Has anyone ever adopted a homeless person?

The woman in white

Gloria got it into her head to teach me to sing. Summertime, and the livin 'is easyshe trills, soundproof, but with a thin voice. She used to be an opera singer, sang at the Met, but that was before her husband choked her so that her larynx was crushed.

Gloria wants to thank you with the singing lessons for letting her live in my garage. My old, dirty, windowless, draughty garage, through whose roof the rain patters during a thunderstorm. Her real name is not Gloria. If I were to give her real first name, she would be easy to identify using the internet. She allowed me to write about her with her real name, but I think I have to protect her from herself.

I agree: So hush, little baby, don’t you cry.

Most read this week:

Summer 2016, Malibu. Whenever the sun dips into the sea, Gloria appears. Her white mini-van, Toyota Sienna, a few dents, but otherwise in perfect condition, then parks exactly where I am walking my dog, and I am amazed and annoyed that she is standing there, in the no-parking zone. She never gets out, she always sits at the wheel, lost in the sunset, her face stretched out into the sun through the open car window. I think she's a neighbor who goes to the seaside after work to be alone for a moment.

After a few weeks we start greeting each other, waving, "Hello, how are you?"

One day she is standing in front of the car on the cliff. “Are those sharks ?!” she exclaims, pointing to a swarm of shiny gray fins plowing through the water. "Dolphins!" I call back. She wears white summer jeans, her blonde curls tied back loosely, her bare feet in white sandals. I remember the day so well because it is the last day I see her in good shape. From that day on, things go downhill. The day she sees sharks.

More and more often I find her crying in the car, her eyes red and puffy. "What's going on?" - "I'm fine!" The shelf in her car fills with empty Starbucks cups and crumpled images of saints. Because I never see her here at night, I slowly realize that this van with the handicapped badge is her home. She is homeless, one of half a dozen constantly changing characters who park their car around the corner from me in the evenings next to the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Everyone in Los Angeles knows the half-rusted wrecks. Often women sit in it, mostly older ones, who cannot pay rent from their measly pensions. I estimate Gloria to be in her sixties. If at some point the car should stop working, their next stop would be a bed on the concrete under the next bridge.

One morning her mini-van is parked upside down on the slope, her nose sticking out into the traffic. She, slumped at the wheel, looks like she hasn't slept all night. She stammered and was so confused that she couldn't remember her last name. The battery is dead, as is yours and your car.

I'll call the breakdown service. But first I'll squeeze into your car, I'll try to start the engine. Behind the darkened windows it is filled to the ceiling with old T-shirts and leftover food. It stinks of urine and old fish. "Where do you sleep?" I assumed she had at least one mattress in her van. She points to the driver's seat, which she has pulled as far as it will go: "Here." - "But you can't even lie down there." Her legs are swollen twice as wide and have turned blue.

She shows the mechanic her driver's license: she is 78 years old. 78, and she lives on the street! Your car is wheelchair accessible, with an automatic lifting platform. Until a few years ago, she was also sitting in a wheelchair, the result of a broken back, again the result of her bipolar ex-husband freaking out, who threw her down the stairs in a fit of jealousy in front of her children. "But I have put together all of my will to learn to walk again."

So she has children? Yes, two, but they don't help. I get queasy. There have just been three deaths in our neighborhood because a pensioner drove his car into the oncoming traffic. If a senior citizen can't spell her last name, she probably shouldn't be steering her car onto the Los Angeles freeways. "Take a rest first," I hear myself say and drive her van into my garage.

While Gloria sleeps in the garage, I dial the homeless assistance hotline. The answering machine is rumbling, nobody calls back. I read in the local newspaper that a "task force" had recently been set up with half a million dollars in donations. You will probably find help there. I now have a grandma in my garage, a lovely senior citizen, not just any old woman! Over a bowl of broccoli soup, she spreads out puzzle pieces from her life in the afternoon: she comes from Arizona, where she was a beauty queen, later a dancer, singer, yoga teacher, manager of a bed & breakfast, she says. She worked all her life, now she's getting a pension of $ 875 a month, too much to die, too little to live on.

Well, she says, maybe I should have married Elvis after all. Elvis?

She pulls black and white photos out of her briefcase: Gloria, sixty years younger. A classic blonde, blue-eyed beauty. So, that's exactly what she looked like when she met Elvis.

She freed herself from her family by marrying the first attractive guy. He worked in Hollywood at the William Morris Agency in the mailroom. Colonel Parker, manager of Elvis Presley, noticed the young fellow and sent him to Elvis, who was bored alone in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The man took Gloria to see Elvis, it must have been around 1956, and that was when it happened to Elvis. "You did a stroke of luck with this girl," Elvis said to him. "I'd like to have a girl just like her."

When she goes to sleep, I do some research. I think the Elvis story is homeless - but everything seems to be right. I find an old interview with her ex-husband in which he says: “Every girl Elvis had a relationship with afterwards looked similar to Gloria. Priscilla was cut out of her face, as was Ginger Alden, his last lover. Gloria was his type. "

To this day you can see that it was once beautiful. The high cheekbones, the laughter, the blond curls.

I don't know if she would have been happier with Elvis than with husband numbers one, two, three, and four, but I'm sure that for the past five and a half years she wouldn't have used a plastic bucket as a toilet in the local library parking lot at night have to. So she parked her mini van next to other homeless people, crack addicts and violent people and decided that she couldn't possibly stay in a wheelchair. "Too vulnerable," she says. Once another homeless man crawled into the van after her. She was robbed twice.

I get friends together and hire a professional cleaner. The next day we fish out of her car: nine dog beds, twelve blankets from junk shops, dozens of coffee mugs, half-full tuna cans, moldy bananas, dirty underpants, toilet seat guards, bags, books, letters, juice bottles, thousands of crumpled pages of notes and two knee-high Snoopys, the Sing Laura Branigan's »Glo-riii-aaa« at the push of a button. After that, she at least has room to stretch out.

It was never before I realized that homeless people can have too much: too many false eyelashes, half-full bottles of nail polish in trendy colors, shabby Chanel handbags that the wealthy housewives of Malibu have thrown into the donation box. What is missing: help, affection, an apartment.

The dog beds are not for dogs, by the way, Gloria doesn't have any. She has perfected the art of making yourself invisible. During the long nights in the parking lot, Gloria covered herself up so skillfully with the upturned beds that someone shining a lamp into the car could not see a face.

On the pieces of paper, yellow, lined, she notes scraps of her life. The blue-painted beach house on the Pacific where she lived. The antique, fire-red Mercedes convertibles she collected in her three-million-dollar mansion in Beverly Hills. The time in India when she learned to meditate in an ashram. She dreams that the money from her memoir could be enough for a villa in Malibu.

After ten days, I notice for the first time that I never see her in my bathroom with a toothbrush. "Tell me, don't you have a toothbrush?" Yes, somewhere in the van. We now only call the white van "the black hole". It's unbelievable what disappears in there. So she hasn't brushed her teeth for weeks but is too proud to say something.

If I ask her what she needs, she waves it away. I buy her diaper liners for seniors, the next time I shop together I catch her with baby diapers, later with puppy pads, which of course is useless for an adult bum.

Gloria quickly gets used to my cooking skills. Her favorite dishes are grilled salmon and prawns. Fine food. In the supermarket she wants coconut shrimp for twelve dollars a pound. Your smile would be worth twice as much to me.

Sometimes she shows me the clothes she pulled out of the junk chest in cheap stores. Her favorite outfit is a wine-red, tight-fitting cocktail dress with a plunging neckline. "Well," I joke, "if you stand on the street like that, you'll find someone who'll take you along."

Should I let them move in? Right? So not just sharing my apartment and bathroom with her during the day, but also at night? Set up a bed for her so that when she has to get up five times at night, she can finally throw away that disgusting plastic bucket that she pees in in her van? Would she ever move out again? She's scared of my dog ​​and says she can't get to the bathroom fast enough, so she wants to stay in her beloved van, that makes the decision for me.

But I make other decisions. Decisions about the life of a complete stranger that actually only relatives make. I'm looking for doctors who will accept their Medicaid cards, apply for food stamps. Even if we're just going to see the doctor, Gloria insists on bringing a suitcase with us, at least two alternative outfits on hangers, and some incontinence pads that she balances on her hands like treasures. A doctor diagnoses a poorly healed hip fracture, lesions in the spine, dementia.

The third time she loses her checkbook, I take her checks and mail with me. I am a guardian that no one has appointed. Finally the social worker calls back from the homeless service. She is nice but has no idea. She also looks after 161 homeless people with just one colleague. Less the time the bureaucracy eats up, that makes ten minutes per customer per week. Gloria alone is a part-time job.

The homeless rate is rising steeply. There are 88,000 in Los Angeles alone. A third are women. Many homeless helpers mainly take care of the young people willing to work who, with a little support, can turn the corner into a middle-class life. Women like Gloria fall through the cracks: too weak to stand in line for hours for food vouchers; too traumatized to venture into one of the homeless shelters where rape, theft and violence are everyday occurrences - and even if she wanted to: there are four times as many homeless people as beds; too shy to ask for anything. And too proud. She indignantly rejects my suggestion to set up a donation account for her. She thinks no one could tell that she has no home as long as she dyes her gray curls blonde and drapes her T-shirts on hangers in the van without creases.

Instead of writing my articles, I spend days researching for them: How do I erase the $ 900 parking tickets Gloria has amassed? Where can I get an x-ray of your broken hip? I call aid organizations, talk to countless nice people, and they all send me on to another aid organization, where I start all over again. If a journalist with research experience and internet connection can't unravel this jumble of bureaucracy, how can a 78-year-old who has never used a computer manage?

“Don't worry like that,” she says. "Clarity will come."

One of the highlights of our friendship is our shared passion for music. I'll take them to the preview of La La Land, the musical with Emma Stone. “I'm on a date with Miss Arizona!” I proudly announce, just a little embarrassed that she is hanging on my arm in her worn slippers. She shines through the entire film, tears of bliss in her eyes.

I love her, but she pushes me to my limits. If she held her freshly soaked leggings under my nose in the morning, before breakfast, I could throw up. On the worst of days, she asks me to scrape away her diarrhea. "Huhu, I made a booboo!" She crows like a three-year-old. I've never physically injured anyone in my life, but I could strangle Gloria. If I spent another day cleaning up her van and garage, and two days later she announced that she had "worked all night," it means she was pulling the trash out of the bin again. I suddenly understand how carers can get rude in a retirement home.

But there is no one else who can scratch away the diarrhea. On good days she dances and sings on my balcony, echoing a dance routine she once perfected on Broadway. On bad days she whimpers in pain and does not come out of the van. The back, the legs, the joints, the hips. She doesn't want painkillers, allegedly she can't take them.

I wasn't there for my own grandmother, my favorite grandmother, when she needed me in the last two years of her life. I moderated a weekly cultural program in Cologne, 500 kilometers away from her, and on the weekends I couldn't make it to her in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps. Gloria reminds me of my grandma, with her chubby cheeks and how she gently pinches my cheek. With every twist, I feel guilty for abandoning my grandma.

I never saw my grandma naked. Now I let a complete stranger take a hot bath and help her wash. I pull down her underpants so the doctor can put a syringe into her spinal cord. I caress her bare legs soothingly while she lies in the magnetic resonance tube. I know more intimate details from her life than from my mother's life.

The social worker swipes past twice, asks Gloria questions and disappears again. "I need help!" I say on the answering machine. What about the food stamps? She rarely calls back. Again and again she lures me on the wrong track because she doesn't know any better herself.

I realize that there are multiple personalities in this tiny person. The charming, funny Gloria, who makes me laugh with her anecdotes. The opera fan - she comes to life as soon as I do La Traviata untwist. The spiritual Gloria who, like me, has been in India for a long time, loves yoga and meditation and constantly recites her mantras. The street glamor who, whoosh, drops her pants in front of me to pee in her plastic bucket, faster than I can turn my head away. The diva who was used to chasing servants around and gets annoyed when I don't carefully iron her favorite blouse.

Wrinkles are their enemy. Everything has to be spotless. She definitely doesn't want to look like a homeless person and insists on wearing the ski jacket that my friend gave her, even on hot summer days. It is her only coat without stains. I don't have the courage to tell her that she can be recognized as a homeless person from afar when she shuffles along in the blazing sun in slippers and a ski jacket. Proper shoes hurt her.

Most recently, she lived in a rent-protected apartment in Santa Monica, third floor, ocean view for 18 years. The new owner wanted to renovate the apartment and then increase the rent ten times. I believe she was thrown out of her home under threat of violence. But I also believe that a professional housekeeper had to be hired to clean the apartment.

From tuna cans to free advertising papers, she collects everything that isn't nailed down.No matter how hard I try to make her understand that I only rent half of the garage and that her dirty underwear and half-full cups don't belong in the neighbour's half, at least once a week I have to go for the major cleaning and all that stinks and is dirty and useless, throw it in the garbage can (from which she then fishes it out again at night). Like many people who live on the street, she is afraid of letting go of anything.

Gloria is nocturnal. The neighbors see them rummaging through the garbage cans at night. One expresses his displeasure by scratching the driver's side of my car with the key. The neighbor across the street boasts that she discovered another homeless man's hiding place and threw away his belongings, including the mattress. "I burned them!" She shouts triumphantly. "But that was probably all the man had to live with!" I reply, aghast. Since then we have only greeted each other, but no longer talk.

I find Gloria's son's number in her notes and call him - stunned that he lives only twenty minutes away. Can't he please take care of his mother? After two phone calls I realize: he can't. He just lost his job and is only interested in whether he can have her car.

What about the daughter? Please don't call your daughter, Gloria begs, she'll only make things worse.

For her 79th birthday in November, Gloria gets soft boots in which her aching feet are well padded. We celebrate in a restaurant by the sea. She, who has not touched alcohol for decades for spiritual reasons, treats herself to a glass of bubbly and giggles like a young girl.

The brother, himself in his seventies and retired in Arizona, confirms: Yes, the mother died early of cancer and the stepfather beat all three children when they were drunk, with the flat of their hands if they were lucky, otherwise with a belt, broomstick, and chairs . "It hit Gloria the worst: he beat everyone, but he also raped her."

Gloria saved his life, he says. The older sister ran away with him before the father could beat her to the hospital or to the grave. This is typical, says the social worker: eighty to ninety percent of the homeless experienced violence and abuse in their childhood, practically all of the women.

Gloria often can't remember a word within ten minutes of a conversation. This is the Gloria who keeps losing her keys and her driver's license; the Gloria who wakes up from nightmares and keeps me busy all night long because she fears her ex-husband or henchmen hired by him might lie in wait for her.

I have a woman with dementia in my garage and no one to help me. After two months my collar bursts: I send a long, angry cry for help to the head of the homeless service, with copies to the mayor, the city, the social workers, some VIPs and the Hilton heir, who made half a million for the homeless help .

The homeless help finally sends a psychologist over, the first step towards acceptance into the "system". I will never forget this interview in my life. A young, blonde woman named Nora struts into our living room on high heels and in short denim shorts, looks at Gloria briefly before sinking her eyes back into the display of her smartphone. When I question her, it turns out that she is studying psychology but has not yet graduated. She is the intern - who is now being let loose on a fragile woman. She asks me to leave the room, but Gloria clings to my arm. This is how I witness a psychology student carving up a life.

I have long known the low points of Gloria's biography: I know that just at the mention of her stepfather or her number three ex-husband, she breaks into a sweat, shivers and can barely speak.

But now the young thing is investigating, insists on dates, times, evidence - as if we were at a court hearing and not a psychological evaluation, which is about analyzing their need for help. When was that exactly, the rapes? "From an early age," whimpers Gloria.

The hardest of all for traumatized people is to remember specific dates. Such merciless demands often rekindle trauma. Even when Gloria is already hanging on the sofa, exhausted and sobbing "I can't anymore", when I have already intervened several times - "Is that really necessary?" - the student continues as carefree and without empathy, as if she were questioning a used car dealer the number of previous owners of a car. So Gloria recounts tearfully how her husband hit her on the head with the barrel of a pistol, how her daughter mopped up the blood. Then the student happily: "And how was the family dynamic at home?"

I hug Gloria like I could be a tank that ricochets off this stupid hail of questions. Gloria talks about her hysterectomy. Then the student: "Are you pregnant?" She asks a 78-year-old woman without a uterus whether she is pregnant.

"We have to work through these questions," she urges. Then I urge her out of the house. When I complained to the organization about the performance, I was kindly informed that I had to be happy that I had an interview at all.

Does a person lose their human dignity when they lose their home? Does a broken woman have to be broken again and again? At night I lie crying on the sofa. I cry because I'm sorry for Gloria. Because I'm not doing enough for them. Because she has no one to look after her. Because those damn sacks ruined their lives. Because I don't know what to do next.

Gloria now feels at home with me, expecting her coffee at 8:30 in the morning, black, including the far too sweet sweetener with a crème-brûlée taste.

After three months I can no longer. Finally, the social worker, who now puzzles me every day, gets Gloria a voucher for a motel in Germany. Gloria doesn't want to go there, she's scared. Because we are of the opinion that Gloria can no longer look after herself, the social worker organizes a place in a nursing home in Pasadena instead. She'd rather kill herself than languish in some home so far from the sea, cries Gloria. I can understand that, but what Gloria wants doesn't exist, at least not in its price range: a house by the sea.

"You'll see!" She cries, confident of victory, looking up at the sky. "The birds help me." She speaks to the crows, the ravens, the seagulls. When they croak back, she hears a sign from God.

Then the neighbor, a cosmetic surgeon on the way to the morning shift, opens the garage door at 3:30 in the morning while she is crouching over her poop bin. And in a fit of rage threatens to tell the landlord about me. Gloria and I have our first argument. "I can't lose my apartment because of you!" I shout. "I'll go then!" She yells. Because the van won't start, she sets off with a trolley, down the street.

I call the social worker who actually comes by and picks up Gloria from the street. So homeless shelter. From the outside it looks tip top, in a prime location in Santa Monica, cinema, painting lessons, modern art on the walls, newly renovated with a million dollars from private donations. A showcase project, the mayor opened it personally. But Gloria smuggles me into the floor where the homeless live: mixed men and women, without proper room dividers, not even a curtain, everyone can watch her change. At night, 85 people moan, snore, scream in the same room. A man yells that he's going to kill everyone. This is no place for a severely traumatized woman. But it's the best there is in Los Angeles.

Again and again she büxts, twice she stands crying with suitcases at my door and wants to move back into her van. Every time I cook her salmon and drive her back to the home with a bad conscience. I visit her every week and find out what she's done again. Once she throws a glass bottle at a supervisor, which misses the man and smashes it against the wall. "Normally we would throw her out," says the social worker, "but Gloria ..." Gloria draws the child card, smokes her heart with a charming smile.

Then, in fact: after six months in the home, the social workers push through an application. Because of her age, her frailty and many years of homelessness, she is paid for social housing.

And not just any: Because no normal person can pay the rents in the safe residential areas of Los Angeles, building contractors now have to provide a small part of the apartments very cheaply for large projects. And if they have to take in homeless people, they'd rather take the petite blonde rather than the tall black guy with the crack problem, whispers the social worker behind closed doors.

Gloria gets the worst apartment in the best neighborhood: a tiny studio in Venice, one block from the ocean. Designer swings swing in the reception lobby, the kitchen counter is made of marble, and the bathroom is more luxurious than mine. I can hardly believe their luck. She complains that she wanted to go to Malibu.

The social workers promise to take care of everything. But when I visit Gloria for the first time five days after she moved in, she was sitting in front of an empty refrigerator. 17 huge Ikea boxes block the way to the sink. Her brother travels from Arizona for five nights to help her settle in, but endures the encounter so badly that he gets back in the car after the second night. Nobody seems to notice that a 79-year-old can't assemble Ikea dressers or walk half a mile to the nearest supermarket. For the past few days she has been feeding on granola bars and energy drinks that her brother left behind.

My voluntary adoption is not going to end anytime soon. This is how it is when a person has nothing in old age: no money, no person, no safety net.

But then I go with Gloria in the elevator to the roof terrace on the 11th floor. We see the sun submerge in the sea and it shines. “Ha!” She cheers. "I told you everything would be fine."

Summertime ... I agree. And she remembered: ... and the livin 'is easy.

Illustration: Studio Likeness