According to LAHSA, homelessness in LA estimated 69,144 people were experiencing homelessness in LA County at that time, a 4.1% rise from 2020, and 41,980 people were experiencing homelessness in the City of LA, up 1.7% from 2020.
CC allowed me to interview her as part of my multi-series interviews I’m conducting with homeless people discussing their experiences of homelessness in LA. Each interview will be unique to them, transparent, and eye-opening.
I met “CC,” a 58-year-old former auto mechanic, at her camp over a year ago when I brought her some ice. She was born and raised in this neighborhood in Los Angeles. She lives on a slice of land between the on-ramp and the 110 freeway.
It’s not safe to cross the road there. Cars pour around the little island where her dogs know never to go off the lot. Her tent and surroundings are neat and tidy. She has planted daisy-like sunflowers, a small conifer, palms, and cacti.
“The palms are five years old now,” she tells me. The lot is covered with wood chips, and a little pathway lined with solar garden lights leads to her tent.
In the past, she’s had a high-functioning camp kitchen with orderly coolers and electric hotplates. A vendor’s tent has housed a small fire pit with a circle of chairs, but her belongings are taken regularly in sweeps, paring her down to the bare minimum over and over again.
If the parks police show up unexpectedly, she must immediately move everything across the dangerous on-ramp so that he can get a photo of an empty lot and then back again, or she will lose everything. The whole exercise is a study in absurdity.
She’s often afraid to take a job because it could mean losing all her stuff if the sweep happens and she’s not there. The park policeman who does the sweeps is kind. He risks his life directing traffic as she and her friends move house and back again. He would let CC’s friend, Don, an 81-year-old man she cared for until he passed, remain in his tent as he could barely stand on his own.
Homelessness in LA: Meet CC
How did you become homeless?
Homelessness in LA: CC: That is a trippy question. Part of it was my living situation with work, and part was caring for Don, the older man who died. He was getting sicker and sicker. That’s what pulled me to the lot where I am now. (She was spending a lot of her time on him.)
How did you meet Don?
Homelessness in LA: CC: I met him at the Weiner Schnitzel. Some guys were trying to rob him. From that day on, we were really good friends, and I started helping him and caring for him for almost 20 years.
Can you tell me what your first day on the street was like?
Homelessness in LA: CC: I was in a house in Baldwin Park. I moved out because my partner was causing me to lose work by talking shit to my boss. On my first day homeless, I can remember sleeping in my vehicle, and sitting up was very uncomfortable. It was really bad.
Eventually, I wound up putting a tent up so I could stretch out because I had too much stuff inside my car. It was miserable, and I think me and Don got drunk that day. I’m almost positive we did. He had some vodka, and we started drinking vodka, and then I wound up just passing out in my car that night, and then it was just the same scenario.
Don drank vodka every day, so sometimes I’d get odd jobs to help buy him vodka because, you know, he was an alcoholic. I drink every day myself, but I don’t… if you see me with two bottles of vodka, you know I’m on a mission to get drunk, but other than that, I drink just to keep level. (I mention that I’ve never seen her drunk. She laughs.)
A few people have. But I don’t really drink to get drunk or that, not unless I’m really down, then you’ll see me with two bottles of hard liquor.
How did you: Find this spot?
Homelessness in LA: CC: I originally picked the spot for Don because I had been helping take care of him. I rented a place years ago for Don and me to get him off the street. He only stayed there two weeks and went right back because he’d been living on the streets for years. He was so used to it he wasn’t happy staying in an apartment.
Years ago, before I met him, there was a shot of him; when I did a sort of background check on him, he was shaking hands with Arnold Schwarzenegger, representing a tent city of 300 tents. He was on the front page of the Sacramento newspaper.
He had taken off for a few weeks through the years that I’ve known him. He went back one way to get water out of the fire hydrant and into your bucket 3 to Sac, but he always came back. He loved me to death. I didn’t let anybody try to harm him or take advantage of him in any way. He was my best friend.[As to the spot] I saw that there were houses up above a lot of people live out their side windows, cause it’s got the view, and they would be able to see him down on that lot. One of the main reasons I started clearing that lot out was his presence. I started doing that lot 8-10 years ago. I was living in Baldwin Park at the time.
Many community/homeowners started noticing a significant change on that lot. Once I lived there, I had much more time to spend on it.
How do you get water?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Now I steal it from a fire hydrant, or I have another of the other guys around that helps me out. I’ll have them go fill my bottles, or Donnie sometimes does, my brother. I made a thing for the fire hydrant. It has a spigot on it.
I made it, it’s got a hose clamped to it, and I unscrew the fitting that covers it, and then it’s got threads, well I have two, but one’s just for a five-inch hose connection, and the one I have right now I think it’s three and a half or two inches, it’s rubber, and it’s got like a hose clamp on it, and it’s got a spigot on the end, so we can hook a water hose to it. It makes it easy to fill a five-gallon bottle.
Did you invent that yourself?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Actually, no, I was told about it. The other fire hydrant, the five-inch one it’s plastic, so I took a hot screwdriver in the fire and made a hole that I made bigger with a knife, and I bought a spigot from the hardware up there, and I screwed it in, and then I put gorilla glue, and it worked pretty good.
I had a 200-foot hose that went from over here, all the way from the freeway on-ramp up to my tent, but it was taken. And that’s how I used to water everything. Sometimes I almost got caught by the cops because it’s illegal to do that, but I was doing what I had to do.
How do you wash up?
Homelessness in LA: CC: I’ll take my five-gallon bottle there, sit it in the sun, let the water get kinda warm, pour it in in a bucket with a cup, and I’ll stand there in my boxer shorts and a muscle shirt, right outside my tent and just wash my clothes that I have on and myself. But I used to have a shower that I made. They kept taking them down.
Can you describe it?
Homelessness in LA: CC: It went from the fence with tent poles, old tent poles from other tents that were broken, or whatever. I just put it through, and zip tied, on one side of the fence and wrapped it like that, so it was really strong, and then I put some wood poles going like this, like three on each side, ’cause the first one I had was like the wind would come and make the shower curtain like hit me and it just really grossed me out.
So I finally put some wood sticks, like broomsticks, like three on each side and then one right here next to it. It would keep the shower curtains [in place]. I used sheets for shower curtains. I had a 30-gallon water tank in there one time with a little pump with D batteries.
I put a little shower head on it, and like Papa (her dog), every time he wanted to get wet, he would go right into the shower because it would be hot, and he wanted to get wet, and now Rocco (her other dog) and Papa, I pour bottles of water on them. “You want to get wet? It’s time to get wet,” and they’ll both come over. Rocco is doing it now.
Before, it was just Papa, but now Rocco does it too. It was a pretty cool shower, but they kept taking it down, and getting tent poles was not easy. I mean, I can, but it depends on who has it and how much they want.
You know, some of them will just give them to me, but then there’s other ones that are like, “No, I want ten bucks” or whatever, so I said, “screw it.” And now I don’t have that outhouse (there had been a portable toilet for a while, provided by the city). I just use a bucket and a cup. People drive by, but I got my boxers and muscle shirt on; they can’t see nothing.
How do you wash clothing?
Homelessness in LA: CC: In a bucket, by hand, or if I got money, I go to the laundromat, if I have a way to take them to the laundromat.
How do you get and prepare food?
Homelessness in LA: CC: That’s BBQ pits and a stove. I used to cook a lot in my spot, but my double burner stove was confiscated when they wiped me out. They took so much of my stuff, pots and pans, utensils.
It started to get harder and harder to try to cook, so I still do it once in a while, and I would always make a lot of extra when I did because of the homeless people around me. I’d call them over.
They would look forward to it: “Hey man, come and get something to eat.” But I haven’t did that, really, in a while; I’ve just been buying lunch meat and stuff. I’ve been getting pretty tired of that. I’m going to turn it into a sandwich pretty soon. But it’s a lot easier to make, and you don’t got to deal with heat. You gotta keep your vegetables cool, and you know, it’s kinda hard.
Do people bring you food? Maybe you get a whole bunch of something you couldn’t possibly eat?
Homelessness in LA: CC: (Laughs) Quite a bit, but I pass them out. (A church she thinks is in Eagle Rock) and StreetWatch, both bring groceries.
I think last week they (the church) brought me like 15 bags. Some of the fruits that are in there, they’re overripe, shall I say? And then they’ll have pasta and tomato sauce, and sometimes they’ll have a coke in them, a bottle of water, a can of tuna, anyways, all the bags have the same.
The church brings them to me, and I would yell across to Charlie’s butt, “Hey, come and gets some bags for everybody over there.” And then [there are] people walking by. StreetWatch brings bread, salami, potato chips, stuff like that, and some canned goods.
Donnie (her brother) comes to me almost every day, and I feed him. Even if it’s my food or food I got donated, he’s always asking me he’s like: “Hey, you got anything to eat?” I go: “You’re hungry again?” I’ll say: “I don’t got much right now, but give me a minute, and I’ll throw something together.”
Popeye’s used to [give her food], but they haven’t done that for a long time. They have brought me before like three grocery bags, three of four of them completely packed chicken and biscuits sometimes, apple turnovers, I mean hot, but the guy hasn’t been by in a while.
Everyone around here loved that then because I’d get on my phone and call certain people because it’s like 100 pieces of chicken, so I’d pass it out.
How do you stay safe? Have you experienced violence?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Oh, I’ve had a few people come at me sideways. I’m just like kind of a crazy nut. I pull out my bat and my knives and my mace, and you know, I go after them. I don’t wait for them to come at me if they’re trying to give me problems. I go after them.
A long time ago, I used to spar with a women’s professional boxer. She has been on TV. I broke her nose one day. We were friends, and she came at me wrong one day, and she said she was going to hit me.
She goes, “Either you hit me, or I’ll hit you,” and I real quick, there it was, and it was the first time she had her nose broken, which is surprising for a boxer. She was a really good boxer, but I used to spar with her, so I knew her moves.
How do you charge your phone?
Homelessness in LA: CC: With my generator that I have. Before that, it was virtually impossible almost. I had my car, but then my car got totaled, so I charged it in my car, and then after that, I didn’t have nothing, and before I got the generator, it was virtually impossible.
Have you been really sick? What was that like? Were you able to get treatment?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Well, when I had my motorcycle accident, this one here took care of me. (Gestures towards her friend) cause I got titanium from here to here (gestures) and my whole left hip. I got a tumor.
She’s actually seen it flip one day. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever been sick, sick. Bedridden, that to me is being sick.
What are your days like?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Well, my two kids (dogs), Papa and Rocco, first I let them out to use the bathroom. I normally go out and play with them a little bit and start up my generator, put the TV on, give them some snacks, and if it’s really hot out, we’ll go up by the trees, by the sidewalk.
It’s been really hot. I can’t take deep breaths right now, haven’t been
able to for a while, but ah, walk around the lot, like I just did the palm trees a couple of days before, trim around the bottom of the Christmas tree.
I try to keep the lot up. I try to keep it looking clean at all times. If I see anything that needs to be done. I try to get up as early as possible ’cause it’s been hot, even before the heat wave, it was hot, you know? Just to survive every day is a challenge.
A lot of people [don’t know] how simple it is, I tell them, to turn on a light switch, flush a regular toilet. They don’t realize how challenging it is to not be able to do that.
Have you stayed in a tiny home or project room key or shelter situation? If so, what was that like?
Homelessness in LA: CC: This last week or so ago at Vignes, something borderline downtown for a week, and it was like prison. It was really bad there, uh. I was told there by a lady who had been there 13 months not to eat the chicken. Thirty-nine people have died in one year there. That’s a lot.
How many rooms do they have there?
Homelessness in LA: CC: They have 250 rooms there, I was told, but they only have something like 90 people there, and all the doors that you see a blue tag on, that’s where somebody died there.
I don’t think anybody’s in those. And then they have homeless people that they converted them into security guards. There’s like 20 or 30 of them, and they all live in the same building.
I guess there was a homeless shelter and somebody had an idea to spend part of the nine billion dollars (laughs) of federal funds that was supposed to be to help the homeless well, this is what.
And they’re very rude. I walked out of my room, and I had a person over here and a person over here and just staring at me constantly, and I felt like telling them: “You want to watch me wipe my ass?”
Is it like shared bathrooms?
Homelessness in LA: CC: No, you have your own bathroom, you have your own shower, but like my brother and sister’s there, and I’m not allowed to knock on either of their doors or anybody’s door for that matter.
What I had noticed the security guard, Donnie, I wanted to give him some food for Rocco. The security guard told me, “Well, just go knock on his door, but I don’t even know what room he’s in, ‘F something’”…
Now, if I had went and knocked on it, the security guards, at least two or three of them, would have seen me knock on the door, and it would have been an excuse to give me a check, you know, a mark.
What happens if you get lots of checks?
Homelessness in LA: CC: They throw you out. But see, they got their way of getting rid of people they don’t want. They got their system. So if I were to went and knocked on that door and those security guards see me, and they report me, this guy that told me, the head guy that’s at the desk, would have said, “I never told her that to her.”
Exactly what would have happened. But still, he didn’t give me the room number. I still didn’t get it. They’re really rude. My brother’s car was stolen, within that week, right in front of the guard shop, right in front of it, so I’m thinking it was one of them that did it. You’re not allowed to visit each other in the rooms, and I go: “My own brother and sister, they can’t?” And they said: “No.” It’s kind of crazy, and I can’t have my dogs, either. I couldn’t have Donnie bring Rocco and then go in the room with Papa.
What are people trying to help you do right? Wrong?
Homelessness in LA: CC: (laughs) [Friends] help me out a lot, Alex, Zach from StreetWatch, a couple of people, you know.
So there are a lot of people who know what to do to help you?
Homelessness in LA: CC: A lot of people don’t know what to do. The best thing to do if you’re homeless is to get yourself organized. A long time ago, Alex offered to take my dogs if anything ever happened, and I agreed to that. Elena knows that the organization knows that, my family knows that. Anyways, and then like Zach, he has been a tremendous help.
What does he do for you?
Homelessness in LA: CC: He stores my stuff. He had helped me with the mulch and stuff. He’s the one that got the wood chips the first time, had the tree company come in, get up on the lot with their big truck and dump the piles, and helped me even spread some of them out.
He’s just been very helpful and a real good friend. He’s going through a hard time himself, but he’s always been there for me. If I ever get any little side jobs when I get extra money, I always try to give him a little something. I try to help him out too. He helps me, and I try to help him back. It’s a two-way street, you know?
How do housed people treat you?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Some people are real jerks. I’ve had people drive by and go, “Get a job!” You know? But do you realize how hard it is to take care of this lot? But they don’t; they’ll scream foul words and stuff sometimes.
But I haven’t had that actually happen for a while. But there’s a lot of people that’ll stop by and like: “Wow, what you’ve done to this lot!” They’ve seen it from the very beginning, but then there’s the people that don’t remember how it looked in the beginning.
There was two young ladies that got a flat right there, right on the other side of my fence where you can pull up, and her father, the one girl’s father, came, and the lug nuts were all locked, so they couldn’t get the tire off so Donnie tried, and then Donnie got me.
I went over there, and so I’m getting them off, alright, and I’m having a hell of a time, and that guy says to my brother: “Wow, it must be nice to move onto paradise,” to my brother and my brother said, “Excuse me?” He goes: “Yeah, it must be nice to move onto paradise.” And my brother goes, “Excuse me, my sister, right there is the one that created that.” That guy came back like two weeks later and gave me twenty bucks and apologized.
But a lot of people, you know, the ones that know how bad it was, (the lot) they really appreciate it. They appreciate what I do, but the ones that just moved to the area, they think I just moved onto the lot the way it is. They don’t understand.
What kind of interactions have you had with the police?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Oh, the police, they love me. (laughs) No, they really do. Officer Chang, what was his name? Anyway, they brought another sergeant by. I think Officer Chang’s being promoted, or maybe he’s gonna retire, and that sergeant was like, “Wow.” He’s never seen another homeless spot like mine, the way I keep it. He goes: “Whatever it is you’re doing, just keep doing that. I love it.” And he had came by, with Officer Chang, just a few times after that just to check on me.
I guess Officer Chang had told him [it wasn’t always] like this right now that, the way it looks… it’s like this ‘cause I keep it as neat as possible every day, which for the most part it is.
But then I’ve had South Pas stop, and they were like: “Wow, you got a really nice spot here.” I go: “Yeah, it takes a lot of work just to keep it this way.” I go: “I do what I do here to give back to the community what’s been given to me, the opportunity that I’m here. Trying to show the community that I appreciate the fact that I’m here.”
Most homeless people don’t do that, but that’s them. Different homeless have different ways of being homeless.
What’s the hardest thing for you?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Um, I would think, just waking up every morning. ‘Cause I never know how my day’s going to be if I’m going to have idiots come by and start crap. I’ve had that happen periodically. I just never know how my day’s going to be. That’s probably the hardest thing to deal with.
Because you can’t really shut a door?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Yeah, exactly, yeah.
If you had a wish, what would you wish for?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Permanent housing. A regular house. A real house. That would be totally awesome.
What do you think we need to do to solve the homeless crisis?
Homelessness in LA: CC: Get rid of all the politicians. (laughs)
Have I forgotten to ask anything important? Is there anything you want people to know that you haven’t said?
Homelessness in LA: CC: People shouldn’t judge homeless people by the way they look. I think that it’s one of the major downfalls with the community and public. Judge people because of the way they look.
A lot of people don’t have means to get clothes and stuff. I have clothes that people donate to me, and I pass them out if I’m not going to use them or whatever. But I know a few people that look pretty bad, but they’re the best people in the world. And people look at them, and they just automatically figure, look at them like they’re dirt.
The main thing is people shouldn’t judge because they never know; one day, they may become homeless. You can become homeless like that. The snap of a finger. It’s so easy if people would just stop judging people.
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