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September 29, 2018

Homeless in LA

Opinion

September 29, 2018

Joe Ryes was homeless and living on the streets for five months in Los Angeles when he died of a heart attack on August 20, 2018. He was 56-years old. After he died the Los Angeles City Council held a moment of silence in his honor.

Reyes had lived eleven years in his Koreatown apartment when the building was sold, and he was evicted when the new owners evicted all senior citizens including him. Then he lived in a tent on the street with his cat Jessabel near his old apartment. He got food stamps and tried to get odd jobs but found out people pay the homeless cheaply. On a video on YouTube he said he couldn’t get a steady job because he’s disabled.

On July 11, 2018, Joe just didn’t see a posted notice of the coming LAPD cleanup of his campsite. He left his tent in the morning, and when he returned, he discovered the LAPD had taken his possessions. He said they took “everything – my heart medication, my contacts, my clothes, my new sleeping bag, my new tent, my cat’s stuff I can’t replace.” Jane Nguyen, who works with Shelter for all Koreatown, said that Joe “was devastated because this was everything he owned. The only things that he had remaining were just the clothes on his back and whatever he had in his backpack.” She added, “He was so motivated to get off the streets and into housing. All he wanted was to be in a home with his cat.”

Reyes’ neighbor on the street Diana has also lost many possessions in the numerous sweeps. Three years previously Diana lost her glasses and clothes in a sweep: “They’re just rude. I’ve ended up with no clothes, no glasses. I haven’t been able to get my [new] prescription glasses….” According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Joe and Diana are among 400 people living on the streets in Koreatown.

Some activists said the frequent police sweeps were a cause of Joe’s death since the second sweep took away his heart medication a 2nd time. He complained of feeling increasingly stressed after the two police sweeps. In these routine sweeps the LAPD and workers from the L A County homeless agency and sanitation department are supposed, by city ordinance, to tag and store the homeless people’s possessions that are confiscated. KCRW’s report “A vigil for Joe Ryes shines a light on dying homeless” said instead the homeless lose their crucial documents and medications. Homeless advocates “have sued the city, alleging the officials are unconstitutionally seizing people’s property.”

People who knew Reyes said he was a quiet and charismatic man. Mike Dickerson, a volunteer with a Shelter for All Koreatown, said “Joe meant a lot to us. We were always excited to see him and his cat Jessabel during outreach, and Joe was looking forward to moving into the bridge home shelter built at Wilshire and Hoover.” Reyes’s friends joined a Shelter for All Koreatown people in a vigil in his honor 8 PM-10 pm on Friday August 31, 2018, at Wilshire-Vermont Plaza. Another Shelter for All Koreatown volunteer Christine Johnson said she met Joe this last summer when she in her third trimester of pregnancy: “Even though he’d lost almost all of his belongings in a sanitation sweep weeks before, when I had my baby he sent a present of baby clothing he’d chosen especially for her. Our family was incredibly moved.” People at the vigil said more homeless will die until the emergency shelters are opened, but Mayor Garcetti has planned shelters with 100 beds in the 15 council districts that can only house 1,500 of Los Angeles 22,288 people who live on the street in 2018.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Joe Reyes Died While Living on the Streets of Los Angeles’.

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

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