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Living in shadows of Little Saigon, Vietnamese homeless feel cast aside

Homeless man Tam Nguyen passes time in his car in an alley near Moran Street in the Little Saigon community in Westminster.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, July 6. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you today’s TimesOC newsletter with the latest roundup of news and events.

Their numbers in Orange County’s Little Saigon are not large — about 20 — but Vietnamese who are homeless are eking out a bleak existence on Westminster’s streets along Bolsa Avenue and nearby areas, according to a moving look at their situation by my colleague Anh Do.

Do reports that many of them are survivors of the Vietnam War who arrived in our country as refugees. Since the pandemic, according to locals, there are more Vietnamese homeless who have come to the community from other regions. Here they can find familiar foods and communicate in their native language, Do explains.

“In a culture anchored by family ties, career achievement and a strong work ethic, they are outliers — jobless, often estranged from loved ones, reduced to begging for dollars or banh mi sandwiches,” Do writes.

One 55-year-old homeless man suffering from depression who has lost touch with his family told Do, “I realize Vietnamese want to be associated with success. They are ashamed of being poor. They avoid debt. Why would they stay in touch with us?”

Even when there is a will to help, there isn’t the funding available to get the job done. And the specter of mental illness is also a barrier.

“Mental health is often a taboo subject in immigrant families, who can be ill-equipped to handle a struggling relative,” Ngoc Khanh Banh, a manager at Southland Integrated Services, which offers food and mental health services to low-income people, told Do.

“You would think that family members take them in — no questions asked — but actually, that’s not the case,” Banh said.

MORE NEWS

A nurse practioner prepares a COVID-19 test at Hoag COVID-19 rapid testing clinic at John Wayne Airport.
Nurse practitioner JoAnn Escalante-Alviz prepares a test at Hoag COVID-19 rapid testing clinic at John Wayne Airport, which is currently serving travelers by reservation only, according to its website. Two very contagious subvariants of Omicron are currently of concern in the state.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

— Two L.A. Times reporters, Luke Money and Rong Gong Lin II, who for a very long time now have been keeping a close eye on the coronavirus associated with COVID-19, reported over the weekend that two subvariants of the Omicron variant are now driving the coronavirus cases up and down the state. Known as BA.4 and BA.5, these subvariants are extremely contagious and can reinfect people who have recovered from a bout with Omicron. One expert, Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the reporters that BA.5 “is the worst version of the virus we’ve seen.”

— A 39-year-old Irvine man was arrested for allegedly shooting his roommate to death Monday, but not before pointing a gun at his own head, prompting a response from crisis negotiators and a SWAT team, authorities said.

— When he was a no-show for a court hearing last week, an arrest warrant was issued for the San Diego man accused of stealing a yacht and crashing into several other vessels in Newport Harbor in March. Joel Praneet Siam, 38, stands accused of grand theft, buying or receiving a stolen vehicle or equipment, battery with serious injury and eight felony charges of vandalism causing damage over $400. Siam was out on $50,000 bail.

— The city of Laguna Beach debuted its in-house ambulance service on Friday, with officials hosting morning events at Fire Station Nos. 1 and 4 to commemorate the program’s launch. The city manager explained the need for the community to establish its own service: “Ambulance companies are becoming more and more sparse because they’re figuring out that you need to have a lot of rides in your town in order to make a profit, so they’re just becoming more and more difficult to actually contract with to serve the small cities like ours.”

LIFE & LEISURE

Stan Ross, 79, known as the "Metal Detector Man" online, offers metal detection services from Malibu to San Clemente.
Stan Ross, 79, known as the “Metal Detector Man” online, offers metal detection services from Malibu to San Clemente.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

— For a charming feature story that ran in the Daily Pilot over the weekend, my colleague Sara Cardine interviewed Stan Ross of Newport Beach. Have you met him? If you’ve lost a valuable at the beach, you may have been one of his clients. He’s a retiree who over many decades has honed his skills with the metal detector and appears to be O.C.'s go-to guy when someone loses a piece of jewelry in the sands that line our coast. He’s not in it for the money — he just likes to help people out.

— South Coast Plaza is the first location in the U.S. for a wildly popular Chinese collectibles retailer known as Pop Mart. The company operates more that 350 stores and 1,800 vending machines, called Robo Shops, worldwide. I learned from my colleague Sarah Mosqueda that toys sold at the store are packaged in blind boxes, making it impossible to tell which toy is inside each box. Surprise!

SPORTS

LA Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) plays against the Charlotte FC in March.
LA Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) plays against the Charlotte FC in an MLS match in March. Kljestan, a Huntington Beach native, spoke emotionally Monday about the country’s need for gun control during a press conference following his team’s win over Montreal.
(Jacob Kupferman / Associated Press)

Sacha Kljestan, a Huntington Beach native who plays soccer for the LA Galaxy, on Monday declined to talk to the press about the match his team had just won against Montreal. Instead, he took the opportunity in front of the microphones to plead for gun control, after having learned of the mass shooting that killed several people who had been attending a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill. “I’m like, I can’t even think about anything else,” he said toward the end of his emotional comments. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m not a politician, but I’m a human being. My kids ... I fear for them when they go to school and it pisses me off. And I think if it doesn’t piss you off and you don’t want new gun laws in this country, then there’s something wrong with [you]. So I guess that’s all I have to say.”

— It’s midseason for the Angels and sportswriter Sarah Valenzuela takes a look at where things stand, recounting five good experiences thus far (no surprise here that Shohei Ohtani is responsible for one of them) along with five that haven’t been so hot (that long losing streak is one).

CALENDAR THIS

— This Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Bowers Museum hosts its free American Blues & Jazz Festival for the whole family, featuring Shan the Candy Sculptor, an art project, face painting and chocolate cookies throughout the day. Beginning at noon, the musical performance lineup includes the Steve Johnson Quartet followed by the Will Trueblood Quartet, then 3rd Degrees Blues Band. The museum is located at 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana. To learn more, visit bowers.org.

KEEP IN TOUCH

If you have a memory or story about Orange County, I would love to read it (please keep your submission to 100 words or less).

I’d appreciate your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Please send your memory of life in O.C., news tips or comments to carol.cormaci@latimes.com.