In his words: Franco speaks about his life off the streets

| August 31, 2023 | 0 Comments

SITTING on his walker in the weeds in front of his senior care facility is Franco (“Giorgio”) Iervolino.

Franco Iervolino, formerly known as Giorgio when his home was a bus bench and his haunt was Larchmont Boulevard, was forcibly removed from the Boulevard on April 20, 2022. A host of county outreach workers made it happen (as first reported in “Giorgio, taken for help by County dept.,” Larchmont Chronicle, May 2022, page 1.)

He was taken to County USC Hospital (now named Los Angeles General Medical Center) for assessment, then moved to Gateway Hospital and Mental Health Center in Echo Park for interim care. In July 2022, Franco, 65, was placed in a senior care facility in the Fairfax neighborhood. He now has a conservator to oversee his financial arrangements and care, a public defender to represent him in court, a team of social workers and free access to medical and mental health care.

At the end of his first year in the senior care facility near Fairfax and Olympic, Franco called his public defender / lawyer about his upcoming one-year placement assessment before a judge and discovered that his previous lawyer no longer represented him. He had to find out on his own the name of his new public defender, and that lawyer never returned his calls. His conservator informed the court of Franco’s wish to stay in the senior care facility for another year, but the judge wanted to hear directly from Franco. No one from his team came to be with him when he appeared before the judge electronically via Zoom. No public defender, no conservator, no social worker. Franco alone, in front of a monitor, told the judge that he needed to stay where he was for another year because of his health problems. It was approved.

Now that he has spent more than 16 months off the streets, how does Franco feel about his journey? He tells us in his own words.

How Franco became homeless after his divorce

From Franco: “I’ve been solving problems daily for 10 years as I became homeless, non-stop, daily, believe it or not. Consecutive problems created by my goddamn divorce.

“I said [to the manager of my apartment building] I’m going to get the check Monday from Social Security. Can you wait till Monday, and I’ll pay you the rent? She said, ‘No, today is the first. I’m going to file papers against you.’ Can you believe that?

“The apartment is $150, a six-floor building. Western and Santa Monica. Most of the people are welfare beneficiaries. They have criminal records, drug addiction records, drug problems. Most are unemployable, they have no job. I have to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to drive to Arcadia, at least 45 minutes on the freeway to get there by 7 o’clock. My job starts at 7:30. As a beginner in the factory, punctuality is very important.

“I did not have enough money in the bank to rent a better apartment, and I had no security in the job. I didn’t know if they were going to keep me or not. People have been there for 15 years and, if they don’t like you, they let you go.

“When I lost the apartment I had to quit the job. Where am I going to sleep, in the street? I got unemployment benefits but after nine months benefits expired. And there was a war in Iraq and there was no job opening. In America the economy was kaput, finished.

“So I was stuck. No money in the bank.  Divorced. Homeless. Without a job. I ended up in the street, and I had difficulty since then. For 10 years.”

The bureaucracy of medical care

Franco now has access to free medical care. He goes to the Saban Community Clinic in Hollywood for his medical needs, if someone will drive him, and a psychiatrist periodically visits his senior care facility. He says he has medication for chest pain, for his heart, for high blood pressure and for frequent urination. However, as Franco often says, “Bureaucracy takes patience,” and it sometimes takes months to see a doctor or get a referral.  He has complained of chest pain for a year and finally got an electrocardiogram in August and an appointment with a cardiologist for October. He had a constant cough and was told to take over-the-counter cough syrup until his appointment scheduled for six weeks from that date.

Says Franco: “My cough is getting better, but Dr. Leon used a stethoscope, listened to the lungs. ‘You sound a little wheezy, do you smoke?’ I smoke about five-to-six cigarettes a day. But I don’t have shortness of breath. When I walk, I get tired or fatigued. I breathe deeply because of the fatigue. When you exercise your breath will accelerate. Have you seen someone play soccer or basketball? They pant. For me, walking is an exercise. I make an effort to walk, it’s not easy.  I stop, take a big breath, relax, continue. I get a little tired pushing this goddamn walker and every block I stop, take a deep breath. But that is not shortness of breath. Shortness of breath is when you can’t breathe. I never had shortness of breath, like I can’t breathe. But they gave me this inhaler. I haven’t decided whether to use it or not.

“Antibiotics is the answer. They prescribed it for five days. Take two capsules the first day and then one every day. When the pharmacy delivered the medication yesterday, Mike [the facility’s medicine coordinator] said, ‘Let’s start tomorrow. We’ll take two in the morning.’

“In the morning, the nurse brought one [capsule], not two. I told her it should be two, but she cannot do anything. She’s not in charge of the medication. The person in charge is Mike, who prepares the medication for the next day.”

Franco’s cough did clear up on antibiotics. He’s lucky he could even get to the clinic appointment. Franco’s social worker didn’t want to drive him, and the manager of his facility wanted Franco to pay for his Uber. Finally, approval was given for the county to pay, and Franco made his way to the Saban Clinic. But then, when the appointment was completed, the Saban Clinic called Franco’s place to send a taxi to pick him up and take him back to the facility, but the manager there refused.

Franco continues: “The guy [at the clinic’s front desk] said to me, ‘No worry. I’m going to get you transportation.’ And he called the taxi. Now the bill goes onto the medical bill from the doctor.

“I need a lot of patience here. I don’t know how much patience I have.”

They call this living?

The senior care facility where Franco lives provides a semi-private room with a bathroom, three meals a day, and occasional chair exercise classes and entertainment. But that’s just part of the equation. The interior is dreary, with industrial colors and little decoration except when holiday decorations are hung. The large front room is not used by the residents; it houses a desk for the workers, and I’ve rarely seen it used. The two-story building has a living / dining room on each floor where residents, many in wheelchairs or sitting on their walkers, sit mindlessly in front of the blasting televisions. I’ve never seen anyone reading or playing cards or discussing politics.

Outside, there is a cement patio, steps and a ramp down to the broken sidewalk out front. The parkway where Franco usually sits to get some air is overgrown with weeds. There used to be some furniture on the patio, but it was removed when vagrants began using it. Often when I visit, there’s the unmistakable smell of marijuana outside, not necessarily from the residents, many of whom smoke cigarettes, but from homeless people and van-dwellers who tend to hang around. For the first few months I visited, I regularly had to step over a man, splayed out and napping, to enter the front door.

Meals are served on paper plates; drinks in plastic. Franco complains all the time about the quality of the food.

From Franco: “The food is very lousy. The service is very negligent. You have to beg. I need a glass of water. ‘Later.’ I ask for a glass of milk. ‘There’s no milk and the kitchen is closed.’

“For dinner, 20 grams of meat with potato and one slice of bread. Nothing else. Breakfast, the same as yesterday. Scrambled eggs. Sometimes with sausage. Sometimes without. No toast. It’s detrimental! Today’s lunch? One corn dog with a little bit of beans. Not even hot.

“The food has no nutritional value. You decay in here. When I went to the Saban Clinic they keep saying, ‘You keep losing weight. You’re not eating well.’ I told them many times they don’t have good food, but [Saban Clinic] doesn’t have any control over that.

“You gotta admit this place is completely screwed up. I pray for the people [who live here]. These people are lost. Their life is finished. I don’t have the strength, the courage anymore to see these people who live in this condition.”

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