Bessie Mae Berger dies at 97; homeless woman’s plight reported in The Times

Bessie Mae Berger, a 97-year-old woman who was living in a battered 1973 Chevrolet Suburban until strangers rallied to get her off the street, has died.

Berger died Monday at a Sherman Oaks hospital after suffering a stroke and a heart attack, her son Larry Wilkerson said.

Berger moved into temporary housing with her sons Larry, 60, and Charlie Wilkerson, 62, in October after The Times reported on the trio’s plight.

They began sleeping in their SUV on Venice streets after losing their home in Palm Springs and failing to find affordable accommodations for all three of them elsewhere.

Although Berger qualified for housing assistance, her sons were too young for such aid. Because of an earlier experience in a group home, Berger was fearful of being separated from her sons. Larry had pledged that he and Charlie would never abandon her.

After The Times’ story was published, city, county and state authorities stepped up their efforts to assist the trio, and a nonprofit group, the Integrated Recovery Network, found temporary housing for them in Van Nuys.

Hundreds of readers made donations to the family, and comics staged a benefit show for them at the Laugh Factory.

No services are planned. In addition to Larry and Charlie, Berger is survived by two other sons, Tom Wilkerson and John McKay, both of the Santa Rosa area, Larry Wilkerson said.