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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Wellers’ Homeless Story — No 20

                                Hazel and Mary – Broken Down on Rose Avenue

                                                   (Names changed for confidentiality)

Steven & Regina Weller, Directors, Homeless Task Force

Senior Crisis Chaplains Steven & Regina Weller, Directors, Homeless Task Force


 By Regina Weller

Note:  If you would like to donate to the Homeless Task Force, address checks to Homeless Task Force, and send to 1400 Riviera Ave., Venice 990291.

The two women dragged all they owned in several bags and entered the Nursing Home in Riverside last night.   The good news is that they would be roommates. “They were not fussing,” the driver informed me. “This is nice!” he added, quoting Mary’s words. The new environment was a 100 percent turnaround from where they’d been.

Two weeks prior, Venice residents Matt Shaw and Jamie Paige, who are also members of the Venice Neighborhood Council, had discovered the two fragile seniors living in their broken down car on Rose Avenue by 3rd Street, and called me for assistance.   The Homeless Task Force certainly has the availability and know-how to get people off the streets, but there are so many other factors and obstacles that become apparent after engagement. Nothing is ever simple.

Hazel and Mary had been friends for many years – Hazel was once an independent film producer, and her production assistant Mary had worked steadily by her side. Years passed and now in their seventies, they had hit the sidewalks of homelessness. Their social security benefits were not enough for both food and housing, so they opted to live in Hazel’s car and go from motel to motel until their funds ran out.   Along the way, they met up with two stray dogs and claimed them as their own.   The dogs had puppies and now there were four living creatures with them in the car, until the papa dog ventured off about a month earlier. I surmised that he was the lucky one.

For a time, the two friends had set up a tent on the Venice Beach sand, but the sand fleas, and the wind and rain of last November got the best of them and they opted again for the protection of their vehicle.   The transmission finally gave out and they were stranded on Rose Avenue by 3rd Street. For a few bucks, a homeless man would push their car from one side to the other during street cleaning days.

Hazel spent most of her time just sitting in the passenger seat of the car. She said it had become challenging for her to even walk a block with her walker, so Mary had to constantly monitor and serve her. My assistant Rachel and I met with the these ladies several times, and we always became uncomfortable to witness the dogs entwine their leashes around Mary’s legs while she attempted to walk all three at the same time. It was incredible to me that she hadn’t fallen down yet. Jamie, the Venice resident who had first engaged with the women, was of great help with offering to walk the dogs daily, and keeping them for hours at a time to give the seniors a break. These women wanted a place to live, but I was more concerned that the unhealthy conditions had already compromised their lives.

I bought them food and coffee, and eventually, I discovered something more and more unnerving about their situation. During their time in Venice, they had been robbed and swindled out of a small inheritance and their monthly benefits.  Also with all their aches and pains, they relied on the over-the-counter pain medication from CVS pharmacy, and had sometimes gone days on end without bathing.   It was evident they would remain a vulnerable target to the treacherous influx of criminal types at the 3rd and Rose homeless encampment.

I called for the LAPD Hope car to assist with the transport of the ladies to the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) office to possibly acquire a motel voucher until a permanent housing opening for them on February 1st.   While enroute to DPSS, Hazel became very ill in the back seat and I requested the officers to pull over.   Officer Kwon called for an ambulance, which responded quickly, and transported Hazel to Marina Hospital where they later discovered a large blood clot in her leg that would require hospitalization for a week. The Hope car kept to the original plan and continued on to DPSS, but to no avail from that office for certain bureaucratic reasons.

With the “no motel voucher” outcome, we headed back to their broken down vehicle. Meanwhile, the Venice Neighborhood Council members moved into action and raised money for a two-week stay in a dog friendly motel.   It soon became apparent that Mary was also quietly enduring a large open wound and a staph infection, and now it was her turn to enter the emergency room of the hospital.   I’m guessing they might not have survived the winter given their current health dilemmas. Now their pets had to be situated elsewhere, so Jamie took on the arduous task of finding emergency foster care, and she and I kept vigilant for the next step in our plan of action.

When both women were finally back together in the motel room, it was imperative to set newfound goals, especially since they had been asked to leave most motels.   Certain practices of the homeless lifestyle do not meld well with the rules of the motel business. The squalor atmosphere they are accustomed to living in is sometimes brought in with them. We encouraged the seniors toward a safer and more stable environment better suited for their age and health status. The two friends agreed and were then transported by private ambulance carrier to their new residence.

Today, Hazel and Mary are tenants of the Fairmont Nursing Home in Riverside, California – still roommates, still side by side through thick and thin and the homeless camps in Venice, and to the end. With one night of uninterrupted sleep in a warm clean bed, and the nurture of the nurse attendants, Mary said, “I feel human again.”

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