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I Lived in a Car in L.A. with a Teenage Daughter and Survived to Write About it, Part 3


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I Lived in a Car in L.A. with a Teenage Daughter and Survived to Write About it, Part 3

Description: Every morning there was a period of deep quiet, after the helicopters stopped and before morning deliveries began. Then I’d he

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I Lived in a Car in L.A. with a Teenage Daughter and Survived toWrite About it, Part 3

Every morning there was a period of deep quiet, after the helicopters stopped and before morning deliveries began.  Then I’d hear runners in Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety vans pull up near us, double park, then footsteps ran up to front porches around us.  Lizzie and I would stay hunched down low, but I imagine after several nights, the neighborhood had seen us sleeping out there in our parked car.  But no one said a word.  You become invisible when you are homeless.

It’s a mutual invisibility. They pretend not to see you and you pretend not to see them.

This particular morning I started the car and the heater, we stretched, pulled onto the street, and headed to the Welfare office, kinda grateful you don’t sleep late when you’re living on the street.  It was good we beat the traffic, good the ride was mostly downhill, from Franklin near Highland down to McArthur Park “human services” office, as the car was literally running on fumes.

Paying for motel rooms over three months, we’d gone through our move-in money, run up every credit card I had, and finally even maxed out the gas card.

In those two months we’d gone to probably every homeless program on the west side of Los Angeles, sat in waiting rooms, sat through lectures, attended mandatory classes in things like, How To Do A Job Interview.  My daughter and I still had no address but a 1995 Ford Taurus.  At night we liked to park in the Hollywood Hills, where it felt safer than down on the boulevards where the homeless people who don’t have cars walk and walk through the night.

If we ran out of gas, we’d end up on the boulevards.  The only thing keeping us from slipping totally through the cracks by February 2004 was that Ford Taurus and once it was out of gas, it was no longer an asset.

    Tip For Living In Your Car: Park pointing uphill, or you will fight gravity all night, falling onto the steering wheel trying to sleep.

That morning we had an appointment at the welfare office to apply for the L.A. County homeless program.  I found in my notes, “I feel like we are covered in dirt.  We probably are covered in dirt.”

I had taken to relying on air showers to wash up.

You stand in a breeze, hold up your arms, and the air cleans your skin as it blows through the fabric, a crocheted top is best for air showering more places, a very … efficient way to wash without water.  Afterwards you crawl into your car and go to sleep.

I also learned when using public showers a technique for washing  my clothes at the same time i wash myself, a practice i still carry out to this day.  You’d be surprised the tips a few years of homelessness will add to your normal life, if you ever make it back to normal life.

    Bomb Scare in the Welfare Office

There was a long line just inside the entrance at the L.A. welfare office. My 15 year old daughter Lizzie let a man with a baby get in front of us.

Then there was a bomb scare and everyone had to evacuate the building.  It was February 2004, and the initial paranoia from Nine Eleven still permeated public buildings.  Everyone in the welfare office, caseworkers and clients, had to go across the street to a parking lot.

We got to know a mom who was there with her two toddler aged kids.  They had walked seventeen blocks from the shelter where they were staying to the welfare office.

With all of us in the parking lot from the bomb scare, the caseworkers had to continue business outside, or the line of people would just keep growing and growing.  So the caseworkers leaned over and had people sign documents on their backs so they could go on their way back onto the streets of Los Angeles, still homeless.




Feb 2009 Hollywood at Vine 'Diana Ross' photo by Kay Ebeling

The lady who walked 17 blocks with two kids would have to come back because they didn’t have an appointment.  There in the parking lot the welfare workers made an appointment for them, and they left to walk the streets of L.A., meandering around until 6PM or so when they could get back into the shelter, and plan to come back for homeless assistance from the county another day.

 That day since we had an appointment, we got onto the official county of Los Angeles County program for homeless families right there in the parking lot.

Here is how it worked back then in 2004.

If you can prove you are genuinely looking for a home, the county gives you enough money for a hotel room for two weeks.

Only you can’t and they don’t and it’s not.

They give you vouchers that should last two weeks in a hotel, but they don’t, and that’s so the county can help you move into  an apartment, but only if you can find one for $454.00 a month.  Even the caseworker said, “You won’t find a place for $450 a month,” so the whole program was basically a charade.  My caseworker had a Central European accent.  I wondered if he was a direct descendent of Franz Kafka.

You went through the motions, pretended look for housing, when really all you were getting was a hotel room for two weeks that would actually just be six or seven nights, but one does not turn down any help once one gets desperate.  So each day I would leave our motel and do the charade of looking for anything we could possibly rent for $454 a month in 2004 in L.A., a room behind a shoe repair shop with no bath, anything, but even an SRO downtown cost more than that. 

It was a charade, a program that existed on paper, but no one even expected it to work.

The first night we were in the L.A. County homeless program, the hotel I found that would take our voucher and was in a neighborhood I knew, was on Sunset Boulevard near La Brea, called the Studio Inn, if I remember right.  It was near Hollywood High School, run by two Pakistani men who I begged to let us stay at the weekly rate, explaining we were in this County program and they nodded like they’d heard it before, and gave us the better rate.  We finally got out of the car and into a room.

Few minutes later when I opened the door to go get ice, the two hotel guys were waiting outside our door, panting, like now it was time for us to do them a favor.

Since we turned them down, they said they could not let us have the room at that rate anymore.  “This is Hollywood Studio Inn on Sunset Boulevard,” they explained, “on weekends rooms rent for as high as 90 to 200 dollars a night.

“This is one big party, Sunset Boulevard on the weekends,” the hotelier said as he placed our Welfare vouchers among a stack in his cash drawer.

    Most homeless teenagers aren’t still living with their parents.
    So shelters aren’t equipped for a mom with a kid over age 12. That’s why it took us so long to get help,

I told the welfare worker next visit that the hotel owners were trying to get us to prostitute ourselves for the difference between a weekly and daily rate, and he broke down and gave me enough vouchers for the rest of our two weeks to actually use them and live in a hotel for two weeks.  So we spent those nights in luxury at the Hollywood Seven Star Inn, then moved back onto the street south of Franklin near Highland, waking up to the delivery of Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety to the residents around us.

A few weeks later, around the time the car was about to die on the street, we got into a temporary shelter, a Christian run place.  They were donation run only, didn’t take government grants, so they could bend the rules and let my 15 year old daughter and me stay there together.  Every other program in L.A. insisted we’d have to separate, her go to a teen home, me to a women’s place, as that’s the way most grants are written.  We just couldn’t separate at that time in our lives.

The private Christian shelter didn’t have rigid structural guidelines like government projects, so when we found Hope Again Mission at 5161 Sunset Boulevard, my daughter and I finally got into a shelter, then 11 months later into a transitional shelter, and now we live in a neighborhood right around the corner from Hope Again, a part of town that up to November 2003, I would never even drive through.

 It’s East Hollywood, and today it’s home.

***

Post Note: In notes I found recently from this period, which sparked this series, I wrote this about our nights at the Studio Inn on Sunset Boulevard: “I’m so grateful that men asking my daughter to appear in a sex video for hard cash scare her, rather than tempts her.  I must have done something right.”

Post Note 2: I remember the day a few week earlier, when I pulled into the parking lot at PATH, People Helping the Homeless, a well-known homeless agency near downtown in our 1995 Ford Taurus.  The people waiting outside gave an audible group sigh when we pulled up in that hunk of dented metal, because to them a car means security, a movable shelter, we had more of a home than they did.  That car was our last platform keeping us from the final bottom, landing on the street, sleeping in a cardboard box, or on a bus bench.

We don’t have a car anymore.

One More Post Note:

I was working when we become homeless.

I’m an independent contractor and have to set up my own equipment in my home to work, so while we were homeless, instead of working freelance, i had to take a staff job.

     I Was Homeless Working On The Dr. Phil Show

I was working on the Dr. Phil Show, on the Paramount Studios lot, when my daughter and I were homeless and living out of our car in Spring 2004,  and then later while we lived in the first of two homeless shelters.  Even working fulltime there in the basement of the Dr. Phil Show building on the lot, doing a job that is critical for production of the show, the pay wasn’t high enough to get us back into even a small studio apartment.

That’s show biz.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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