If you haven’t walked the walk, don’t tell me about homelessness

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July 3, 2014

Op-ed by Aswad, West Hollywood, California

In a recent LA Weekly article about his experience operating WeHo News despite his homelessness, Ryan Gierach talks about incompetent and uncaring staff, bed bugs bad food and more. He even tells of an anti-gay hate crime aimed at him.

Aswad is a former homeless/veteran. a Certified Dinair Airbrush Makeup Artist and a Graduate of Marinello's School of Beauty where I studied to become a Facial Specialist.

Aswad is a former homeless/veteran. a Certified Dinair Airbrush Makeup Artist and a Graduate of Marinello’s School of Beauty where I studied to become a Facial Specialist.

After reading the article I read the comments. Always a mistake. A lot of nonsense about, “I could clean that place up in no time!” “He’s making this up to get attention!” “It can’t be that bad!” “If it was that bad why stay?”

Frankly the majority of these comments made me laugh out loud. If there is one thing I’ve learned after three years of Homelessness and a year in PATH is that people who have never been homeless a day in their lives don’t know what the bloody hell they are talking about.

I entered PATH in May 2012, on a Friday. One of the single days it rains in Los Angeles. I had been using PATH’s mental health services so it was my Mental Health case worker that got me an emergency bed.

I was incredibly grateful as I had no money and no place else to go except the “hardcore street” as I call it. Think Skid Row. And if there choice is between a shelter bed and Skid Row…which would you choose?

I was lucky to have been there before the bed bugs. I heard about those later. One thing I can agree with is the assessment of case manager Leonard Williams. Leonard’s tenure with PATH is as old as dirt, except he dirt’s intellect and isn’t anywhere near as attractive.

This hate crime against Ryan Gierach was poo-pooed by staff. When Mr. Gierach had LAPD over to report it, PATH first attempted to lock Mr. Gierach and the officers out of the building;, failing that, Tzenni Bah Garcia told the police they could not be there. She backed down after being threatened to cuff her and charge her with obstruction of justice.

This hate crime against Ryan Gierach was poo-pooed by staff. When Mr. Gierach had LAPD over to report it, PATH first attempted to lock Mr. Gierach and the officers out of the building;, failing that, Tzenni Bah Garcia told the police they could not be there. She backed down after the Sergeant threatened to cuff her and charge her with obstruction of justice.

Leonard uses his position at PATH to hit on men, most of them gay, but sometimes not. If you refuse his advances, which is all the time, he punishes you with extra duties. So if you are assigned to clean the men’s room for a month, that will become four months.

I’ve been out of PATH a year now, and I am still bumping into guys telling me Leonard hit on them while they were in PATH. Sexual harassment is only one of the problems there.

I personally can’t speak for the food. I rarely ate dinner or breakfast there. I was afraid to.

Breaking bread with angry, unemployed, occasionally drug-addicted heterosexual men was not my idea of a good time. They had a habit of taking their troubles out on the residents perceived as “weaker” and this almost always meant men of smaller stature, gay men and transsexuals, for whom there was no safe space – only a bunk in the “men’s” bunkroom.

I was perceived as weaker because I rarely spoke (out of fear) and because of my religious attire at the time that included a Meditation Skirt. I made it myself as an exercises in sanity. I used it for Meditation in my bunk and for Tai Chi in the back parking lot.

And before you yell, “See!? He was wearing a skirt!”. That  shouldn’t have mattered. PATH takes EVERYBODY. No matter the religion, sexual orientation or if they are transitioning from one sex to the other. These people can fall prey to homelessness, too.

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I was targeted because of my attire, my perceived sexual orientation – and chillingly – because I reported the abuse I received.

That’s when the violating of my bunk started.

It’s against the rules to be in another residents bunk at any time. As if that mattered.

One day there was a dirty in my bed. Followed by a hardboiled egg from the kitchen.

Followed by a pink rag. It was wet. Followed by an orange from the kitchen that had mold on it. Ryan was right about the food.

The black fabric around the egg was my clean laundry. So for all those who don’t know; all this means in street lingo, “you’re the bitch; you’re the punk; you’re the faggot.”

I complained to my 26 year old Case Manager Amanda Wong. She told me “You’re not the only black gay man on the floor.” And then she challenged my story, saying, “We’re not sure you’re not doing this yourself.” Because putting dirty rags and food in my bed is my hobby, of course.

Still, despite the challenges,  most residents at PATH know that it is better than the street.

Still, despite the challenges, most residents at PATH know that it is better than the street.

The next person up the food chain was Tzenni Bag Garcia. I had several meetings with this women. Most went along the lines of “Blah blah blah sorry. Blah blah blah look into it. Blah Bah Blah keep you posted.” It was after the third meeting I realized I bas being blown off because she kept repeating the same thing in every meeting.

I had about four meetings with this women over the course of  about a month. Every other week more trash was placed in my bed and I complained. Basically being told it was being “looked into.”

According to my counselor; both Amanda Wong and Tzenni Bah told her, “Gays are cliquish” “He’s over reacting/making this up to get a good spot”.

At the time I was there, there was a security guard there but he was usually busy corralling drunks. Being drunk is also a “major infraction” that gets you get kicked out. Unless of course you’re on a “contract.” And then the rest of the guys get to just sit there and wonder why if he came in drunk and fighting last night is he still here today?

There are quite a few rules, that if broken, could result in your being put out into the street. The hate actions and discrimination rules are the same for any facility in America. Yet one guy on drugs at a Mandatory Monday Night House Meeting called Tzenni Bah a bitch .

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He was still there the next day.

I went to my doctor and she wrote a letter suggesting I be moved to one of the private rooms where Ryan was for my safety and sanity. I was refused numerous times.  I still have letter. I wrote numerous “grievance” forms, forms that frankly weren’t worth the paper they were written on.

Thanks to my Doctor and Counselor I was eventually offered the chance to move to a bunk at PATH West LA.

Thankfully I was moved to PATH West LA, where we all found out I was a vet. Not only a vet, but a Honorably Discharged Veteran. And everything changed from there.

Prior to that, I was a “disposable, cliquish, self-abusing black faggot.” Suddenly, it seemed as if I’d become a celebrity, so nicely was I treated.

This moldy orange was placed on my bed. In addition, my calendar had been disturbed as id read through.

This moldy orange was placed on my bed. In addition, my calendar had been disturbed as id read through.

There is a hierarchy amongst the homeless that people really aren’t aware of. Vets are at the top because the government pays well and on time.

Senior Citizens and Disabled people follow. HIV falls under disabled.

Able bodied heterosexual non-disabled (mental or physical) men of any color are actually pretty much at the bottom of the rung, being apparently able to fend for themselves.

There is no “non-profit infrastructure pot” for them to pull from. And they know it. And it angers them.

And it should also be noted that PATH West LA is a world away from PATH Madison. PATH West LA is a much smaller facility at Pico & Sepulveda in West LA housing only 32 people. Men and women. No children. It is known as the “Boutique PATH” because it was the first and because of its size.

So if you want to “clean up PATH”, if you know so much about how “easy it is to be homeless in LA these days”, I suggest you “check-in” to PATH Madison for a month.

Between the fighting, the food, the hate crimes, the feces on the bathroom walls, the bugs, the occasionally predatory staff, the arbitrary treatment of rules and curfews and contracts and infraction sheets, the sign-in sign-out sheets, meaningless memos, the sun burns, the stomach aches, the NUMEROUS untreated mental health issues, the watching your back 24/7…

I doubt you’d last a day.

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