Homeless In a Resort Hotel
I was prompted to write this blog by another Hub blogger’s article on how we should treat the homeless when we are confronted by their situation. Are they real? Do we trust them? Should we help them? Granted, there are those out there that feign homelessness for financial gain, and once you have been part of the homeless crowd, it becomes easier to spot the fakes. But that’s not what I am going to write about here. What I am going to write about is my experiences as a homeless person in one of the wealthiest areas in the United States.
In 1978, I earned an Associates Degree in Zoology, then in 1996 I earned my degree in American/English Literature. I was asked to stay on at the University I attended in the Midwest to eventually teach, but I turned the offer down to pursue a law degree in California. In 2001, I began my legal studies and did very well. I passed the first year exams and continued on. Despite my degree, I worked as an auto mechanic while going to school. Eventually I developed a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists and after two surgeries, I lost my job. My wife and I lived in an apartment in Orange County, California with 4 teenage kids and were facing eviction for lack of ability to pay rent. I scoured the want ads for anything to help us, and I found a major hotel on the Disneyland Strip that was looking for a nighttime security manager. The compensation for the position was a three room suite. No money, just a room plus the hotel’s amenities. It was perfect…for the time being. The only drawback was I had to work 10pm to 7am every day, 7 days a week. I knew that the whole arrangement was a violation of the California Labor Laws (on the owner’s part), but we were in a bind. I started right away and moved my family into the suite. We even had a dog that no one ever knew about.
We had a roof over our head, and we were able to partake of the free breakfasts the hotel offered, but that was it. I needed to work during the day to be able to have money. All I knew was automotive work. I tried to get a paralegal job, but I wasn’t yet certified. So back to the wrenches I went. My wife couldn’t work because she was the primary caregiver for our disabled daughter. So I worked doing mechanical work during the day, and working at the hotel at night. I slept when I could.
Eventually, I lost the hotel job due to a discord between the managers and some erroneous accusations (I caught one member of the management staff stealing, and she trumped up accusations back at me). The owner of the hotel ordered us off the property immediately. Luckily, I had a legal education in the matter and told him that it wasn’t that easy, he had to go through the proper eviction proceedings to get rid of us, and that would take at least 21 days. In the meantime, I opened up the labor law issue with an attorney from the law school. It was illegal for the hotel to be hiring me for only a room and board payment, and working 7 days a week without a break. I had him by the short and curlies. We went to court and he was facing losing a judgment for several thousand dollars in back payment of wages and fines. The hotel wasn’t doing that great financially, so we worked out a plea agreement, and we were allowed to stay in the hotel, rent free for another 10 months.
During those ten months, I worked and saved as much as I could until we were able to move back to the North Georgia area where my wife’s father lived, as there was no way that we could afford to continue living in Southern California. I sent my wife and kids on ahead on an Amtrak train, while I stayed in Anaheim and tied up some loose ends. During that time, about 3 weeks, I lived in our old car, a 1983 VW Jetta. I had one friend that I met in the hotel business that was the night clerk at another hotel on the strip. She would let me have a room late at night as long as I was out by 7am. That worked out well until I finally saved enough for a plane ticket to Atlanta.
We stayed at my father in law’s house for a few days until we were able to rent our own place and start over. We are still struggling, as my wife has been unable to work, but we have a roof over our head, food on the table, and I have a decent job.
But what was it like being homeless? It wasn’t as bad for us as it is for some people. We had hit the skids before, living in hotels for a few days, sleeping in the car, but we always pulled through. California is not the place to try to get on your feet. But you always have to realize that no matter how bad you think that you have it, someone else always has it a little or a lot worse.
While working on the Disneyland strip, I saw hundreds of thousands of tourists every month. By day, the streets were packed with throngs of people from all over the world, clamoring to get into the Magic Kingdom. Among these people were a few panhandlers looking for a handout. Some were successful, most were not. There are many restaurants mixed in with the line of hotels on Harbor Blvd. In many cases, there would be homeless and hungry people waiting outside the restaurants hoping for a handout of food or money, but it rarely happened.
By night, the scenario changed drastically. The strip was not safe to walk anymore after 10pm. Downtown Disney, a popular nightspot, was frequented by many homeless people looking for help, but in the later hours of the night, all you could see were the transient homeless, no tourists, nothing. If you were unfortunate enough to be out on the streets at that hour, you risked being mugged for whatever of value you possessed.
But there were the regulars, the “career homeless” as I call them (not to be confused with the “professional homeless”, they are the real phonies!). These are people that are harmless to the local society. They are weak and tired, sometimes elderly, usually dressed in some sort of insulated clothing that they never take off, even in the hot midday sun. They push grocery carts full of blankets, water bottles, and old food…whatever people have given them. They have probably been homeless for so long that it has affected their mental state and are confused about reality. These people are often too tired to even beg. They just sit in one spot for hours and accept whatever may come their way, or they may trudge slowly up and down the strip for the same reason. They are not interested in help, they have accepted their life for the way it is and are living it out. The best thing that can happen to them is to be arrested. There, at least they can be fed and have a bed to sleep in for awhile.
There was one old guy named “Gus” that would frequent the courtyard at the hotel during the day. He would sit in the sun and sleep. My wife would make him sandwiches and coffee and sit with him while he ate. At first he was not talkative, and then he opened up to us. We found out that he was a former executive with a large company and was laid off unexpectedly. His wife left him; he had no children and couldn’t find another job. Gus showed up every day, and the more he opened up, the more “alive” he became.
Then one day Gus did not seem well. He was listless and ill looking. We called the paramedics and had him taken to the hospital. Sadly, the paramedics were reluctant to take him anywhere because he was homeless, but they transported him to the County Hospital. We didn’t see Gus anymore for quite awhile, and we thought that he had passed on.
Then about 3 months later, a good looking, well dressed man came to our hotel looking for me and my wife. He was accompanied by two other people, one from a local church and the other from the county. It was Gus. He had made an amazing transformation in the last three months. He was employed again, he was healthy and he was happy. He came by to thank us for “giving him the time of day” and caring enough to get him the medical help he needed. He was there to take us out to a lunch of “coffee and sandwiches”.
My mother always told me that if someone asks you for help, or if you see someone in need, help them. They could be an Angel. And whether it is true or not, she also instilled in me the fact that it was sinful to reject anyone’s plea for help if I had the means to help them, even if it was just a little bit. There are many people that “give” to the poor, a few quarters in a tin cup, or a dollar in the Christmas kettle in front of the grocery store. To me that is not giving. You have to give of yourself to feel the full rewards of helping someone. You have to feel the pinch of making a sacrifice to be able to understand what the person you are helping is feeling. And you don’t have to give money. If you have an extra blanket, food or a pair of gloves, it will help. Give some of your time as well. You will be rewarded in the long run.
The next time you see a homeless person, don’t judge them. Don’t try to rationalize helping them. Don’t assume that they are faking it for personal gain. Take an account of yourself and make a decision: “Am I able to help them in any way ?” Even if you have a few cents, share it with them and take some time to talk to them. Maybe you know someone that can help their particular situation. You never know.
You’ll never know until you take the time to care.
© 2010 By Del Banks