Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Mother and Child
I suppose, if you're homeless, L.A. is preferable to colder locales.
I've in lived in L.A. since 1975, and the homeless have been a fixture from the beginning--the old guys who slept in the park near the duplex we rented in Culver City, the cast of characters who inhabited the broken-down house across the street from my apartment in the Wilshire district. In Silverlake there was the guy roving around with his guitar and the old lady with the dog who hung out in front of the 7-Eleven. That dog bit Mr. Ex and tore a hole in his brand new suit way back when--quite a scare and a financial blow to our modest finances then. When we lived in Los Feliz the homeless tumbled from the edges Griffith Park. I didn't like to walk in that neighborhood in the mornings. The bleary-eyed desperation of the guys dragging their sleeping bags out of the bushes scared me. Our next house was out of the city in a suburb, and people there joked that the police stopped anyone who looked homeless and pointed them west or south to an adjoining larger suburb--but still, there was the guy who seemed to live in the park tucked up against the mountains.
Certain pockets of downtown L.A. are well-populated with homeless people. Freeway off-ramps throughout the metropolitan area, even in tonier neighborhoods, are likely to have a homeless person holding a sign, stationed like a sentry. Lately I've noticed more women at those off-ramps. Women whose hair still holds the vestige of a decent cut, women with roller bags instead of shopping carts.
I can't recall, though, ever seeing a homeless woman with a baby on the streets of any of my neighborhoods in the City of Angels. Until tonight. She sat on the pavement next to the ATMs on the back side of Bank of America. Her sign said that she had two kids and couldn't pay her rent. I pondered what that meant exactly while I stood tapping my selections on the ATM screen. Had she been evicted?--or was she just trying to get enough rent money together so she could pay it? I knew I would give her money, but how much? Should I ask her if she knew about Para Los Ninos? If she had a safe place to stay for the night? Wait, I told myself, this doesn't make sense. If she has two kids like the sign says, where's the other one? Was she just panhandling for drug money like the woman who rides the Gold Line asking for pizza money for her kids? The regular train riders tell everyone she's a junkie. But the pizza woman never has her kids with her. This woman sat on the sidewalk with a baby in her lap. "God bless you," she said when I gave her the money. She didn't look strung out.
I walked on to the post office, wondering if I should swing by the police station. No. They'll take the baby, I thought, and put it in protective custody. I decided I'd go back and talk to the woman, but she was gone. It's chilly tonight. I hope she and her baby are warm. I hope that the next time I see a woman and a baby sitting on the sidewalk in my tidy little neighborhood, I'm a little quicker at working up the nerve to talk to her.