I have written many stories about the homeless, particularly women. One recent day, I met Susan Lest, who had been living in her Volkswagen for 18 months in North Hollywood. She was “rescued,” but so many women are simply deemed mentally ill and forgotten. She reminded me that in these economic times, homelessness can happen to anyone. From my story (Daily News, Feb. 20, 2012) with photo by Hans Gutknecht:
SUN VALLEY — Her prayers were once filled with pleas:
For safety, so that thieves, rapists and murderers wouldn’t discover her sleeping alone with her cat inside her car;
For strength, so she could survive the heartache of losing her job, her Valley Village apartment, and those she thought were her friends;
For someone, anyone, to open a door of opportunity for work.
Susan Lest prayed for 18 months straight, hoping she wouldn’t get lost among the homeless forever. She slept upright in a yellow, 1974 Volkswagen Beetle on the streets of North Hollywood, quivering out of fear and cold. She sustained herself on apples and peanut butter sandwiches, and managed to stretch out a modest Social Security check.
She lived like that until one early morning last August, Lest was found by a woman with a clipboard, wanting to know why she was homeless.
Today, Lest can close her eyes when she sleeps at night, in her own bed, in her own apartment.
Earlier this month, thanks to Los Angeles nonprofits and the national 100,000 Homes Campaign, Lest is living in Palo Verde, a new supportive housing complex in Sun Valley where low-income single men and women, some with mental health needs, can live and receive counseling services.
“It was fate,” Lest said one recent day inside her new studio apartment, which features a large window overlooking a courtyard filled with plants.
Her 16-year-old cat, named Social, stretched out on a pillow on Lest’s new bed.
“There was a time when I was very frightened that I would never get off the streets,” Lest said. “Then L.A. Family Housing found me.”
Lest, 64, was one of 271 people named during an effort last August to register the San Fernando Valley’s most vulnerable homeless men and women. The local registry was part of a national effort to help the homeless called the 100,000 Homes Campaign that launched two years ago.