Jul 24, 2023, 05:55AM

The Homeless Guy on the Lawn

Don’t give him money! He’ll buy drugs!

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I first noticed the blue Tyvek tent while driving to work. It was tied to a sycamore tree outside our apartment, stretching from the sidewalk to the edge of our lawn. When I returned home, I saw the homeless man. He looked to be in his 30s, white, a bit pudgy. He was asleep, half-in and half-out of the tent. I parked in the rear carport where my neighbor Joseph greeted me.

“Can you believe that prick,” Joseph said. “The balls on that guy.”

“Who,” I asked.

“The homeless guy in front. I called the police but they said there’s nothing they can do unless he threatens us or commits a crime.”

“Did he threaten you?”

“His presence is a threat. His stink is a threat. I pay thousands for rent and this guy wants to squat for free?”

Joseph lived upstairs with his wife, infant daughter and their husky named Luna. He worked for Netflix as a social compliance officer. Though he was much younger than me, we bonded over basketball and the Lakers.

We live on a busy street in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles. Homeless people are common. Usually they stay a few days and then disappear. Tenants enter their units from the back behind a locked gate. There are security gates in front of each door and plenty of motion sensor lights.

That night, there was a text thread from the neighbors discussing the situation. Everyone had a different opinion. Kai, a furniture designer from Orange County, wanted a group of us to approach the man and demand he leave. Wyatt, an NFT broker and digital artist, said we should turn on the sprinklers. Kayla, a makeup designer from San Diego, asked if anyone contacted the landlord. The landlord, who was on the thread, said she’d initiated a trespassing complaint with the city but it might take 30 days. Ricardo, a hairdresser from Mexico, said he brought the man food and water. This prompted an angry text from Joseph:

Don’t give him money! He’ll buy drugs!

He’s just a kid, Ricardo replied.

He’s old enough to be dangerous.

You’re being irrational, Ricardo said.

How do you know he’s not going to start masturbating in front of your window, Joseph wrote.

How do you know I’m not going to start masturbating in front of your window, Ricardo shot back.

That’s when Nguyen intervened. She was the unofficial ambassador of the building.

Leave him alone, she texted.

Nguyen was a child of the Vietnam War. She moved to America at five and grew up in Kansas. She worked as a production manager for a landscape design agency.

There’s no reason to be scared of him, she said. He hasn’t done anything to anybody.

He’s not a problem until he is one, Joseph countered.

You don’t have to give him money, Nguyen said. But how about we give him some compassion? That doesn’t cost anything.

The text thread stopped at that point.

The next morning, I peered through my bedroom window to see the homeless man cleaning his feet in the gutter. He was using the hose from in front of the building. There was a bottle of water and a Dunkin’ Donuts bag beside him. As I was leaving for work, I ran into Eddie who lived above me. He was a coder for Google.

“What’s your take on all this,” he asked.

“Maybe if I had a baby like Joseph, I’d be more concerned. But I’m not worried. How about you?”

“Same. Though my girlfriend’s afraid to walk the dog outside.”

When I returned home from work that afternoon, Nguyen was on the lawn talking to the homeless man. I later asked what she learned.

“His name is Donovan,” she said. “He’s from San Diego. He’s only 21. He had a falling out with his parents and he’s been on the streets since he was 15. I told him he was scaring the neighbors by his presence.”

“What did he say?”

“He was sorry but he had nowhere else to go.”

“Does he seem dangerous to you?”

“He seems tired. And hungry. I gave him $20 for food.”

“Don’t tell Joseph,” I said. She laughed.

The next morning, Donovan was gone. Nguyen was on the lawn cleaning trash where the tent had been. I joined her. I found a few empty water bottles and some pizza cartons. Neither of us said much. There was nothing to be said.


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