Friday, June 29, 2012

Houseless in Venice - The Gonzalez Family

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


  1. How in the world did she not manage to get any bit of the proceeds from the sale of that home? She certainly has a right to some of it. Crazy.

  2. You are wonderful C.J. Gronner, You are the Venice spirit. I'm heart broken to read their story. I'll make a point out of being kind when I pass by them and bring some food and water a.s.o. Thanks Janne

  3. Thank you for sharing their story. I do wonder what their situation is and was horrified when I saw that their house was gone. But I have always been too timid to ask. Hopefully I won't be too timid to help in ways that I'm able.

  4. Great post, CJ. Going to go over there and see if I can help today.

    Poses an interesting question: who makes the Venice community stronger: a Google campus or a 3 generation family?

  5. Hey Carol - thanks for sharing this story. I too have appreciated the remaining homes on the street that are reminders of an earlier time. And have always felt that they belonged. This is very sad and it appears as though this family doesn't have the resources to get things straightened out. If as you say, it is even still possible. I will pass the story along and if I come across anyone that can offer sound legal advice, I will connect with you. In the meantime, I will make sure to stop and say hello and offer a helping hand.... Kelly

  6. i don't understand how she could raise 10 kids in a house and then be homeless. where are the 9 other kids (besides the swindler)? what were the family members doing for work before the swindle?

    to me it sounds more like very understandable crushed spirit keeps her on the street more than a real logistics problem.

  7. Not that it changes anything, but what did this family do for money when they had their home? It seems to me that if this brother sold it for $1.3 (basically the land) someone should have suggested this to the family a long time ago. I know it's some people's dream to live in their homes their whole lives but when the house is falling down around you and you have no money, you cash out, move to something you can buy outright, use the rest of the money to get the kids the education or training to get jobs and move forward. I know no one wants to do that, but sometimes we must do what we must. All of this is water under the bridge, but perhaps the family will take some advice from people who can help. Perhaps the advice wasn't there before and hopefully it is now. Perhaps their minds were not open to it before and hopefully they are now. It is a tragic situation on every level.

  8. What a waste. Hopefully the Gonzalez family will wake up and realize it's time to let it go and move on as hard it it my seem, to the next phaze of their lives. The house is gone and it's never comming back. Even Ty Pennington who lives in Venice had no interest in the plite of the Gonzalez family. Where is Ty Pennington when you really need him.

  9. I get it...but part of me doesn't.

    Brother got the loot, and you and your family got the boot.

    Yes, agreed that horrible...

    But now this is our community's problem? Just like Vagrants/Homeless/Transients...

    I work 50+ hours per week to live in Venice. Paid for college myself and am not a user of any sorts. Where's my medal or help? Oh yeah, I don't expect any.

  10. These people need help. Where are all those social service and legal aid people who march around Venice waving their arms. The story really doesn't add up. They were swindled out of their fair share of the proceeds.This family is sufferig from PTSD as a result of the ousting and bulldosing of their home. This wouldn't have happened to the whity family.

  11. Hey Anonymous who works fifty hours a week. Your a dick head!

  12. While I appreciate the intentions of this post, I believe that the situation is being viewed through a lens that isn't relevant to the Gonzalez family. Before they faced their present situation of homelessness, they were terrible neighbors. The old woman of the family—possibly Adele, though she looked older than 64, but hard living and mental illness will do that to you—sat on her stoop and screamed at people who parked in front of her house or pulled into her driveway to turn around. She was (perhaps understandably) furious at the gentrification and reacted by screaming at people. It was actually kind of scary. It seemed clear to me that she was troubled and/or possibly mentally ill. From this story and from simple observation, she is obviously service-resistant and alienating those around her, from passersby to the Baptist church. Which is part of the problem—often those having the toughest time in society are the least likable. However, to paint this situation as someone who's been victimized from the outside and who's willing to accept an outside helping hand seems to me to be an agenda-driven rosy-glassed piece of mythology.

  13. Hey man, great story. A fantastic read and I loved your motivation to share this story with anyone who would read it. My wife and I moved away from the area for a few years(back east in NYC) but we check in with YoVenice daily. It's good to spread some empathy. Thank you

  14. Hey "Move that bus",
    I suggest that you move out of Venice.
    This isn't, and hopefully will never be, the uptight, narrow minded town that you seem to want it to be.
    How about some compassion for a family that you do not personally know. All your knowledge is hearsay and your assumptions are making you sound like an ass. What a waste, that you're polluting our town. PS. I hope you get to meet Ty Pennington soon.

    Hey "Anonymous - "June29, 2012 5:12 PM". Yeah, you are a dick head. You should move out too.