The Blue Tarp Exodus

Moving Day
Moving Day, again…


The white favela, having been forcibly dispersed from its redoubt along Cabrito Road two months ago,  re-established itself in small clusters around Van Nuys.   The largest of these was adjacent to the Smart and Final, which was, in a hat tip to the Law of Unintended Consequences, a mere hundred feet from the old favela, but ten times as visible from Van Nuys Blvd, or to anyone coming out the Home Depot parking lot.  I was there yesterday buying beer for my coolies my friend Marcus, who was helping me terrace the front yard with native succulents.  This is was what we saw when we pulled into the parking lot.  The cashier told us business had been off 30% in recent weeks. Smart and Final was suing the city and there was a hearing scheduled for the 29th.


This morning we returned to the Depot for more soil, and lo, the blue tarps were gone. The street swept bare of all traces of the encampment.  A few police cars were parked at the end of the block. A city vehicle was collecting debris.  It was the 28th.

Gone, baby, gone.


But not really. All over Van Nuys, the favela was on the move.


Their barrows heaped with shoddy, temporarily abandoned here and there, while they went back for the rest.



They will circumnavigate the un-policed areas of the Valley until they gather in such numbers as to be a recognized nuisance again. And by recognized, I mean the next time the City receives a notice of legal action on a corporate letterhead.

Winter is coming. They won’t be going North.

The exploded favela


Cabrito Street having been vacated post-murder, then gated off at the east end, the tribes have dispersed around the neighborhood, hunkering down in new locales amid the shrubbery.


As inexorably as the mimetic polyalloy particles of the shapeshifting T-1000 in Terminator 2, the favela has begun to reconstitute itself.


Little wagon trains of shopping carts are cropping up anew.

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They perch on the embankment and bide their time. They got all day.  I give it a month before it fully reassembles. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Valerie’s House and Ours

The future of Cabrito Street
The future of Cabrito Street?

Astute reader Johnny, who blogs from San Francisco, thoughtfully, on urban matters, has an interesting post this week with regard to portable housing for street people.  This is partly in response to my posts on Cabrito Road but largely his own observations on sustainable development in California.   It’s well worth reading.

FWIW, I find the Hobo House on Wheels concept oddly compelling. I could even imagine a KOA campground-like arrangement with a central mail drop, wifi hub and showers.  Not in Van Nuys, of course. Somewhere up in the Antelope Valley, on the edge of the desert.

Therein lies the problem.   Nobody want this guy “residing” on their block, or down the street, or anywhere nearby:


In an online tete-a-tete Johnny has pointed out the hypocrisy of my placing the campground in someone else’s town, thereby violating a standing theme of this blog: Van Nuys as Repository of Other People’s Social Engineering Schemes.

In my defense, I will say this:  there’s a lot of space in the desert. Hobo-ville need not be in anyone’s town. It would also by its remoteness separate the serious crack addicts from those who are merely in need of shelter.  People like this guy:

Bear, and his partner
Bear, and his partner

It would be an imperfect solution to a long unresolved problem: what to do with surplus people in a global city, a two hour drive from an open border with Mexico which disgorges an endless stream of fresh labor willing to work for less than $10/hr and sleep in a garage.

Crarckheads and junkies will sleep under the freeway and down on Skid Row, anywhere they can score quickly.  The schizophrenics will wander institution-less through our world. But the surplus people, the unloved, the forgotten, the un-hirable, those who flipped their canoe somehow and never put it upright again….maybe the tent-on-casters arrangement is a civic compromise preferable to this:

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Paper Street

The county census says two people live here
The county says two people live here

A ‘paper street’ is an administrative term for a named roadway laid out in the tract book but never built.  It exists, at the hall of records, but only on paper. On the terra firma, Cabrito Road is an unmaintained ailanthus-ridden no man’s land abutting the storm channel.

Los Angeles County undertook a comprehensive survey of its homeless population this spring.  It concluded two people were living on Cabrito between Van Nuys and Kester, a self-contained shire of broken down vehicles and open air domiciles cobbled together from pallets, discarded furniture, plastic tarps, old rugs, and scrap wood from the Home Depot parking lot.   Two.  A purple dot and a yellow dot on the great interactive map.

I’m not sure what methodology was employed, but you see a lot more than two people when you walk by. You hear nail pounding. The hum of generators. Barking dogs. Domestic arguments.  At night, television screens glow from within the tapestry of detritus.

But on paper, it’s just Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton killing time waiting for the next opening at the flophouse.   No white favela here.

Living spaces in the shadow of Living Spaces

Bear and roommate
Bear, on his patio
Condos, Cabrito Road
Condos, Cabrito Road
Eduardo's bike shop
Eduardo’s bike shop

Feeling poor is relational. You might have a plump little belly but hate your kitchen when you watch the Real Housewives of Orange County.  You might hate the sight of your 1980’s dishwasher so much you tear it out and toss it in the garage even though it still kind of works in a grindy-wheezy sort of way.  You’d rather have a gaping maw in the cabinetry and tell yourself you’re renovating than face the tackalicious squalor in which you reside.

“How long are you gonna leave that there?” asks your neighbor after half a year.

“Until I figure out a way to get rid of it.”

“What’s wrong with you? Put it on the sidewalk.”

“But that’s littering.”

“Put it on the sidewalk.”

Twenty minutes later, its gone. Whoosh. Just like that.  Whisked away, by unseen hands.

That’s when I discovered the Great Los Angeles Disposal System.

Rusty pipes, moldy carpet underlayment,  broken office chairs. Whisk. Whisk. Whisk.  Plastic tarps. Broken Christmas tree stands. Mangled bicycles. Whisked. Taken to the scrapyard. Re-purposed. Repaired.

Gwyneth Paltrow unloads her designer unwanteds on Goop.  The rest of us unload our stuff on Craigslist.  You can trade brand label clothes at Buffalo Exchange.  You can bag up the never worn birthday sweaters from the in-laws and leave them on the porch for Goodwill. But the true detritus which neither fits nor belongs in the garbage can, even that has a small army waiting for it.

Beneath Cratchit-ville, the shadow world of wildly overpriced illegal units tucked within the hedge work of ranch houses, there is yet another, lower, rung to the class structure of the Valley.  Cabrito Road.

A small city of pallet and tarp houses, of broken down vehicles, a frisbee toss away from Smart and Final and Living Spaces. An English-language favela, where pets abound.  Where you can order up a bike entirely from spare parts.  Where people cook on camp stoves under the stars and watch TV on broken lawn furniture.

Rubescent texture, ephemera and time

Discarded sofa, Cabrito Road
Discarded sofa, Cabrito Road
British brickwork with dog tooth protrusion
Master brickwork with protruding dog teeth on Wilcox

The first was slapped together with glue and staples in a downtown sweatshop, designed to evoke feelings of opulence in middle class consumers spending beyond their means.  Cheap fabric and composite wood veneers doom it to the landfill for which it was destined.  For now it serves as a club chair for a quartet of homeless men who have created a condominium out of plastic detritus and shopping carts behind Smart and Final.

The second was erected by craftsmen whose work will outlive us all.   The plumb lines are true.