The first part of this series appeared yesterday, June 20.
By Jack Grimm
I walk down Wall Street from the St. Vincent Center to 5th Street, where I meet Bobby, a sixty-year-old African American who sleeps in a bed on the sidewalk not far from the intersection of 5th and Wall. He invites me to sit beside him on his bed, which has a grey woolen comforter pulled over it. “I was raised by my grandmother, because my mom and my stepfather, we didn’t get along.” Born in Chicago, he lived with great-aunts and uncles, while his grandmother looked for work. “I lived in Mississippi, I lived in Texas, I lived in Pennsylvania, Indiana, I lived in Missouri…We’d go to a sister’s house, stay there. Brother’s house, stay there. We just moved around. It was real depressing, it pushes your mind on the edge of no direction, because if you ain’t got a role model, or somebody that’s kind of a role model…you ain’t never gonna be much of nothing, unless it’s the will of God.”
Bobby has lived in and out of the Los Angeles area for the last thirty years, but returned most recently in the ‘90s. He says he’s been sleeping on 5th Street for quite a while, and that he wants to move into one of the apartment buildings which stand across the road from where we’re talking. But he believes the system is against him. “There ain’t enough jobs, there ain’t enough benefits…The system is forcing people into this poverty to keep from helping them, because its easy for them to let you die right out here.
“Look up and down the street, you think these people like lying on hard cement, and lying on a flimsy tent which someone can stick a pin through if they want to? It makes you feel like you ain’t got no energy in you, after you sleep on the cement, and walk on it all day, it drains the energy out of you.”
There are tents directly to the right and the left of us as we sit on Bobby’s bed, and across the street I see four more set up in a row along the sidewalk. As we’re speaking, a woman walks by, talking angrily to herself. The street smells like urine, and the sidewalks are full of people. A man comes by, selling sausages from Trader Joe’s wholesale to the people living on the street. Ray, a man who moved to Los Angeles from Georgia in 1978, tells me he’s lived on the streets since 1994. He’s eating candy as we speak, because he hasn’t had breakfast this morning.
Bobby has applied to live in an apartment. “Basically, you’ve got to have ID, which I don’t have. You got to have a social security card, which I don’t have. So, that’s what I’m working on trying to get right now. Then I’ll take it down to that tenement, and they’ll sign me up. But then, after you get signed up, it might be six months till you get in still.” According to Trey at the Cardinal Manning Center, six months may even be an optimistic number.
Bobby does not blame anyone else for his predicament. “I blame myself for everything that’s happened to me. It ain’t your fault, or anybody else’s fault. It’s my fault.” When I ask what he’s proud of in his life, he answers, “Not really too much of nothing, but I praise God that I’m here, to witness this day. That’s the most important thing! What else? You ain’t gonna take nothing else with you! You didn’t bring nothing here with you!”