Welcome to Homelessness: Joining the Family

joining the family

Sunset is the most difficult time for a homeless person living on Venice Beach or anywhere else out in the open for that matter. But as for here, this is the time that the vendors pack up their wares and begin clearing out the boardwalk. At the same time, the homeless start gathering their things from the grassy areas between the boardwalk and sand. They start heading to the place where they will sleep for the night.

I’d been homeless now for two weeks and each night I’d done what I thought was the smart thing.

I’d purchased a cheap tarp from the camping store in Santa Monica as well as a small shopping cart from CVS, the kind that folds up. At the end of the day, I’d just go out onto the sand as close to the ocean as I could remembering the tide, and as far away from anybody else as possible. I figured, since I’m a light sleeper, I could see someone coming from a mile away. But last night, it happened. Someone stole my back-pack right out from under the very tarp I was sleeping under.

Yeah, I missed my solar charger, my blue tooth, and my toiletries among other things. But most importantly, I now felt even more vulnerable. What if that had been a rapist? I had no protection out here alone. What could I do?

Wavecrest Street

As the sky got darker, I walked up the boardwalk until I found a bench right in front of Wavecrest Street. There was no particular reason why I stopped there other than I was just tired of walking. Up until that point, I always avoided the side streets because I’d see and hear loud arguments and fights going on throughout the night from my vantage point on the sand. I wanted no part of others out here. Just like everyone else, I was afraid of the homeless. I still didn’t consider myself one of them, even though I was. So, I just sat there and watched as the homeless living on Wavecrest put up their tents to bed down for the night.

joining the familyThen, a woman came toward me riding on a three-wheeled bicycle. She pulled a small black scruffy poodle by the leash as she went. She stopped in front of me and let the dog smooch my leg. I could see that she was older, but she was in really good shape for her age. Her face was pretty wrinkled so I’d guessed somewhere in her 60s. The bike had a basket. Rising out of the basket was a huge clawed hand, like something out of a horror movie.

She looked at me sideways and said:

“If Teddy likes you, you must be all right. He don’t like nobody.”

“Teddy, that’s an odd name for a dog. He’s cute.”

“Yeah, he’s cute all right, believe me, most of the time he’d try to bite your leg off if he could. He only likes certain people and I always go by his reaction. His names Theodore Edward Bear, you know Ted-E-Bear. That’s why we call ‘em Teddy Bear, Teddy for short. And you must be somebody we can trust if he’s snuggling like that on you. What’s your name?”

“Allison. What’s yours?”

“They call me Grandma around here. I’ve seen you around carrying that guitar. Can you play that thing?”

“Yes.”

“You gotta place to stay tonight?”

All of a sudden, I started to cry. I guess I’d reach the end of my strength. I hadn’t talked to anyone in days. When I started crying, Grandma jumped off her bike, came and sat next to me placing her arms around my shoulders and said:

“Don’t worry, you came to the right place. See those people over there, that’s the Family, and now you’re in it. Here, grab your stuff and follow me.”

That was all there was to it. I now belonged to the Family. What had I gotten myself into? Grandma took me to her tent and said that I could stay with her until I got a tent of my own. In the meantime, since I had a talent, she said she’d introduce me to everyone and we’d all figure out where I fit in.

The Family

The other members of the family included Poppa Bear. He was the father figure just as Grandma was the mother. Deuce was one of the artists. They called him the Mannequin Man because of his display. He made the most money from the boardwalk because of his art. We all grew to love his mannequins, which were strewn all over the place. Everyone’s bikes were decorated with one of his pieces as well, which explained Grandma’s clawed hand.

Amethyst was the musician. He played the guitar, and had a huge amp with multiple mics, which he used to pass around to people wanting to sing as they passed by. He made good money. Of course, he was the very person I needed to see to get started making money with my music. Ana, also an artist, didn’t live on the street with us. But she was always present until the end of the day. She slept in her van and she was from Italy. She painted with spray paint also making pretty good money.

Tee was an older black man. He had no talents, but he had a canvas cover for a vendor’s booth. He would take the art from other people and display them. Whatever he made, he’d take 20% and the artists wouldn’t have to sit in the booths all day. A very creative idea. He would sit there all day drinking small bottles of whiskey, smoking blunts, watching everyone’s things and collecting the money of items sold.

I finally had a way to leave my things so I could go places to find opportunities or shop for groceries and things.

Carrying a guitar and pulling a shopping cart everywhere, which is what I had to do up ‘til then, was truly a burden. Not only for your muscles, but people look at you differently when they see you with such a load walking the streets of LA County.

Grandma introduced me to everyone that day. There were about 15 of them altogether, including a deaf-mute who seemed to make himself understood when he communicated using loud sounds and gestures. Then she took me into her really big tent and moved her things to one side so I could have a place beside her.

She and I talked late into the night. I learned about her and cried to her about myself. She said she knew just about everyone on the boardwalk, especially the women whom she’d helped, just as she was helping me, by letting them stay with her until they could go on their own. Somehow, I really trusted her. The first person I trusted since coming to Venice Beach. I knew that things were changing for the better for me. I’d just take it a day and a step at a time. From that day on, I never had to worry about watching my back. And I certainly watched everybody else’s back who belonged to the Family.

Click here to read part one of this series.


Allison Whitfield

Allison C. Whitfield

     

Allison Cherise Whitfield, author of "the Shelter of the Shade Tree", writes from an inside point of view. Having experienced homelessness in San Jose, CA, Venice Beach, CA, Las Vegas, NV and Atlanta, GA, she is an advocate in the fight against homelessness. At this time, she is living in a homeless shelter in Atlanta, GA.

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