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From the Archives: 1987 portraits highlight L.A.'s homeless plight

From the Archives: 1987 portraits highlight L.A.'s homeless plight
Jan. 12, 1987: Kate Livingston, 46, lives in a San Pedro homeless shelter. She does her laundry in the bathtub. (Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times)

On Jan. 25, 1987, a series of portraits of homeless people by Lacy Atkins appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The portraits accompanied a series of profiles by staff writer Garry Abrams. Outtakes from Abrams’ article are below each portrait.

Kate Livingston

Livingston and her 15-year-old son, Christopher, spent their first homeless night in a restaurant. “I kept telling them I was waiting for my husband, who was in an all-night poker game,” she recalled. At first light, muttering insults against all unpunctual men, the 46-year-old divorced woman and her son pushed out into the unknown.

They have been homeless for about a year, Livingston said. Until she was laid off her $1,250-a-month job taking telephone orders at an electronics firm, the two lived in a $550-a-month, one-bedroom apartment in Culver City. She now receives $249 a month in welfare.

Before they moved to the Harbor Interfaith Shelter in San Pedro seven weeks ago, Livingston said she and her son had lived most of the year at a Santa Monica shelter, where she was an unpaid worker. She never imagined that she would be homeless. ...

Jan. 12, 1987: Paul Robinson is one of the homeless who lived in recent tent city near Los Angeles C
Jan. 12, 1987: Paul Robinson recently lived in a tent city near Los Angeles City Hall. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Paul Robinson

A Chicago native, Robinson, 33, said he has been in Los Angeles about 4 1/2 years and has been homeless for about a year. He was one of two persons arrested and briefly jailed along with homeless organizer Ted Hayes when Tent City, a homeless protest camp in downtown Los Angeles, was disbanded after the New Year’s holiday.

Robinson figures he is homeless because “I kind of choose to stay out here to some degree, but to some degree, I’ve been forced out here.” Explaining that he quit his job as a hotel desk clerk “out of frustration, really,” he added, “I was frustrated because I used my income on wine. I wasn’t going nowhere. It seemed like I never could have money working at that job, so I took to the streets.” ...

Jan. 12, 1987: Geneva Reese, 36, and daughter Eve, 13, live in a van. Geneva, an artist, holds her s
Jan. 12, 1987: Geneva Reese, 36, and daughter Eve, 13, live in a van. Reese, an artist, holds her sketchbook, while Eve holds a textbook she studies. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Geneva Reese

The Reeses, who live in a van, left Phoenix a little more than a year ago. Since then, Geneva Reese said, she has been trying to sell her art in the Southern California area — without much success. Over the New Year’s holiday, the mother and daughter migrated from Orange County to Pasadena. Reese blamed hassles with the police and a generally unfriendly atmosphere for the departure. But she also said such problems probably are inevitable anywhere.

“When my daughter was born, the dream of my life was to fix up an RV [recreational vehicle] or a van or a camper or something and tour the country, doing artwork as I went and just seeing parts of this country I’ve never had a chance to see,” Reese said. “At that time, a lot of people were doing things like that, and it was accepted. Now people aren’t travelers anymore if they’re touring the country. If they don’t have a lot of money, they’re transients. It’s become a new dirty word.” ...

Jan. 12, 1987: Elizabeth Presley, 46, has been homeless for two years. She says that her religious f
Jan. 12, 1987: Elizabeth Presley, 46, has been homeless for two years. She says that her religious faith helps her cope with homelessness. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Elizabeth Presley

Presley, 46 and a native of Memphis, Tenn., has lived in Southern California since 1971. She has been homeless for about two years. Although she is currently in a downtown shelter, Presley said she has spent most of that time on the streets. She declined to say where she sleeps, but caseworkers at the Inner City Law Center said she has generally found shelter in a mini-storage rental facility. A cheerful woman whose religious faith apparently sustains her, Presley said her only income is from infrequent day jobs such as cleaning houses. She no longer can work as a nurse’s aide, she said, because arthritis has sapped her ability to stay on her feet. ...

Jan. 12, 1987: Derrick McClendon, 31, wife Janice, 28, and children Lakretia, 7, Sonora, 15 months,
Jan. 12, 1987: Derrick McClendon, 31, wife Janice, 28, and children Lakretia, 7, Sonora, 15 months, and Carmello, 4 months, live in a shelter through the Inner Faith Center in San Pedro. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Derrick McClendon

Derrick and Janice McClendon came to Los Angeles with their three daughters, Carmello, 4 months; Sonora, 15 months; and Lakretia, 7, from Michigan about two years ago in search of work. For about a year, the family had a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood while McClendon had a job that paid $5 per hour. He was laid off eight months ago. ...

Jan. 2, 1987: Robbie, 16, a homeless young man, is also known by his street name Pilot. He is part t
Jan. 2, 1987: Robbie, 16, a homeless young man whose last name was withheld, is also known by his street name, Pilot. He is part of Project Homeless Youth helping Hollywood youth. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Robbie, 16

Robbie and Kim are among 20 juveniles in a new program — Project Homeless Youth, operated by the Los Angeles Youth Network — for the runaways who descend on Hollywood by the hundreds, perhaps thousands. Project workers say the program provides multiple services, including shelter, to young people who, as one worker put it, are “homeless with a skateboard or a suitcase full of [music] tapes.” ...

Robbie hitchhiked to Los Angeles from Philadelphia. He has been here only a few weeks. “My mother and father left me when I was only about 8, and my sister took care of me,” he said. While he was away from his sister’s home one day, Robbie said, she moved without leaving word where she had gone, and he decided to come to California. …

(The image of Kim is missing from the archives.)

Jan. 12, 1987: Debbie Robinson, 32, with her two cats Kala Yaan, 13, and Mollie, 4. in their home -
Jan. 12, 1987: Debbie Robinson, 32, with her two cats, Kalayaan, 13, and Mollie, 4, live in their parked car in Encino. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Debbie Robinson

Robinson, 32, lives in her 1982 Ford EXP in the parking lot of an Encino discount store. The car’s windows are blocked with plastic and cardboard. She shares the cramped interior with her two cats, Mollie and Kalayaan. The car has Ohio license plates, but Robinson said she came to Los Angeles a few months ago from Seattle, where she lost her job. Robinson dotes on her pets and said that she has taken them to a veterinarian when they needed medical attention. ...

Jan. 2, 1987: Thomas Gist, 47, a homeless man in Los Angeles is involved with the City Stage, a ski
Jan. 2, 1987: Thomas Gist, 47, is involved with the City Stage, a skid row theater that produces shows by and about homeless people. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Thomas Gist

Formerly of Detroit and Phoenix, Gist, 47, has lived on the streets of Los Angeles since quitting drugs and alcohol nearly two years ago, he said. Currently staying in a downtown shelter, Gist said he is a loner when he is on the street.

“I was on drugs and alcohol for 20 years, and I’ve got some behavior that’s not normal,” he explained. “I have fear attacks, anxiety attacks. I don’t talk to people. I’m anti-social, I guess. If somebody gets too close, I move. It’s really kind of simple.” ...

Jan. 10, 1987: Karen Davis, 42, and Jimmy Harris, 29, live in a trailer at Hanson Dam. This photo ap
Jan. 10, 1987: Karen Davis, 42, and Jimmy Harris, 29, live in a trailer at Hanson Dam. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Jimmy Harris and Karen Davis

Harris, 29, and Davis, 42, live out of a 3-foot-by-5-foot trailer parked near an entrance to Hansen Dam Park in the San Fernando Valley. They have been in the park area about three months, they said.

The two said they plan to marry next month and hope to tie the knot in Las Vegas. But, Davis admitted ruefully, they may have to settle for less.

A native of Tyler, Texas, Davis said she has been in the Los Angeles area 26 years. She has not had a regular job for about a year, she added. Harris said that he had been out of work for about six months and that when he was working, he often had to choose between food and shelter. ...

Jan. 12, 1987: Portrait of Bryan “Tennessee” Harrison, homeless man. This photo appeared in the
Jan. 12, 1987: Bryan "Tennessee" Harrison has been homeless for more than two years. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times
Jan. 12, 1987: Jerry Nichols, 46, a longtime drug addict and gay has been living on the streets for
Jan. 12, 1987: Jerry Nichols, 46, a longtime drug addict, has been living on the streets for years. Lacy Atkins / Los Angeles Times

Bryan Harrison and Jerry Nichols

Bryan Harrison, 50, and Jerry Nichols, 46, inhabit the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Harrison, who has been homeless for more than two years, said he is an alcoholic. Throughout an interview, he sipped wine from a plastic bottle. Nichols, who said he is a homosexual and a longtime drug addict, has been “rambling for 20 years.”

His life on the street, Harrison said, has been “pure agonizing hell. Every day and every night, about every hour, my life is in danger. I’ve been beaten up so many times it’s not funny. My first three weeks on the street, I was beaten up three times. Also, I’m a drinker — an alcoholic — and one thing I try not to do is ever get real drunk and stagger and collapse on the street. I would be dead if I did that.” …

Nichols was more upbeat in describing his circumstances. He’s homeless partly because “I had a real bad drug habit, anything I could put in a needle, anything I could eat, swallow, shoot or snort,” Nichols said. “After you do something like that, nobody wants to give you a job. You might as well be an alcoholic brain surgeon. I handle the streets a lot better than Tennessee does. To me, they’re still funny. When they cease being funny, I’m going to have to do something. You see the damnedest things. When I was walking up here, there was a guy over there changing clothes, naked as a jaybird. If you want to let things depress you and get you down, the quickest way in the world to do it is to live on the streets. I would rather laugh.” ...

See more from the Los Angeles Times archives here

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