The Gonzalez family had lived at 1033 Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice since 1953, when it was still called West Washington Boulevard. Mr. Gonzalez worked hard as a gardener at the Fox Hills Golf Course. He saved up, bought his home in Venice, and owned it outright, free and clear. He and his wife raised 10 kids in that house, which was built in 1904, a year before Abbot Kinney even officially proclaimed the land "Venice".
The kids all went to Venice schools, worked and played in Venice, at a time when no one locked their doors, you talked to your neighbors on the streets, and the whole town would turn up for concerts or Thanksgiving dinners at the Venice Pavilion. They were happy times, and four generations of the Gonzalez family lived in their home. Then Mr. Gonzalez died. Then Mrs. Gonzalez died. Then it all fell apart.
I'd seen the family out in their front yard for years, saying hello as we'd pass by on our way to Lilly's restaurant next door. The house was starting to show the wear and tear of passing years, but I always liked that there was a regular old house on Abbot Kinney, full of lawn art and wind chimes, in stark defiance to all the change and gentrification stuff going on up and down the street. They weren't going anywhere. Then one day the family was camping out in their car. Then under a tarp on the side of the house. Then one day the entire house was gone, razed to the ground, and the people had set up camp on the sidewalk in front of the house. They STILL weren't going anywhere. After seeing this go on for about 6 months or so, I was going by on my way to Joe's (for the excellent Artist & Architect show curated by Tibby Rothman - great!) a few weeks ago, and decided just to ask the woman sitting there what was going on.
Adele Gonzalez lived in her family home on Abbot Kinney since her father moved the family in when she was 8 years old. Now 64, Adele told me her rough story as we sat on the curb in front of her now vacant lot of family memories, where she has slept since the whole nightmare began.
I wanted this to be a story about how The Man came in and forced out a poor family, something I could rage against, and shine light upon another shady housing scandal. This is not that story. Adele has a wayward brother, who after learning some swindling techniques during a prison stay, screwed the rest of his family out of both their family home and any proceeds from it (which online public records show sold for 1.3 million in 2010 to an unknown buyer). As we all well know, there's not a lot you can do to sort out other peoples' family dramas, but what we can do is clear up the hurtful rumors and check ourselves a bit as neighbors and members of the Venice community.
Adele would laugh at me using the word that I so often do regarding Venice - "Community". She doesn't think it exists in Venice any longer, but I think it's more a case of her not BELONGING to the community. Folks waving to each other from table to table at Gjelina, or in line for coffee at Abbot's Habit would certainly argue for the existence of community among Venetians. Dog park people and Kid park people and yoga class goers and the surf line-up and the Skatepark and the Boardwalk, all of us have a sense of place and belonging here after a while. But to hear Adele talk about her family situation, all sense of community for them dried up the minute they were booted from their home.
And booted they were. They were given about 20 minutes to gather their things and get out. A sister had missed a couple of loan payments she had taken out for home repairs (wasted money and effort as the house was bulldozed shortly thereafter), and that created the opening the brother needed to swoop in and sell the thing. It's kind of a murky tale how it all came down, but that's not really the important part of the story. It's how they've been treated after the fact.
Adele is not a fan of Bill Rosendahl or his homeless programs. She is not a fan of Officer Skinner and her colleagues, who they feel harassed by (they were given two tickets in one week for having their things in found grocery carts - considered stolen. How are they supposed to pay these tickets when they're just trying to get money for food?!). She is not a fan of the Baptist minister next door, who told them they couldn't keep their things on the side of the church, as it "might attract more homeless people." Adele doesn't take kindly to being called "homeless" as she sits outside of what was her family's home for over half a century, and added, "God never turns anyone away." Yeah.
So they sit there and refuse to leave. Adele sits there and hears people go by talking about them as if they're not there. They've been laughed at and called awful names, heard stories about how there were crazy hoarders living there, someone got killed in there, they had to condemn it, on and on, and not true and extremely painful to hear when you know, more than almost anybody, every bit of history - HISTORY - of this place we ALL want to live in and love. It's awfully hard to swallow, one can imagine. For all of these nasty comments and slights, there are the occasional folk who come by and offer help or a bottle of water or five bucks to get a sandwich, and of them, Adele says, "They helped me, and God is going to help them. Think about it, one day you might be where I am, so don't judge me or my family. Only God judges."
There's something to be said for yanking up your bootstraps, and making things happen for yourself, even when you've been screwed over, because that can and will happen to everyone. I'm not sure what went wrong with the Gonzalez family internally to get them to where they are - Adele, her two grown sons, and two sisters are all camped together on the sidewalk, even right now as you read. I'm also very well aware of the attitude some have towards "the homeless" based on well-founded fear from bad experiences with some of the Mad Max style, tough customer homeless roaming the beach area, or just small-minded fear based on personal property value stuff. Adele's father taught her to never lie or steal, and as she sees it, her only crime is being poor. Believe me, from sitting and talking with Adele and her family, they do not WANT to be on the street. They do not want to be in the way of your fancy stroller coming down the sidewalk. They do not want to be starving on the sidewalk just down from some of the posher restaurants in town. They need help. They just don't know how to ask for it after living right there in their house for so long.
Shelters take women with young children first. There's a waiting list that older women with grown and troubled sons idle at the bottom of. Adele is tired, and cold every night. Her sons need work, which could vastly help the situation, but it's hard to secure work without an address and not much else but the clothes on your back. Adele has her birth certificate, and the original deed to the house. She doesn't know hardly anything about the laws or real estate issues, but an "Advocate" from the city is "supposed to" come and see Adele to try and help them. She doesn't plan on going anywhere until some of this is straightened out, if it even still can be. They need to be more pro-active, but that's easier said than done when you've slept outside all night, are sore, tired, hungry and have no means to get anywhere.
Adele cried when she watched her childhood home bulldozed in front of her face on Easter weekend, as she watched from the cracked concrete where she now sleeps. She stays put out of defiance, to make a point, to HANG IN THERE. But she can't keep this up. It's cold, uncomfortable, unhealthy, ugly living. I find it admirable, in a FUCK YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME! kind of way, but I also find it heartbreakingly sad. That people would hurt each other so, even from within family. That people would react to them so heartlessly in the aftermath. And also, that they would settle for this kind of life for themselves. They're willing and able to accept help, if anyone in housing or law or that kind of thing can give it. There has to be a solution, and a willingness, from both the family and the community, to DO SOMETHING. I believe that's what we're all here for after all, EACH OTHER.
I'm reminded of a quote from Billie Holiday, that just lays it all out bare ... "You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body's sermon on how to behave."
*House photos from 2005/6 (with SPONTO!) by Jennifer Everhart