Will sympathy bring success for Giorgio?

| September 2, 2021 | 0 Comments

GIORGIO pushes his cart up Larchmont Boulevard wearing his signature knit beanie.

“I need my money,” insists Giorgio, the 56-year-old who visits Larchmont Boulevard daily with a shopping cart filled with his meager possessions. “It’s an obligation! According to the law!” he shouts, referring to some combination of unemployment, Social Security and disability compensation he says he used to get until he received an unsigned letter from a government official denying him further payments.

Giorgio tells a long saga about his government benefits, involving first being sent to a post office to collect his checks, then to the Social Security office, then to a payday advance store. About 18 months ago, Giorgio reports, he got that cessation of benefits letter and checks stopped coming.

As usual, his story is punctuated with asides, sometimes tirades, about the cost of a Korean car parked nearby, about a stoned or drunk tattooed guy who sat on his bus bench and bothered him. He veers to a tale about his restaurant days when Elizabeth Taylor sat at the bar at noon and was drunk by 2 p.m., about unisex hair salons, about how smells affect people. “Some people can’t stand the smell of cigarettes … some can’t stand the smell of dog food or cat poo.”

Giorgio believes he cannot get shelter until he gets his money. That isn’t technically true, but steps to getting housed are confusing, and there are more people in need than there are available beds. Just do a Google search “How does a homeless person find housing in Los Angeles,” and dozens of governmental and nonprofit agencies pop up. Giorgio has neither a computer nor a phone, so navigating these services is difficult.

Help is out there

In fact, numerous people who know Giorgio from the Boulevard or have observed him on his daily walks around the neighborhood want to help him and have contacted friends at agencies that work in this arena. The People Concern, a group of professionals and volunteers whose mission it is to end homelessness, has apparently taken up the Giorgio cause and has tried to reach out to him.

Out of respect for client privacy, The People Concern doesn’t discuss specifics of their work, but when I ask Giorgio whether he’s been approached about housing he repeats his mantra, “I need my money! Money first! … When I get my check we can talk about [housing].” He pauses, then continues, “Something happened to me, nobody cares about it. Nobody’s concerned if I have money in my pocket or not. That I have difficulty with my family, with the government for unemployment benefits, all things like that. They don’t care.”

They do care, it turns out, but it isn’t easy to turn sympathy into success. “It takes time to build up the trust of people to keep them going toward housing,” observes The Rev. Betsy Anderson, a lifelong local resident who is an Episcopal priest with a pastoral ministry at Skid Row through the Church of the Nazarene outreach center. “Street people are survivors. They know how to protect their privacy. They don’t want to follow someone else’s rules.”

Rev. Anderson first met Giorgio when they were neighbors; she in a home on Lorraine Boulevard and he on a bus bench at the corner, on Third Street. She worried about him.

Rev. Anderson is one of the people who sought help for Giorgio. She once asked if he wanted to be housed, and he told her that he did, so she called homeless advocate Marilyn Wells, whose six-month column “The NIMBY Diaries” appeared in the Larchmont Chronicle this spring, and who co-founded Stories from the Frontline. Wells had heard about Giorgio from numerous sources and so spread the word.


“Giorgio is very savvy about do-gooders,” Rev. Anderson cautions. “… People who want to help him but don’t have the resources to help.”

Most Angelenos see evidence of our city’s failure on homelessness every day: adults cocooned in blankets in front of pandemic-closed stores or standing with cardboard signs asking for help. We see tent cities in alleys, in front of abandoned warehouses, clustered at the ends of our blocks. The problem seems unsolvable and too often we just walk by. There’s something about Giorgio, however, with his knit beanie and flushed cheeks, with his endless opinions and (mostly) friendly demeanor, that calls to people.

While speaking with Giorgio one day, a steady stream of passersby helped him in little ways. “Do you want coffee?” one man asked on his way into Peet’s. “Yes! With cream and extra sugar!” Giorgio answered. “Do you want this breakfast taco?” someone else asks. “Thank you, I’ll take it!”

The shopping cart

“I gotta change shopping carts,” Giorgio announces one morning. “It’s broken. I cannot put a lot of things in there.” The cart appears to be held together with bungee cords, and the frame is bent. A few weeks prior, an out-of-control car careened across Beverly Boulevard onto the sidewalk and smacked into his cart, spilling books, papers, clothing, blankets and cigarettes everywhere and breaking his only piece of property. Giorgio recounts, “It was about 1:30 [in the morning].” He lost quite a few of his possessions in the crash, but he was alright. “If I hadn’t stood up from the bench [where he sleeps], he would have hit me. He’s lucky, too. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know who it was. Man, woman, someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” Giorgio wondered if the driver would have been hurt if the car hadn’t hit the cart and instead bounced into oncoming traffic. “Nothing happened to him when he hit the shopping cart.”

That leaves Giorgio with a dilemma, finding another shopping cart. He won’t just take one from Pavilion’s. “Sometimes you find a shopping cart in an alley,” he explains. “Last time I gave $10 to a homeless guy under a bridge. He had about two or three. One was empty. I said, ‘I’ll give you $10 or the shopping cart’ and he said ‘yes.’” This was two years ago, when he first got his current, now broken, cart. “Believe me, it’s a good deal for a shopping cart.”

Giorgio’s friends

Giorgio often talks about people he meets on the Boulevard as his friends. This time, however, he mentions friends from his pre-homeless life. “One who passed away, Daniel, Irish, from Boston, Massachusetts. He read the Bible all the time. He always carried the Bible with him. He’s a sober alcoholic. I met him in a coffee shop a long time ago.” He continues: “Keith. I haven’t seen him for a long time. I lost his phone number. He had an apartment in Hollywood. He was in the music business. Rock ‘n’ roll. Met him at the meeting.”

It turns out that Giorgio made friends in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that met in coffee shops in Santa Monica, Culver City and West Los Angeles, although he only admits to having done some drugs, not alcohol. “Sometimes when you’re young, you do a little marijuana. Addiction is addiction.” Either way, he’s sober now, so the program’s benefits lasted, even if his friends have disappeared. As has his ex-wife.

Giorgio met Maria at a bus stop in Highland Park, near where he lived at the time. “She’s from Mexico. Different from women in California,” he says by way of description. They married and had two sons, Hector and Cesar.
In the early days of their marriage, when firstborn Hector was a toddler, Giorgio had another coffee shop experience. “I met a woman in Beverly Hills and, believe it or not, I had the opportunity to be with the woman and get really well financially. She had a big house and drove a Rolls Royce.” He was having breakfast and she was seated alone at another table. They started talking. “The next time, I’m sitting at a table and she came in the door and sat with me. She offered me a lot of things, and I refused. I was very young, 20 years old.”

The nameless woman told him he would have free rent, a salary, and a car. He would be the housekeeper and cook.

The implication was that he would be more.

“I had other plans,” Giorgio explains. “I was married. And a son who was two years old. If I was single, I would have taken the offer, but I was fresh married. The offer was pretty good, but I didn’t want to cheat on my wife. I try to be honest.”

Almost as a coda to his story, Giorgio adds, “My father told me you cannot be honest in this life 100 percent. There’s a price to pay, even if you want to be.”

He’s vague about their life together or why the marriage ended. ”I am divorced, but I don’t wanna talk about it. Nice person, but everybody’s got problems.” He adds, “All women get attached to a man in some way,” he says. “They use a man somehow.”

Giorgio thinks his ex-wife is still in Los Angeles. He called her when he was looking for his sons, but she didn’t pick up, and there’s no way she can call him back. He wishes her phone message would include a time when she’d be reachable.

The sons

Giorgio’s 34-year-old son Hector visited him “before the masks.” Giorgio continues, “we had a conversation for about half an hour. He said ‘OK, I’ll see you next week!’ It never happened.” Giorgio has repeatedly called him, but Hector never answers. It’s clear this both perplexes and pains Giorgio. “I don’t know why he doesn’t pick up the phone. Why he doesn’t come visit me.” He knows little about his son’s life except that he works various construction jobs.

His 32-year-old son Cesar “…had problems with drugs. The other one is more responsible.” Cesar is in jail, or at least was the last time Giorgio heard any news. “I don’t know if he’s released by the courts,” Giorgio muses. “Maybe he can go back to school and take some kind of vocational training.” Giorgio wants to find out Cesar’s status, but “I have no way to reach him. I’m the father and I want to know where he is. This cannot be done over the phone. It’s not pizza delivery!”

Memories of Italy

Giorgio does occasionally talk with his two remaining siblings in Italy. He happily shares details about their lives and children, obviously proud of them both. His brother, Julio, is 70 years old now and owns property in a small country village near Bologna, where there’s “good food and the best restaurants! Lots of ice cream. Red wine.” Julio has two daughters; one is a child psychologist; Giorgio forgets what the other one does. His sister, Bianca, lives in Rimini, about 80 miles from Julio’s village. She has a daughter and two sons. One son is a welder, and the other is a machine operator who cuts marble. “Marble is a big business,” Giorgio says, obviously impressed. He lists places where marble is regularly installed. “Restaurants, hotels, houses. Big Business!” He describes a five-bedroom condominium that a deceased brother once owned in the Roman hills and that had marble floors throughout. “Floors in the living room, dining room, bathrooms. The kitchen had tile, green marble. Cool, but put down rugs. In summer, you can sleep on it. It’s fresh!”

Giorgio stayed in that Roman condo once, and it’s obviously a cherished memory, from back when he still lived in Italy and worked and was surrounded by family and enjoyed traveling around Europe. “Paris is beautiful. Europe is beautiful. Every country has its own beauty,” he reflects. “Even here is beautiful. North Dakota, Utah, Montana is nice. Idaho is beautiful. Tennessee, Connecticut. Beautiful there. Paradise.”

Giorgio hasn’t visited any of those states. He learned about the grandeur of our country by looking at pictures.

A moment later, someone walks up and tucks a wad of cash in Giorgio’s cart.

A neighbor who can see Giorgio’s bus bench from her home and wishes to remain anonymous describes him as an angel who has been “…blessed with the God-given strength to live.” She knows he walks miles and miles each day because she has observed him as far away as Fairfax and Sunset. In the wee hours, she takes comfort when “I hear his grumbling voice coming in through the window … he is bedding himself down to sleep behind his cart; his only refuge.”

Giorgio turns 57 on October 18. Perhaps his next turn around the sun will find him ensconced in a warm room with a door.

The Larchmont Chronicle introduced Giorgio in our February 2021 issue.



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Category: People

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