By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“When you look out the window and you know that we have the legal tools to involuntarily take someone into an emergency shelter or a bed. When we have a community court that has been established so that we have a venue and a framework from which to make sure that we track people to make sure that they are getting the services that they need and that it is done in a coordinated fashion, so they don’t fall through the bureaucratic cracks,” is what Perry tells me.
“In the case of Carol Ann Reyes — the [63-year-old] woman that they dumped [from a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Bellflower] in front of the mission — they didn’t even make sure that there would be anybody there at the door.”
That was pretty grim. Still, all this involuntary stuff is a little disturbing. Involuntary? I wonder what that means anyway. I envision thick-legged bicycle cops in shorts with lassos hog-tying delusional seniors in the street. Not sure it matters much, since the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU, ruling that the police cannot arrest people for sleeping or sitting on the public sidewalks of Skid Row because it would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
For every 133 stories of senior suffering, there’s a story of hope up in here. That number isn’t from a county-funded study, per se, but more of a guess from looking out my window onto Skid Row.
I’m looking at one of those stories of hope right across the street at Gladys Park in the Regal Hotel, where my new friend Vivian Dunn lives. I met Vivian through Lillian Abel-Calamari, a painter with multiple sclerosis who is the program manager for the Single Room Occupancy Housing Corporation’s Project Hotel Alert, which provides housing and support services for the elderly. Lillian shows seniors on Skid Row how to paint and sells their art for them and does lots of other stuff too.
Vivian called Lillian a few years back and thanked her for everything she’d done to help her. Lillian got suspicious and showed up at Vivian’s SRO. She found that Vivian had plunged a knife into her heart. Lillian called 911 and Vivian survived.
Vivian is now 77 years old. When I meet her, she’s wearing a big floral-print dress under a plaid men’s oversize short-sleeved shirt. Her gray hair is pulled tightly back into a ponytail. She has big glasses and fluffy slippers, and she wears a silver peace sign around her neck. Her small, tidy room has pictures of Malcolm, Martin and Mandela. Vivian is smart.
“I’ve lived downtown for 15 years. I had a meltdown at home. I got thrown out,” she tells me. “Police took me downtown to the general hospital mental ward. The doctor came in and said, ‘Turn her loose.’ Little did he know . . . I think the lady in social services there told me I have to go down to Skid Row. She didn’t call it that, I did. To cut a long story short, I stayed there for 18 days, then I went home and took care of my mom for a couple of years. She died, and I decided to come to the only other home I’d ever know. Skid Row. That was in ’89. I had to find a place fast. Andy Robelson at SRO Housing said we have a room you can have, and we sealed the deal. By that time it was August the third, 1990.”
I ask her about the day she stabbed herself.
“I got pretty drunk on Schlitz malt liquor, so I knew that it wouldn’t hurt. I was terribly depressed. Suicidal. Suddenly, I decided to end it all. I just picked up a knife and plunged it in. And then I started to bleed a bit and went and sat down on the bed. Next thing I know, Lillian was there, and she took me to hospital and saw me through. I must have made an impression on them because right away they tried to save me. Rushed me upstairs on a gurney. Next thing I knew . . . It was the most depressing thing in the world. You wake up and you don’t know where you are for a minute, and you realize you’re shackled to the bed. It was a terrible thing. I don’t think of it very often since I got over the depression. I was removed from there after 10 days of healing. I went to another psychiatric institution. It was a good one.”
I ask Vivian about her days now.
“Now I feel terrific,” she beams. “I’m a 77-year-old woman. By now I don’t have too much to do. I come down here about 4:30 to make the coffee. It’s made by 5:30. Meanwhile, I watch BBC news, then I come back down and open up the lobby so they can come and get their coffee and whatever they want. And I feel good about that. I’m a volunteer.