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Across a diverse landscape, L.A's hidden homeless live hard lives in fanciful 'homes'

Across a diverse landscape, L.A's hidden homeless live hard lives in fanciful 'homes'
Steve Novak, 52, smokes in the small cabin he constructed in Lancaster. He is a professional drummer and used to play with the group Fatal Thrust. Novak, who recently had a string of heart attacks, refers to his homeless community as "Camp Coolness." (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

When people think of the homeless, their mind often takes them to standard images of who they are and where they, supposedly live. Splayed out on the concrete of ski row; inside of tents lining major boulevards or underpasses; scrunched in a fetal position with a thin blanket in the doorway of a business late at night or early in the dewy morning. But such is the diversity of Southern California’s landscapes that there is a scarcely a corner of the region that homeless men and women have not adapted to. They take pride in their creations, however dystopian or unfortunate. Return to story.

Roberta Massie, 63, sits in a chair at her encampment in Lancaster. "This is where you end up: the horrible, desolate desert," Massie said. Sickly and with arthritis in one of her feet. L.A. Family Housing was able to find her housing in October. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Eric Montoya, outreach director with L.A. Family Housing, right, talks with John King, who lives in a treehouse he built in the Sepulveda Basin off Burbank Boulevard in Encino. King used to work as a contractor, but he says anxiety, depression and a bad back keep him from work. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Jesse Herrera, 53, gathers his bike ahead of a storm that could flood his encampment on an island in the middle of the L.A. River near Atwater Village. Herrera, a contract painter who used to live in Atwater, has been living on the island for more than a decade. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Tyrone Hart, 56, stands next to his camoflauged tent which on the bank of the Los Angeles River. He's been living on the river for 13 years. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Jesse Herrera, 53, carts his belongings along the L.A. River to higher ground ahead of a forecast rain storm that could threaten his encampment. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
"Welcome to the L.A. River," reads a painted rock that greets visitors at the entrance to a campsite shared by Melissa Millner, 46; Justin Reeves, 46; and Tyrone Hart, 56. They live on an island in the middle of the river. The river's earthen center is thick with reeds and trees. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Jenny Gonzalez, 39, exits her encampment on an island in the L.A. River. Gonzalez, who grew up in the nearby neighborhood of Glassell Park, has been living in the encampment for several months. She first became homeless in October 2017 after losing her job. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Melissa Millner, 46, pets her dog Lazy next to her tent that rests between a bike path and the 5 Freeway in Los Angeles. Millner, who has been homeless for 12 years, shares the encampment with others. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Frlom left, Justin Reeves, 46; Melissa Millner, 46; and Sandy Brown, 55, share an encampment on an island in the middle of the L.A. River near Atwater Village. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
Bubba sits next to his owner, Robin "Country" Boatner, 60, who takes shelter above the L.A. River before a forecast rainstorm. Boatner's camp in the river usually floods when it rains. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
From left, Robin "Country" Boatner, 60; Melissa Millner, 46;and her brother Ed Marchisio, 54, rest near the camp they relocated to above the L.A. River. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
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