Where do you take visitors in Los Angeles? Wherever you go, you’re almost sure to encounter homeless people.
They are fixtures at almost every landmark, part of the landscape that defines the urban expanse.
According to a Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority report, the homeless count now stands at more than 53,000 in L.A. County alone. A drive through downtown, Hollywood, Mid-City and the beach communities reveals the breadth of the problem.
Although homeless numbers dipped slightly this year, the small reduction follows a seven-year, 75% surge in people living in shelters or on the street, making certain parts of the region virtual tent cities.
“Good people, do you know what’s happening here in L.A.? We are driving past — oh my God—we are driving past homeless people and we’re not seeing them. When that happens, that is the end of our humanity,” an impassioned L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson said during a recent, raucous council meeting at City Hall.
Maurice Marshall, 29, wore a green hat and red coat pulled from the trash.
A Michael Jackson impersonator, he set up in front of the famed TCL Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and did his best moonwalk for tourists.
He had no sound system and was having a hard time finding a rhythm.
“It’s tough without music,” he said. “I really need to get a boom box.”
Ruby Dugger, 44, sat beside the elevator shaft of a downtown parking lot in the shadow of Los Angeles City Hall, her legs covered by a heavy woolen blanket.
Above her a sign read: “No Trespassing.”
She came to L.A. 13 years ago from Rockford, Ill. She last held a job as a security guard.
“There ain’t nothing for me there,” she said. “I’m from here now.”
DeAndre Terrell Gaines, 23, spends his days wandering between Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier.
“I’m taking a year off,” Gaines said .
He hopes to become a rapper or a producer of electronic dance music.
John’s weathered hands fashioned a poodle from long, colorful balloons.
The white makeup on his lined face accentuated his concentration.
He is 58 and lives in his car. It’s been “forever” since he last had a job or lived in a building, he said.
He sells the toys on the Venice Beach boardwalk for $5.
Mark Ahvakana, 49, woke up to find that someone had left a bag containing a burger and French fries beside him.
Above, the sign of the Santa Monica Pier blinked to life in the growing dusk.
An Inuit, Ahvakana said he hoped to go home to Anchorage, Alaska, for the summer.
“It’s nice there now,” he said. “Days are long and the weather is good. But I’m not going to freeze to death. I’ll be back by winter.”
Tamela Kerneghan, 52, felt good. A good Samaritan had given her a new tent.
As darkness fell, she set it up near Los Angeles City Hall.
Her dog Turbo snuggled close. She and Turbo lived in a recreational vehicle for six years until it broke down.
“It just kinda gave up the ghost,” Kerneghan said. ”I don’t miss it. I got my dog. I got my freedom. And now I got this tent.”
The crowd had gone into Staples Center for a hockey game and Paul Docampo, 55, searched through trash cans outside for recyclables.
He came to the U.S. from Argentina as a child, and last worked as a security guard seven years ago, he said.
His family has since moved back to South America.
“I’m not like other homeless people,” he said, his bicycle laden with shopping bags. “I work hard to survive.”
Jacob sat on the grass across the water from the Queen Mary.
On the ground around him were a backpack, shopping bags and a pair of crutches.
Jacob’s left leg was amputated at the knee.
Ten years ago, Jimmy Zajicek worked as a carpenter.
Then he got hurt and couldn’t do it any more.
“Jimmy Z,” 44, now wanders the streets.
“I don’t want to be a burden to anybody so I just walk,” he said.
Jeff Brooks, 63, lives on the shores of MacArthur Park Lake.
He worked in construction until injuries left him unfit for manual labor.
“I gave up looking for work two years ago,” he said.
He collects recyclables, and sometimes makes as much as $100 a day.
“I’m just waiting for my Social Security to kick in,” he said. “I’m going to buy an RV and move to the South.”
Derek King, 60, lives in a tent near the Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip.
During the day, he goes to the public library to search for work online.
He was a long-haul trucker, but lost his license after suffering a series of epileptic seizures. He would be happy to get any job now.
“I haven’t given up,” he said. “I spend mornings cold-calling people for work.”
Ronald Malone, 67, slept at Robert F. Kennedy Inspiration Park, near the former site of the Ambassador Hotel where Kennedy was assassinated.
Walls inscribed with speeches surround a likeness of the slain senator in black granite.
An Army veteran, Malone struggles with PTSD.
Bradley Jennings strummed a guitar near the Capitol Records building.
Traffic streamed through the storied intersection of Hollywood and Vine, and he hoped passersby on the Walk of Fame would be generous.
But it wasn’t happening. Jennings, 34, makes $600 a month busking.
Manu, 63, lives on the streets of Chinatown. A native of Hawaii, he worked as a lumper at the wholesale produce market but got too old for the physical job.
He now occasionally works as a janitor for a toy district wholesaler.
He uses the money to replenish a Transit Access Pass and go to movies.
“I like the action, Marvel superheroes stuff,” he said. “I don’t watch drama. I get enough of that out here.”
Mike Gomez, 63, played his saxophone near the entrance to Disneyland.
He has busked there almost every night for the last five years.
On good nights, especially around the holidays, he can make up to $30 per hour, he said. He lives in a camper parked in a nearby neighborhood.
“People are pretty happy when they come out,” he said. “They’re in a good mood and they’re good to me.”
Ismael Dorantes, 60, was born in Havana and was one of about 130,000 Cubans who fled to the U.S. in the Mariel boatlift of 1980.
He first settled in South Florida and moved to California in 2003.
He lives on the streets of Koreatown and gets food from churches and missions. He doesn’t regret leaving his homeland.
“It’s better here than in Cuba,” he said.
Dwayne James, 40, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Goodwine, 41, sat across the street from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, the home of the Academy Awards.
Between them, they had a pack of cigarettes and a duffel bag stuffed with clothes.
Goodwine is three months pregnant. They said they hoped to find work in the marijuana industry up north.
“We gotta find jobs,” James said. “We’re having a baby.”
Dino Mattioli, 49, sifts through garbage cans at night looking for recyclable bottles and cans.
He worked in a restaurant and lived in a low-budget hotel but got fired two years ago.
He now sleeps on buses and trains.
Julius Murphy, 66, sat on the steps of La Placita at El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the city’s birthplace.
He had just finished a free meal provided by the church.
Originally from Jersey City, N.J., Murphy came west about five years ago for the temperate climate.
Asked where he would spend the night, Murphy shouldered two duffel bags and said: “I don’t know.”
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