The Blue Tarp Exodus

Moving Day
Moving Day, again…

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

Winnebago Art Gallery

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A smiling purse, a unicorn, a lighthouse in a storm…if you’re living out of your RV, what does it mean?  Out of all the detritus of middle-class life one might collect during one’s perambulations through the Valley, why these three items? Why are they facing the outside of the house? Is it a political statement? Are they semaphores for the state of mind of those living within?  Are they aspirational?

Perhaps they are offerings left in exchange for generosity to those living in tarp houses nearby.

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Like this one.

They’re everywhere. This is the new normal in Van Nuys. This is what Prop. 47 has wrought.

To the scrapyard

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Driving home from Home Depot I saw this guy pushing his cart out of a drainage swale on Raymer Street, huffing with effort. I missed the shot, he’s mostly out of frame, but we can just pretend it was an artistic choice.

These guys are everywhere now.  Addiction is a full time job.

The exploded favela

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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.

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

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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.

Fifteen feet from the 405

*An unfinished version of this post was published accidentally an hour ago. I apologize if it ended up in your inbox.

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The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with electrical wires.  He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive.  He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.

From time to time I would see him while I was out walking the dogs,  and there were these little nods of recognition, bum and homeowner.  Usually he was coming or going from Raymer Street, bearing his loads of scrap and offered short, effervescent bursts of conversation which I politely nodded along with but could make no sense of a minute later as I replayed them in my head.

Once I found him in a reflective mood.  I asked how he was doing. He professed loneliness.

“I’m homeless veteran and I’m gay. I’m a one-man leper colony out here.”

Four Mexicans had recently tried to beat him up, he said. For being a faggot.  Even after he did them a solid by pointing pursuing police in the wrong direction.  He put a stop to that quick.  He wasn’t in the Navy Seals for 12 years for nothing.  Or was it the Green Berets? His story evolved with different tellings.  Sometimes he was on the street for 12 years, sometimes in the military. Sometimes both.

Earlier in the summer he was staying in The Narrows,  a concrete channel behind Target.  It was going to be dry down there for awhile, and they were going to make the most of it. They had tarp shade overhead and lights and a cookstove and a generator. The police told them they could stay as long as they didn’t make too much noise or bother the neighbors.  Or so he said.

After the murder in the favela last week, I went looking for White Eagle, to see what I could learn. When I went to the Narrows, they professed no knowledge of him. When I went to the favela, they told he lived up at the 405.

“He never comes down here.  That’s where he belongs.”

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I went to the 405.   Everyone was gone.

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I mean everybody. Normally dozens of people live here.  It was like the Rapture had come.

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Next time you exit the 405 in the Valley and you wonder what’s going on down in the shrubbery, this is it.  Urban hobbits have built a shire.  Where they’ve gone now, and for how long, I don’t know.  Maybe when I see White Eagle again, he’ll tell me.

The Quickening Signposts

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For the people who purport to speak on behalf of the American Blue Half….this is the answer to all social ills.  If we could just raise the marginal rate to….wait, wait a minute, is that child walking away?

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Why is it I'm seeing more scenes like this?
Why is it I’m seeing more scenes like this?
And this?
And this?

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:

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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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