringing her food and just spending time talking with her made her feel better She seemed to have genuine love for these kids of the past. But this new batch is mean spirited and abusive, she called them ‘a different breed’ and yes, there was an egg throwing incident. She said was sitting in the park one night when a group of teens began throwing eggs at her and yelling ‘hello, hello, hello.’ She said that fortunately the kid holding the carton of eggs tripped and fell, breaking the remaining eggs and they thankfully ran off. When I asked her if she knew if they were local kids or kids from the charter high school down the street, she said that she absolutely knows that they are local kids because she sees them often. She said that she has seen them stealing eggs and alcohol from the local Ralphs Supermarket. She even said that she has alerted the thefts to the market management (one of them has purple hair so she can’t be missed), but they have ignored her. And then she said, ‘no one listens to a bum.’ She informed me that the reason why she was leaving the park on Friday night when we showed up was because she was afraid…she is afraid of what the kids might do, yes…but she is even more afraid of the cops showing up and who is punished for all the broken glass and hauled off to jail?…yep, ‘the bums.’ She said this so matter-of-factly that it caught me off guard…the woman thinks of her self as a bum. Perhaps because she knows most people have already given her that title, might as well go with the flow. When in reality, she has a body of knowledge for survival for which most of us have no clue. I don’t think I could survive in her place. And yet, we walk by these people every day and think nothing of it. What kind of world are we living in? But back to the story.
These are drunk kids looking for some thrills. Betsy said that they are in daddy’s BMW, smashing bottles, throwing eggs and drinking (and driving). If you are thinking that this is pretty mild as teen violence goes, I thankfully agree with you, but that is not the point. Betsy said that this bottle smashing in the park happens most every Friday and Saturday nights now. She is never sure what is going to happen and has many fears on these nights. I’m sure by now you agree that her life is already full of fear and uncertainty without this adding to it. She lives in this fear every moment of everyday.
She said that the problem is this: Lack of parenting and that the kids have no place to go…and she is absolutely right. She pointed out that there is not even a movie theatre up here. No, there is not. As I’ve learned from others, there will never be a skateboard park because of the cost of the insurance for such a park. We, as the residents of this planet need to figure this out. In the Palisades, we need a place where they can go, where they are welcome to hang out for as long as they want, have fun, eat junk food, be kids. I don’t know exactly what that looks like but we may want to work out that ‘insurance and no skate park’ excuse. Money is not as important as the future of our children and the safety of our streets. I used to live in Oahu and there are skateparks all over the place and the kids play safely in them We really have no excuse.
There is also no excuse for lack of parenting. I could google how to raise a child and at least try some of the suggestions. We instinctually know the right way to parent, some of us are just too wrapped up in whatever we are trying to prove to ourselves to justify our existence, we are missing the job right in front of us.
Also, it goes without saying that the one patrol car we have in the Palisades might want to consider going to the Palisades Park on Fridays and Saturdays. Betsy said that the bottle smashing/egg throwing starts after 2p when the kids are out of school and continues until Sunday evening. It shouldn’t be difficult to find them. The older teens, drinking and driving around town…they end up in the park with eggs and alcohol.
Perhaps we can prevent the next batch of teens from being even more lost and angry than this one. We can also work at helping those who have to live outside have as safe an environment as possible…and so can our teens. But we have to care about them more than they care about themselves. Maybe we could give our teens what they want most…our attention. Let’s make them feel popular and loved and get over ourselves. Your job is still to parent these kids even they are acting like idiots. You were an idiot when you were a teen too, don’t continue to be one forever.
I would like to thank ‘Betsy’ from the bottom of my heart for her time, honesty, and candor. I hope she can find a way to label herself in more positive terms. I don’t think a ‘bum’ would have been as open and generous and insightful and smart and loving as she was to me, and to the people of this community she calls home. I would also like to thank her for sharing her story with me so that I could learn more about her life, and the lives of the people who live outside…the Homeless People.
– Laura Tompkins