I lived in Los Angeles for 25 years, a city which has the 3rd largest GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of any city in the world; GDP measuring the economic health and productivity; and yet, except in the wealthier neighborhoods, homeless people could be seen on the streets. In fact, roughly 70,000 people are registered as homeless in Los Angeles, and over half a million in the United States overall - and of course, those figures are dubious since it’s not likely that homeless people, who pay no taxes, are registered - so the figure is probably MUCH higher.
I saw homeless people every day for 25 years, where I worked in Hollywood, just blocks from Hollywood’s busiest tourist spots. It was not only tragic, it was ironic that so many people were visiting the city and skirting its dark corridors; and it never failed to stir a disturbing resonance inside me, that here, in one of, if not the wealthiest nations in the world, people were living on the streets.
I talked to them, gave them food, money - to not do so would have required turning off my empathy and become callous about their plight. I simply couldn’t do it.
I remember reading an article in a newspaper at the time, about a man living on the streets of Los Angeles, who was a drug addict, and who previously was a successful programmer in the IT arena. His drug problem started before he hit the streets, but it quickly ramped up to the point where it was destroying him, so he stepped down from his career, and before doing so, his boss, who knew about his issue, told him that if ever he came to grips with his problem, he was welcome back to the company. The man ended up on the streets for years, until one day, his sister showed up and informed him that their mother had passed away and that he had not been around to see her in her final days nor had he come to the funeral. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for him. He forced himself off the drugs, got back on his feet, and amazingly, approached the same man at the same company where he had worked years before and was given a second chance at life - and he took it.
It’s a true story and it reminded me of what I felt deep inside when I looked into the faces of men, women and even teenagers living on the streets around me - that no one is beyond a second chance in life.
Later, I moved to Buffalo, New York, where, once again, I witnessed the homeless, and this time, I wrote a book about it, The Buffalo Kid, a story inspired by the homeless people I saw and met, a story that gushed out of me like a flood of words, because I wanted to expose their plight by telling a story through the eyes of one man, once a successful career-man, a family man, who ended up destitute and homeless, and after thirty years, got a second chance. Naturally, the book was extremely popular and loved because it was a story that everyone could relate to - because those homeless people, they were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, someone’s children.
Moreover, I watched people, every day, walk by homeless people as if they didn’t exist, as if they were mere objects, garbage, or repulsive - and that I found to be more calloused and more abhorrent than anything - that people would treat others in that manner. The Buffalo Kid was, and remains, my way of spotlighting the issue of poverty and to remind us all that they are humans too and they are not beyond hope.
And by the way, quite by chance, I was introduced to man by the name of Radiator Don, who lived off the grid in Paso Robles, California (see image below) and who further inspired this story. He passed away some years ago, but his legacy lives on because it is his image that we chose for the cover of The Buffalo Kid.
Read more about Radiator Don HERE.
Author of Break Out Books