Monday, December 8, 2008

The Intentional Transient

Venice Beach, CA -- "Hi there," I called out as "Ben" pushed his shopping cart along the famous boardwalk. He stopped and engaged me in conversation.

I asked Ben where he lives. He winced, looked off to the horizon and told me, "I live where ever I can find a place." After asking for a buck, I came back asking for a more specific answer to where do you live.

Ben told me that he lives on the streets about two weeks out of each month. He said the city of Santa Monica (west end of Los Angeles), provides temporary housing and /or monthly checks to those wondering the streets. He explained that the money pays for about a week in a cheep motel, then he finds other places to sleep. Ben told me his story of how he got to this place with a sense of pride.

I asked him if he could wave a magic wand, what would he want to change in his live. Without hesitation, he looked me in my eyes and said he wouldn't change a thing.

Ben said that during the warmer months, he travels the US and Canada. When it starts getting cold, cities give transients free bus tickets to Santa Monica. He said that Santa Monica is the place to be in the winter months, "Who can resist free food and a check just for being homeless?"

I ended up giving Ben that dollar in return for allowing me to take a series of photos and asking him questions. He was very grateful.


San Diego Farmgirl said...

Wow, lightbulb moment for me - this explains why there are so many homeless people in West LA! I lived near Santa Monica and Sawtelle for years - it was the first place I lived in LA, and I thought all of SoCal was like that, with 3-4 homeless guys outside every 7-11. Now I'm in San Diego, where there are zero homeless people - the only homeless they allow here are Mexican day laborers, who sleep in outdoor makeshift campsites in our canyons. I guess they bus the other transients up to Santa Monica.

I always give money to female or elderly transients. Ben would definitely fit into that category, he looks too old to be sleeping on the streets. I always wonder what these people did to make their families turn their backs on them like that, because whenever I've spoken with them, they always seem so nice. Seems like Ben would have some grandkids somewhere, wondering if he's okay and wishing he would come back home. But I guess family is a luxury we take for granted.

Thank you for the post and reminder of LA's forgotten population.

Snapper said...

Very nice portrait, especially considering the less than ideal light you had to work with. Nice text too.

Zzz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Petrea said...

Your story and SD Farmgirl's comment make it clear, or seem to - Santa Monica has so many homeless because, in a way, they're paid to go there. They're not paid to stay in San Diego, for example.

I understand this man's pleasure. Think of the freedom. But what a choice he's made. I don't think I could live a vagabond life.

Tanya said...

This is such a beautiful picture JT and I love how you took the time to talk with him and find out his story.