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From the Archives: Homeless coping with 1985 winter

Nov. 21, 1985: Don Culshaw, 24, left, and Bernard Acquin, 39, in makeshift housing underneath a freeway.
Nov. 21, 1985: Don Culshaw, 24, left, and Bernard Acquin, 39, in makeshift housing underneath a freeway.
(Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times)

For the winter of 1985, homeless persons in Los Angeles doubled up underneath freeways and in shantytowns.

This photo by Ken Lubas appeared in the Nov. 24, 1985, Los Angeles Times. On the print’s attached caption sheet, Lubas added:

Don Culshaw, 24, left, playing solitaire, and Bernard Acquin, 39, making a cup of coffee, are both unemployed. They live under a Los Angeles area freeway.

As homey as it looks, they have only been living in this spot for three weeks, after their home of three years was demolished by authorities. Both said they can’t find full time work, so pick up odd jobs when available and sell their blood weekly which brings them a combined $32.

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These three Lubas images accompanied a story by staff writer Kevin Roderick, which begins:

On a downtown Los Angeles parking lot, where the winds whip down from the snow-capped San Gabriels, Lee Manning and about 15 other homeless men and women have erected their winter shacks.

Their shantytown, hidden from view by walls and closed to most visitors, is the envy of Skid Row. The eight “houses” have walls on all sides and plywood roofs, with bedding and furniture collected over the last five months. The best have raised floors to keep belongings dry in the rain.

Residents cook meals outside on a grill laid across an oil drum. They band together, Manning said, to keep out violent intruders and anyone with drugs.

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“We don’t want any trouble,” said Manning, a 35-year-old unemployed Los Angeles native. “If we get booted out of here, most of us got nowhere to go. This is the safest place to be if we’re gonna be on the streets downtown. We’re like family here. At least, we’re surviving.”

For most of the homeless, these cold nights portend another long winter roaming Los Angeles County streets looking for food and some way out of the rain and chill.

Despite the addition of about 460 new shelter beds since last winter and a slight drop in the national poverty rolls, there has been no visible decline here in the ranks of the homeless, a small but visible class at the bottom of the nation’s 33.7 million poor.

Instead, the number of destitute men and women who receive county general relief checks — in exchange for public service work — has grown by 4,400 since last fall. …

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Roderick’s full 1985 story is online: Winter: The Bane of L.A. Homeless.

This post was originally published Nov. 1, 2016.

Nov. 21, 1985: William Gates prepares breakfast for members of a plywood shanty town. Everyone built their own housing and share in chores.
Nov. 21, 1985: William Gates prepares breakfast for members of a plywood shanty town. Everyone built their own housing and share in chores.
(Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times )
Nov. 21, 1985: A sleeping man pulls himself into fetal position for extra warmth before dawn on cold sidewalk on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles.
(Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times )
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