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‘It’s very nice, especially with the cold weather. . . . They’ve done a lot for me here.’

The former hermit of Elysian Park is alive and well--and, for a change, standing up.

In January, Charles M. Broyles, who had spent the previous 14 years living outdoors on a hill in the downtown park, suffered a broken hip that robbed him of his mobility and left him lying stranded on the hill, unable to stand up on his own.

Only the kindness of neighbors from around the park, who brought food to Broyles for two weeks, kept him alive.

Broyles, 72, had lived a curiously placid existence. He had not been forced to beg or scrounge food, he said, because of a family inheritance. Before becoming a hermit, he had spent most of his life living in his mother’s Echo Park home.

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Makeshift Shelter

Soon after her death in 1968, he decided he would rather live on the nearby hill. He constructed a makeshift shelter under a tree to protect himself against the rain.

Even though his broken hip was repaired by surgeons at County-USC Medical Center in January, Broyles was still unable to stand when he returned to his hill. He could not even make his way to his shelter.

February’s cold snap appeared likely to kill him--and if the cold didn’t do it, the old man’s stubbornness might. Although he said he could afford a retirement hotel, he refused to spend the money.

Then Deborah Perrin, one of the helpful neighbors around the park, got busy. A month ago she called The Times, and when the newspaper published a feature about Broyles, Perrin learned a crucial fact: Broyles was a military veteran. Perrin got on the telephone to the Veterans Administration.

A few days later, Broyles was on his way to the Veterans Administration’s Wadsworth Medical Center in Westwood. He nursed his hip there for a couple of weeks before doctors transferred him to one of the medical center’s short-term recovery dorms. He’ll live there, sharing a room with three other men, until his scheduled release May 1.

Has Adjusted Easily

Ever sanguine and lucid, Broyles says he has adjusted easily to living with other people, as well as having a roof over his head.

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“It’s very nice, especially with the cold weather,” he said. “They’ve done a lot for me here. I feel more sure of myself.”

His hip is continuing to strengthen, but he still must use crutches to walk. He doesn’t know when or whether he’ll be able to abandon them.

A month ago, as he lay on his hill, Broyles shared second thoughts about his choice to live a hermit’s life. Today, though, he is not waxing philosophical. After all, he said, it was not providence that broke his hip when he fell off a stack of crates outside a fast-food restaurant, where he had fallen asleep waiting for the restaurant to open.

‘My Own Fault’

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“I take it as my own fault and not the curse of the Lord,” he said. “I did a silly thing by getting up on those crates. The ball fell my way.”

When he leaves the VA hospital, Broyles plans to move into a modest downtown retirement hotel--the same one he had rejected earlier because of what he felt to be the exorbitant price of $675 a month. “I’m not living outdoors again,” he said.

Then a spark of whimsy caught him and he smiled slightly. “Of course, things could be subject to change.”


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