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by ch@nce Friday, Aug. 11, 2000 at 2:36 AM
coh@sfo.com 415 / 346.3740

I had been living in Malibu for over three years, and I had no idea that there was a whole community of people who lived at the campgrounds.


by T.W.C.

The year I began cleaning Dick Clark's windows and Mary Crosby's home, I lived alone in a three-bedroom bungalow on Broad Beach, the nicest beach in Malibu. I had pocketed a couple of thousand dollars, and I felt I might be able to make it through some heavy rains.

When it began to rain, people began canceling jobs and talking about waiting till after the rains (three or four months). Then the front end of my '81 Subaru fell apart, piece by piece. After it had eaten up my entire savings replacing axles, brakes, calipers, rotors and things I knew nothing about, my only financial cushion was gone.

Then my landlord gave me notice, and I had to get out. Without even the money to pay first month rent anywhere, I began to live in my car, at the campground at Leo Carillo Beach on the western end of Malibu. It happened so fast, it took me a while to accept the fact that I was homeless. It honestly doesn't sink in very rapidly. Even when you are driving around looking for a safe-looking place to park to lock yourself in for the night, you tell yourself it is only temporary.

I discovered the trick to the campground after a few nights. There was an charge normally, but if you came in after the rangers had gone and left before they arrived, you didn't have to pay. I still had the Crosby job, so I was earning enough each week for food and gas, but nothing more.

I spent about four months living in that car, which seemed to shrink daily. I can't begin to tell you how depressing it was. It was raining a lot, and all I could do was sit or lie in the car, reading when there was light. I sincerely believed that one could find valuable understanding in every experience that life throws in our direction. As time passed, however, my search for some valuable lesson disintegrated into anger. I began to drink a lot of beer during that period to ease the pain. It occurred to me that some homeless people who become alcoholics don't necessarily follow the drink into homelessness: it becomes the quickest way to ignore what has happened, and dull the torturing thoughts which can make a bad situation one hell of a lot worse.

At the campground, I realized that a lot of the people were there for an extended period, even though there were 14-day limits. Many were families with children, and one or both parents would go off to work during the day. They were making enough to feed themselves as long as they didn't have to pay five hundred to a thousand dollars rent. Many of them paid the daily fee, for which they received a campground with fireplace and public showers, and packed up and left for one night every 14, before coming back for another two weeks.

I had been living in Malibu for over three years, and I had no idea that there was a whole community of people who lived at the campgrounds.

Unfortunately, my deepest personal journey into the world of indigence was occurring under the eaves of the homes of some of Hollywood's wealthiest people. I had no desire for wealth - but cleaning Dick Clark's windows or Mary Crosby's home, then getting in my car to wait for the sun to go down so I could park it for free and sleep in it, gave rise to emotions that I neither understood nor could control.

I thought about how many of the places where I worked were just weekend homes or one-month-a-year homes. The rest of the time they stood empty - huge homes with massive bedrooms, restaurant-style kitchens, cathedral dining rooms, and totally empty. The owners were in Europe, or shooting a picture somewhere, or only came for two months in the summer.

Hundreds upon hundreds of empty palaces, but not one with a spare bed for the hundreds of homeless people parked at the beach or squirreled away under the brush in one of Malibu's many canyons (where the homeless without cars lived).

The end of the rains that winter was like waking up from a nightmare. Jobs began reappearing, and finally I could afford the 80 dollars a week for which someone had offered me a room in their home.

My God, what a luxury it felt to sleep in a bed again, and have a shower and toilet right next to the bedroom, and a kitchen to make some food in. Who cared if it was shared? I had my fill of locking myself in bathrooms of restaurants or office buildings to make a clean, private place to shit and then brush my teeth, sometimes getting rousted out by an impatient security guard. I was long ago weary of the loaf of bread, mayonnaise, mustard and cheese that traveled with me as lunch and dinner. The number of daily humiliations that accompany homelessness are incalculable.

Poverty Sucks! was the caption of a poster that hung framed on the wall of a few homes I worked in. It showed a man dressed in English riding attire, leaning against a Rolls Royce with the arrogant sneer of the priggishly rich on his face. Some people who chuckle over it have no concept of how deeply poverty sucks to those who stew in it, and the hatred of the affluent that impoverishment nourishes.

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