George Matthews knows what it’s like to be on the streets.

When he was in his late 20s, the San Pedro resident, now 64 years old, spent five years living out of garbage cans, and taking shelter under the Hermosa Beach Pier and other random spots.

But now, the recovering alcoholic and addict — ever grateful, particularly on Thanksgiving, to be clean — dedicates his life to helping others. He is a leading force in what has become San Pedro’s grassroots corps of volunteers — San Pedro CPR — who work with police and the local Los Angeles City Council office to clean up the area’s smaller homeless encampments after they are abandoned.

Along the way, Matthews, who grew up in Hollywood Riviera, on the border of Torrance and Redondo Beach, scatters whatever seeds of hope he can to get people into rehabilitation.

He’s seen some successes.

He’s also been told to get lost.

“Trying to help people who don’t want help,” he said of those who turn down the offers. “It breaks my heart.”

But paperwork is always on hand for those interested in entering a recovery program.

In the meantime, Matthews and a crew of about 200 people keep busy cleaning up trash in public parks and store parking lots, along hillsides, and near overpasses in the port town.

He and several others in town were instrumental in the group’s beginnings. They include Chris Balonek, of the Bay Cities Crimewatch Facebook page; Cathy Beauregard, who has long been active in park cleanups; Debbie Lamont Scanlon, a former legal secretary for the Port of Los Angeles and the City Attorney’s Office; and George Palaziol, who most recently launched the community’s banner displays honoring veterans.

Mona Sutton and wife, Leslie Jones, community activists and co-owners of San Pedro’s popular Omelette and Waffle Shop, are among other longtime supporters and participants in the CPR cleanups.

CPR in this case stands for Citizens Proactive for Residents and the mission is broad — to clean up curbs, parks and other public areas that have become littered with trash. It’s been a San Pedro “thing” for about four years, with Matthews working with Los Angeles Police Department’s Harbor Division and the office of Councilman Joe Buscaino to identify problem spots.

The police, Matthews said, “had to get used to us.”

Last year, the department presented the CPR group with a service award.

Many of the cleanups are organized when residents call or post on social media that there is a problem area in their neighborhoods. And there are restrictions on how soon possessions can be deemed officially “abandoned” before they can be hauled away.

If someone is arrested and that person’s belongings remain on the street several hours later, it’s San Pedro CPR that goes in to clean up, long before city sanitation crews would ever be able to get to it.

The idea, Matthews said, is to raise the community’s spirit by taking concrete action.

“I understand the community’s anger (over the homelessness problem),” Matthews, clean and sober for going on 24 years, said. “But we should be united and working together on this.”

San Pedro CPR, he said he hopes, will set an example for how citizens can come together.

Matthews, a part owner with his brother of the family’s air-conditioning and heating-repair business in town, also said he’s hopeful the city’s new Bridge Home temporary shelter, which should open this summer, will help. He added that he’s even more hopeful that the storage and navigation center for the homeless will begin making a difference in the blight that’s too often seen on San Pedro’s streets.

But he has no illusions about how tough the problem is to tackle. Addiction issues, he said, play a much larger role in the homeless population than is usually reported.

But he has nothing but praise for the officers who now serve on the LAPD’s Quality of Life patrols, who are charged with keeping tabs on the homeless population and providing offers of assistance to get people off the streets.

For Matthews, who still plays jazz guitar and surfs San Pedro’s coastline despite a recent hip replacement surgery, the volunteer work is personal, prompting him to stop and talk to those who are unable to take care of themselves. People who, he said, “haunt his soul.”

But he’s quick to see those who will take advantage and he won’t indulge those who are looking for a free ride on someone else’s compassion.

For those wanting help, he goes the distance. For those not ready, he’s learned to quickly move on to someone who is.

Through it all, gratitude is a response that’s never far from the surface. On Thanksgiving, he and his girlfriend brought a meal to a local family who is going through a particularly tough time.

“This is my amends to society,” Matthews said. “It’s a way of giving back to a city (San Pedro) that has given me everything.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.