Ted Hayes, a well-known advocate for the homeless and a candidate for mayor, called a couple of weeks ago, and he was mad.
I had written a column about how two black mayoral candidates had spoken at a forum. But I had overlooked Hayes, the third African-American aspirant who appeared that day. How, he asked, could I have missed him?
How, indeed. Although his chances of winning are microscopic, Theodore Roosevelt Hayes Jr. is a hard man to miss.
He is tall, thin and wiry, with fiery eyes and a speaking style like one of the more apocalyptic Old Testament prophets. His Rastafarian dreadlocks are partially covered by a knitted cap of Afro-centric colors. His pants are tucked into tall, soft-leather boots. You would have to be sound asleep to miss Ted Hayes.
At Christmastime, 1984, Hayes left his home in Riverside and took his guitar and Bible to Tent City, a Los Angeles homeless encampment. Since then, he has been the demanding, domineering and maddening voice of L.A.'s street people, particularly those clustered in the stretch of urban hell known as Skid Row.
In forgetting him, Hayes said, I was neglecting his issue. Homelessness, he reminded me, had been relegated to the bottom of the barrel in a campaign featuring promises to make streets safe and to hire more cops.
I said I’d come and see him.
I first heard of Hayes during his encampment days. A colleague told me she had gone to Skid Row to interview him in his tent. She came back amazed. “He’s got a phone,” she said. “And a cat.”
When we met again several days ago, I saw that Hayes had lost none of his ability to hustle up useful amenities. He had an office in the large suite of the Morgan Adams real estate firm located in the TWA Building on Wilshire Boulevard. The Morgan Adams receptionist and other members of the staff were at his service.
David Morgan, who runs the firm, joined us in a large conference room, along with some of Hayes’ assistants. The property owner was perfectly at ease with Hayes and his homeless associates.
Morgan had decided that the growing number of homeless was the city’s greatest problem. Hayes heard of his interest and called him.
“We talked three hours,” Morgan said. By the end of the conversation, Morgan had bought Hayes’ concept of a transitional community for the homeless--simple geodesic dome structures where they could live in peace. Housed and secure, they could look for work.
We walked out to a patio behind Morgan’s building and looked at the domes, made of fiberglass and strong enough to withstand 75-m.p.h. winds. Morgan is negotiating to buy land for a pilot settlement in the Temple-Beaudry area, west of downtown.
Later in the morning, I accompanied Hayes to the unemployment-welfare office in Skid Row. The homeless--black, white, Latino--greeted him as a brother.
Hayes walked in confidently, found the boss and got permission to make a speech to the 200 people waiting for their relief checks. I admired his persuasiveness. I’ve had trouble getting past the guards at welfare offices just to interview people.
“Never before did anyone expect the homeless people to be a political force,” Hayes told his audience. “But you are. You have the right to vote. You also have the duty.”
I talked to Hayes about his campaign for mayor. As you might expect, he has an unconventional view of the job: Homelessness is holding the city hostage. Homeless people on the street are dragging L.A. down. The mayor has to be tough and street smart to deal with it, tough enough to pass the Ted Hayes Luggage Test.
“You’re in a bus station,” he said. “You put your luggage down to go to the bathroom. You come back and you see a bunch of dudes, unlike yourself, sitting on your luggage, laughing, smoking. You got to get your luggage. Who’d you ask to help you. Woo? Joel Wachs? Linda Griego? Katz? Riordan? Or would you ask Ted Hayes?”
After a morning with Theodore Roosevelt Hayes Jr., I had no doubt about what I would do.