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By David Fallon

________

In 2012 I was hired as part of a program to provide outreach services to the homeless of Hollywood. It was our job to find the most vulnerable individuals on the street and to work to get them into housing. Not long after we began, we found a panhandler at a gas station near Griffith Park.

Dean was a wiry guy with tangled hair sticking out from under a grimy baseball cap. He had a long, grizzled beard and striking blue eyes that hid a fast wit. When he talked, he grew animated, with arms waving and face twisting. He was a storyteller who loved having an audience. He was also a drug addict who used just about anything he could get his hands on. Let’s be real, I need beer! his cardboard sign read.

“Go find Buddy up on the hill!” he told us because he wanted us to talk to his friend. He was also eager to get back to his hustling. In the early days of our work, people on the streets regarded us with a detached bemusement. They had been promised housing in the past by many other organizations. None of these panned out, so they had good reason to doubt us. We told Dean that we would come back to see him in a few days and went up the hill to find Buddy.

Buddy was tucked away on the top of a small hill amid untrimmed bushes. He was passed out on a towel, his body covered in sweat and smelling of urine. An empty fifth of vodka lay just out of arm’s reach. We tried to get his attention, but he could not be stirred.

“We’ll have to come back,” the team leader said.

Several days later, we met with Dean on the same street corner. He signed the paperwork to join our program and asked a bunch of questions: When can I get some money? You got any lawyers I can talk to? Where’s this so called housing going to be? How long is this gonna take?

Dean said he was a dishonorably discharged Green Beret on the run from the law in Texas. From what, he would not say. He told us his family had disowned him from a large inheritance. Dean also responded to internal voices and seemed to see things that were not there. It was often difficult to tell what was real and what was not with Dean.

“My own mother wants to take my money from me,” he said. “The bitch.” He had been on the streets for 20 years. To survive, he had taken to running drugs for gang members in exchange for free passage in their territory as well as free drugs. We made plans for him to come to our office to discuss the next steps, then left him alone to panhandle.

“Don’t forget Buddy!” Dean reminded us. This time when we climbed the hill, Buddy was wide awake and waiting for us.

“Hey y’all!”

Turns out Dean had told him about our program.

Buddy was tall and lanky with a big smile and hearty laugh. He was older than Dean by at least 10 years. His hands were massive, and he had once been a boxer. His body slumped from decades of alcohol abuse. He could not remember much of the last 20 years and would tearfully tell the same story over and over.

“I use to live in Vegas,” he said. “Life on the streets there is pretty tough. I ended up killing a guy because he was going to kill me. There was nothing else I could do. It was him or me.…” And by this time, he was in tears. The judge had let him off on self-defense, and he came back to Los Angeles, where he had grown up. None of his family wanted to have anything to do with him, so he started drinking.

“And never stopped,” was how the story usually ended.

Homelessness is a constant fight for survival and allies can mean the difference between life and death. Buddy and Dean were more than just allies. They shared their stories with each other, which is something you did not do on the streets, where information can be used against you. They talked about the things they wanted. For Buddy, it was a house and a car and a decent job. For Dean, it was women and motorcycles.  Buddy seemed like the kind of guy who’d share his last drink with a friend. Dean was the kind of guy who would take that drink.

One day when we went to visit, we met them at a nearby bus stop. Dean had his arm around Buddy and they were laughing hysterically. “We was just shootin’ the shit,” Dean said, pulling his hand away as we walked up. He was embarrassed by our witnessing this moment. While Dean constantly worked to portray the tough street thug, it was clear he had a tender side. And a soft spot for Buddy.

Because he was often drunk, Buddy was particularly vulnerable. Every time he got something new, like clothes or a pillow, he would wake up from his stupor to find it gone.

“I can’t do this anymore,” he told us after someone had taken a radio he found. “I can’t spent the rest of my life drunk on this goddamn hill!” he yelled with tears streaming from his eyes as he pounded his fist into the grass.

Soon after, we sent him to a detox center in Pomona. He assaulted one of the staff. They kicked him out. We had no idea if we would ever see him again.

A few days later, it was Dean who brought Buddy back to our office. Somehow Buddy had made his way back to the hill where Dean had found him. He had no memory of attacking the staff member. In his mind, they had let him go because he had gotten a job at a nearby Burger King.

“I was doing my job, washing the windows, when the police rolled up on me,” he said in an incredulous tone. “I tried to tell them I was just doing my job, but they wouldn’t listen. They hauled my ass off to jail!” Pomona PD released him a few days later and told him to get out of town, so he made his way back to Hollywood.

“This guy keeps saving my life,” he smiled at Dean.

“You’re like a brother to me, man,” Dean said with affection.

Despite their differences, Buddy and Dean cared about each other. You could see it in the way they patted each other on the back, the way they shared their food with each other, the way they talked and laughed together. It was an unusual relationship to see on the streets. Most people are consumed with self-preservation to the point of open hostility toward others. It was not uncommon to hear about women of the street being raped by gangs of homeless men. In order to survive, most women on the street found a “husband” to take care of them. The price was often non-consensual sex or even beatings, but at least it was by one man instead of many. Buddy and Dean’s friendship on the street was based as much on the desire to connect as it was for self-preservation.

By this time, our team had cut a deal with a local motel. Its carpet was worn to the concrete, and the peeling walls were smeared with decades of unattended filth. But they rarely turned away a potential customer. We put both Buddy and Dean in this motel temporarily in order to help them work toward the next step.

Buddy stayed sober long enough to complete the process to get into rehab. Dean was another story. He agreed to take an injection of an antipsychotic in order to soothe the voices that plagued him, but he continued to smoke marijuana in his motel room. Bringing in a couple of hookers one night was the last straw for the manager, who called me directly.

“Get him out!” he yelled.

Before I could get there, Dean had an altercation with another motel guest, then cleared out. As he was leaving, he found Buddy sleeping in his room and took his clothes, his blankets, and what little money he had. When Buddy awoke to confront him, Dean slashed his face with a penknife and ran off. The manager called the police. Buddy told them where to find Dean. The police immediately knew who he was. They were more than happy to take him in.

When we later asked Dean why he had done this to Buddy, he only shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s life on the street.”

That was about right. We never heard another reason for why he’d turned on his friend so suddenly.

“If I ever see that piece of shit, I’ll kill ’im,” Buddy said. “Can’t believe he would do this to me.…”

Soon after, Buddy was taken to rehab, where he worked a 60-day program of recovery groups morning, noon and night. The program was a 12-step group, with a substance abuse counselor who met with each person one on one. Buddy made changes in his thinking and behavior with the goal of never taking another drink. Simply being away from it seemed to give him clarity. He focused on never going back to that hill. In his mind, just one drink would be catastrophic. “I know where it can take me,” he said.

While Buddy was in rehab, the housing coordinator prepared the paperwork for his housing placement. When he got out, Buddy was moved into a studio apartment in the heart of Hollywood. His recovery was remarkable in both its speed and depth. In fact, of the 65 people we housed, Buddy was one of two who had totally turned away from his old habits.

After the assault, Dean spent a couple of months at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, with the plan that he would come to our office as soon as he was released. When that day came, he was the most clear-headed I had ever seen him. He insisted that he was ready to be housed and that he would never bother Buddy again.

But Dean disappeared soon after he got out of jail. I searched his spots a couple of times a week but didn’t find him. A few months later, he appeared covered in a layer of black muck, sputtering manic stories of his drug adventures: how he exchanged sex with a old lady who allowed him to sleep in her car at night, how he befriended a local important gang member who treated him like a mascot, giving him free drugs because “he thinks I’m so fucking funny.”

Later, Dean appeared with an older woman. Her name was Beth. She was homeless as well but had a steady source of income. She wanted us to take Dean off her hands

A few weeks later, Beth showed up to tell me that Dean had drank himself to death.

“I tried and tried to revive him,” she said tearfully. “But he just stopped moving.”

The next day, I knocked on Buddy’s door. He was doing well in his apartment. He had set up a table, a few chairs and a lamp. Everything was kept neat and clean. He was attending meetings and talking about maybe going back to school or getting a part-time job.

I told him about Dean.

We sat together for a long time in silence. Buddy shook his head.

“Jesus,” he said.

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By Matthew Loflin Davis

[dropcap1]B[/dropcap1]efore scrap metal prices went through the roof in the mid 00s and every scrapper was considered scum, I had a truck and made my way cutting steel out of burned out and unsalvageable buildings.

Five years ago Thanksgiving, I was trying to come up with some copper to turn into the scrap yard the next day for my fix. The building behind mine was falling down and hadn’t had anyone in it as long as I could remember so I climbed to the roof and down through the hole that the weather over the years had provided me.

Once inside, the copper was everywhere. I started cutting it out when I realized that some of it was still live. I carefully unhooked the three connectors to the 440 coming into the building when POP, a loud fucking explosion of light and power filled the room. The wrench I was using had touched another metal plate. My rubber boots and gloves saved my ass. It no doubt would have killed me. Shaken badly, I had gotten the power off so I continued to pull the copper. Part of me knew this was wrong but when your heroin fix is the one true love in your life you can sometimes rationalize things.

Looking back, I knew I was wrong taking that copper but I’m not here to apologize. Putting the big pieces aside, I went to the basement and started cutting smaller wires when I heard a door open upstairs.

“POLICE!”

I hid behind some machinery thinking Detroit cops wouldn’t want to go through the entire building. I was probably right but it wasn’t the police, just the owners with Glocks and handcuffs. It was my first and only felony; it haunted me for years and I was jailed several times for breaking probation due to dirty urine.

About 364 days later, a day before Thanksgiving, I was again scrapping an abandoned building in the Eastern Market. I had my torches and was cutting heavy I-beams. Things were going great. The sun was out and it lit up the third floor very nicely for me and my buddy to work in. I went to check out the room next door and walked down the hall into a shaded area. My eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough before I realized I was falling. The next thing I remember thinking was “Damn, I’m falling a long way.” I hit the ground about two floors down. I gasped for breath as the wind went out of me. After the fear settled, I felt that I couldn’t move my leg and it hurt like hell. My face hurt and my wrist hurt, too. I spent the next three months in a wheelchair. I had broken my femur, wrist and jaw. A titanium rod was inserted into my femur, pins in my wrist and my jaw was wired. To top things off, I lived in a house with only a wood burner. I was chopping wood from my wheelchair all winter.

One December day that year, I was out of work and I had my habit and I was sick. I could feel the bile in my stomach churning and my legs wouldn’t hold still. My nose and eyes were running and I was sneezing eight times in a row.  I wheeled myself down the street on that frigid December day while carrying my aluminum extension ladder resting on the arm of my chair. I headed down to a spot I knew where the man would sometimes trade tools for dope. I sat outside and waited for him, but when he showed up he didn’t want the ladder. I was at wits’ end, sitting on wheels on McDougall Street in the blowing cold praying for my father to send me something from above. My eyes were running so bad I couldn’t see and my body arched with my sneezes as I looked in the street to see a bill tumbling with the wind right toward me. I franticly pushed myself toward vector with the tumbling green blur and caught it under my wheel. Reaching down, I pulled up a twenty dollar bill so I looked up and thanked my Pop. I blew it all on one fat blow and worried about my next need when it came. Somehow it always works out.

Flash forward one more year to the next Thanksgiving. (You can look up my medical and police records if you don’t believe me) I’m again scrapping the Grand Trunk Building on the seventh floor. It’s a refrigerated building with no lights, no windows. I’m trying to unbolt a brass valve. After taking the bolts out I tried to wiggle it out by hand, no luck. Grabbing my hammer, I gave it a good whack and an explosion of pure ammonia blasted me in the face. The room filled with the gas and I stumbled upstairs where fresh air was coming in through the roof. My eyes were burning. Luckily it was raining and I was able to flush them out. About 75% blind, I managed to make my way down through the pitch-black seven floors and out to the parking lot. From there I somehow made it home. Before I went to the hospital I stopped at the dope house and spent my last $10.

I was blind for about three months in both eyes until my right eye healed fairly well. My left eye didn’t do so well and I am still blind in that one today three years later.

                                       _____

 *WHEN HE WROTE THIS STORY, MATTHEW LOFLIN DAVIS WAS AN ARTIST AND RECOVERING HEROIN ADDICT IN DETROIT. IN 2015, HE DIED OF A HEROIN OVERDOSE. HIS BLOGPOSTS REMAIN AT WWW.JUNKYSAYS.BLOGSPOT.COM, FROM WHICH THIS STORY WAS CULLED.  

 

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