John used to sit on top of his make-shift encampment like he was the King of the Hill, overlooking the famous lights of Hollywood. Within the homeless community, he was literally called, “The Godfather” as if he was Marlon Brando keeping the family protected as depicted in the 1972 movie.
The homeless camp looked more like a staging area for embedded Marines, with its organized tents and separate cooking areas. Perhaps it was. The Godfather and his troops of homeless men were former veterans of past wars.
At almost 60 years old, John looked like the dangerous encounters of war took a toll on his now fragile body. Nearby, sits his wheel chair and crutches. He has a hard time walking. After a brief discussion, however, he explains that his disabled body is not a result of war, but the dangerous conditions living on the streets. While homeless, he was pushed down the side of the 101 Freeway and fractured his spine.
The dozens of homeless persons living on the side of the hill overlooking Hollywood look to John as their leader. They have created a make-shift community, with rules and structure. The Godfather is the Lieutenant of this rag-tag homeless veteran squad.
John is also one of the dozens of homeless persons in Hollywood listed on the 100K Homes Vulnerability Index, the prioritized list of people who are most vulnerable on the streets.
Word in the housed community spread that dozens of John’s community members were squatting in the hills alongside million dollar-view homes and the famed Hollywood Bowl. So law enforcement swept onto the hill and cleared out the encampment, both belongings and people.
To the Godfather, it was like an invading force taking back their land. His domain over a small, albeit valuable, piece of land was no more.
Critics believe that the use of law enforcement to sweep homeless persons away does nothing more than simply push homelessness into other communities. In the action above Hollywood, many like the Godfather merely moved off the hill and back onto the streets of Hollywood.
Many living on the hill, however, were given the option to enter shelter and permanent housing programs. The community sees this as success.
The Godfather, however, chose to stick it out on the streets. No shelter or housing for him.
Outreach workers think he is trying to regroup his rag-tag army of homeless veterans. They think he is waiting for the dust to settle, and then he and his squad will try to retake the hill they called home.
The Godfather’s war still rages on.