Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Searching For Glendale's Homeless: Days 2 and 3

Today and yesterday I continued my volunteer efforts with PATH Achieve as part of a 3 day survey to count and identify the most vulnerable homeless people living in Glendale. The actual surveying takes place between 4-7am. My account of the first day is here. On the first day, our team discovered 6 individuals within a block and a half radius of Los Feliz Blvd and Central Ave. An excellent start, but we didn't cover much ground beyond that block and a half. So on day two, we conducted a broader search so we would comprehensively cover the area to which we had been assigned - everything between Forest Lawn/the LA border to the east, the railroad tracks to the west, Chevy Chase to the north and the southern border with Atwater Village.

Our search area.

Day 2

My worry was that if we found six people within a mere block and a half, who knows how many we'd find when we broadened our search?

Our team - leader Sgt. John Gilkerson of the Glendale Police Department, volunteer Ron Crosthwaite and myself - started by searching the deep minimalls in the southern portion of Glendale Avenue and found nothing. We headed to the secluded back roads and alleys along San Fernando east of Glendale Ave. Nothing. We drove to Glendale's historic train station, awakened the security guard, and asked him if he knew where we could find any homeless nearby. He replied with his entire english vocabulary - "Metrolink nine-fifteen" - so we fanned out around the railroad tracks on our own. We walked between the railroad tracks with our flashlights and didn't find anyone. We combed all of the other back alleys and couldn't find any new homeless. We went back to the spots where we had better luck the night before, and reapproached two people who had refused the survey previously. They refused again. We gave them the bagged lunches we had with us that were donated by a local church.

On our way back to Registry HQ at 6am, I spotted a woman breaking down cardboard boxes behind Tacos El Sauz and piling them into a stroller. The taco place was closed, but she could have been an employee. We approached her. She spoke only spanish, and with Ron's basic spanish language skills, we were unclear on whether or not she was actually homeless. She was clean and industrious, but from what we could understand, it sounded like she lived in a baƱo...a bathroom? We needed a spanish speaker. I called PATH Achieve's Christina and handed the woman my phone. She talked to Christina for about 5 minutes. The woman handed the phone back to me and Christina told me that yes, the woman was homeless but didn't want to take the survey.

While it was disappointing to not survey more people, it was a relief to see firsthand that homelessness in Tropico is not as widespread as I had initially feared. Many of the other teams had similar experiences - they found nearly everybody on the first night.

Day 3

With our initial search area covered comprehensively, John, Ron and I were assigned a new zone near the 2 and 134 freeways. We covered the usual alleys and loading docks, then worked our way up to the now-closed Minx night club near In-N-Out. We parked and explored the hillsides with our flashlights. We walked around the perimeter of Minx. I explored a dark patio and noticed that a nearby door was ajar. Hmm. In a high voice I called for John, our police officer. We opened the creaky door and stepped inside. There were many tense moments as we explored a series of perfect hiding places, but no one was there. We drove around more. John spotted a hole in a fence alongside the freeway that seemed suspicious.

A hole in a fence by the freeway.

We got out of the car and ducked through the hole. We walked through the thick vegetation of the hillside for about ten minutes and found evidence of habitation, but none of it seemed recent.

Evidence of activity.

With no homeless in sight, we headed back to San Fernando Road to see if anyone new had shown up in our original search area. I thought I saw someone under a blanket and approached. I called out and there was no movement. I worried it was a body. Nope, just a bunch of clothes under a dirty blanket.

These discarded clothes under a dirty blanket gave me a scare.

We explored a tunnel filled with graffiti - mostly art, with surprisingly few gang tags - under San Fernando Road at Colorado, and then headed back to revisit one of our initial refusals one last time.

Some of the art in the tunnel linking Atwater Village and Glendale under San Fernando Road.

She and her boyfriend were in the same doorway, but there was a new homeless person near them! Another volunteer team spotted them as well and both teams pulled up simultaneously. The other team included two women, so they approached the woman who had refused the survey initially. We later heard that one of the registry workers from this team had her wallet stolen from her car by a random passerby while conducting the interview. Very bad karma. We heard about a possible lead on Chevy Chase, so we headed north and found a homeless man on the sidewalk. We approached him and he agreed to take the survey. He was a talkative and likable former Marine whose life had fallen apart after the death of his wife, a nurse, two years ago. He is 56 and has been homeless for 7 months.

For all of our spooky explorations, the only new survey we conducted was in the bright sunshine in front of the Glendale Recycling Center.

Sergeant John Gilkerson and volunteer Ron Crosthwaite.

The final results of PATH Achieve's vulnerability survey will be presented this Friday at 1pm at Glendale City Hall in the City Council Chambers. It is not a regular council meeting, and the Glendale Registry survey is the only item on the agenda.

Previously: Interviewing Tropico's Homeless at 4am

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