One recent afternoon, when I was out on my daily stroll in Rancho Palos Verdes, I spotted a small, disheveled man walking toward me. He looked tired and lost, and I asked if he needed help. He mumbled something in Spanish, and I had to resort to my very limited knowledge of that language.
He said his name was Brigido and he was from Mexico. He had been working on a job down the street, but his boss had not picked him up or paid him as agreed. He had not eaten anything that day but he had eaten a little yesterday. He had slept in the street, where he planned to sleep the next night as well.
It was near sunset and since I had forgotten my phone, I suggested he come home with me. He looked so helpless, and we were only a couple of blocks from my house where I would call the police, naively believing a nice officer would come and pick him up and then take him somewhere.
My neighbor Barbara was out in her front yard as we came up the street. She called out to me, and I explained the presence of my walking buddy.
“I’ll call the police for you,” she volunteered and went inside to pick up her phone. She called but was put on hold. I tried 20 minutes later with no luck, but on the third try, we were told that they could not do anything unless a crime had been committed.
“Anyone has the right to walk on public streets,” the operator said coldly. (At the Palos Verdes Estates station, we would have been put in contact with the newly established Homeless Liaison Officer, Kyle Shea.)
Exhausted. Brigido had in the meantime sat down on the curb, looking even more pathetic Barbara was by now fully involved and enlisted the help of more neighbors. Alberto, who is from Venezuela and speaks fluent Spanish, came out with his wife Suri.
“I have a ‘care package’ in my car,” Alberto said. “I can at least give him that.”
Brigido accepted it gratefully and had a little picnic on our sidewalk.
Another neighbor, Dennis came over with his wife Elva and started calling shelters in the area. They were all full.
After he had eaten, Brigido wanted to sleep under a trailer parked on the other side of our street, but we nixed that. I said he could sleep in my garage with my cat, but there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for that either.
Meanwhile. it had turned dark, and I went into the house to check on my disabled husband. When I returned, Dennis and Alberto had decided to take Brigido to a Motel-6 on Pacific Coast Highway in Torrance. (The Torrance Police Department assigns lead officers to community services of which the homeless population is a part. They have also partnered with LAHSA – Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority – as well as PATJ Homeless Services and try to help out when someone is willing to accept services, according to Sergeant Ronald Harris.)
End of story? No.
The next day Elva told me that Alberto and Dennis had instead taken Brigido to the Midnight Mission in downtown Los Angeles. Elva had called ahead and talked to the supervisor on duty, a man by the name of Duncan, who said they were full but Brigido could sleep in the courtyard, which was locked and safe.
The trio hurried and made it before closing time at 9:30 pm and when Duncan heard the full story, he evidently took pity on them and suggested they go to the LAPD station nearby with a picture of Brigido’s ID (he had a “green card”) and get a pass.
With a pass from the police, the Midnight Mission is obligated to provide a bed, and they would find one somewhere. In the morning they would help him get on his way. Brigido finally had a bed. When Alberto called the Mission the next day, Brigido was already gone.
For me there’s a bright side to the story. I learned that I have kind and generous neighbors – I didn’t even know who they were before. Suri is from South Africa, of Indian descent; Dennis and Elva are Philippino-Americans while Barbara is Norwegian-American like me. Despite our cultural and ethnic differences, we all worked together for a common good. Only in America.
Kari Sayers is a freelance writer based in Rancho Palos Verdes.