Profiles of people living in homeless encampments, rarely what you’d expect

Profiles of people living in homeless encampments, rarely what you’d expect

My name is David, and I’m 58 years old. I was born in Inglewood, and I went to high school in Rolling Hills. It’s nice up there — country life, with trees and horses. I was living with my mom then, after my parents got divorced. My father was in Northern California, selling race cars. He had a store in Mountain View, which was really famous.

As a freshman at Rolling Hills, I played varsity baseball. At Long Beach City College I also played. Then I moved up north, with my dad, to try out for the Oakland A’s. There was a scrimmage game — all the scouts were there. I was catcher, and this guy came for home. I scooped the ball up and tagged him, but he plowed me over. Dislocated both of my knees. Somehow I also threw to first, to get a second guy out. The scouts were like, “He’s hired.” I did six months of therapy, but it didn’t work.

“If I had to do it again,” says David, “I wouldn’t have moved to Texas because things there started taking a turn for the worse.”

(Robert Karron)

I remember one time I went to a party with the other A’s, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson — “the Bashing Team.” I was called “Crusher” then. They actually offered me a job as a bullpen catcher (catching for pitchers when they warm up), but I said no. I was young — only 21. Also, I’d just fallen for Michelle, the most beautiful girl in the world, and she was moving to Oregon.

I still remember seeing her for the first time — all in lace, with white gloves: a mix between Stevie Nicks and Madonna. I did 13 years with her (I know, sounds like jail time); we have a beautiful daughter now. She’s 28, a photographer, and she has three kids. I haven’t seen her in a while.

In Oregon, I fought fires for the forestry department, and I was also a logger. I was a “hook tender” and “choker setter.” I’d drop the choker down, and pass it out to the crew, who’d wrap the logs with it. Then I’d grab the hook, lace up the eye of the choker, clear the area, and call the boom, to lift it up and take it to the landing. That was one tough job.

It’s nice. Venice Beach is beautiful, an “open spirit” kind of a place.

— David

After Michelle, I met my second wife, Kristy, in rehab. We had another beautiful daughter, who’s 18 now. Eventually, we moved to upstate New York, where her family’s from, and I got a job with the railroad. I spent 18 years there, until they transferred me to Texas. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have moved to Texas because things there started taking a turn for the worse. My wife had to go back to rehab — and, thank God, eventually she made it back home, because she’d got mixed up with some bad people there. I left my job to take care of her. When she got better, she left me. That was seven months ago.

It’s been hell for me to get back on my feet, but I’m starting to come around. The first five months were the worst of my life. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I couldn’t just go back to my job because I was “off the switchboard.” I’ll get back on it eventually; I’m just not ready yet. I’m slowly working my way back, trying to get this phase out of my system so when I see my friends again they’re not like: “What happened?” Also, I’m taking stock: What’s going on with David? I’m almost there. I’m paying my union dues, so I don’t lose my pension.

How do I get money to pay the dues? I build electric bikes and choppers. I get parts from different places. One bike takes about five days to make, and they sell for $50 to $300. A chopper sells for $500 to $3,000. I mainly sell them on the Boardwalk, but sometimes I’ll go downtown or to MacArthur Park, sell them there.

I’ve been living in this community for four months. It’s nice. Venice Beach is beautiful, an “open spirit” kind of a place. Sometimes I feel sorry for the residents, though. They put up with a lot. Some people here should be in mental institutions. The locals don’t see that. They just see the mess.

If you live in this community, you see a bigger picture than what people see when they just look in, from the outside. I help people out when I can. I want to give back. I took psychology courses in college, and it’s pretty clear a lot of people around here need help. I’ve taken seven women to the rape crisis center, and I’m looking forward to cleaning this place up and making it look nicer than it did before — in appreciation for letting me stay here.

Whenever people cluster, like the unhoused individuals outside the library in Venice, the rhythms of a community tend to emerge.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

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