LOS ANGELES — Helter Skelter Street is a starkly unforgiving specter lurking amid the thoroughfares of L.A. County predating the human scape, seeking to remand evermore men, women, and children to the hard, virulent streets stripped of shelter, food, and clothing.
Helter Skelter Street is a metaphor of the bourgeoning fraternity of the homeless in the county. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), an agency of the City of Los Angeles, estimates the figure to be 50,000 to 60,000, including children, stumbling onto Helter Skelter Street through social missteps and random misfortune. Other agencies establish the number at closer to 100,000 persons.
The realization that most people are a single paycheck removed from Helter Skelter Street is a stark reminder of how slippery a slope the homeless malady remains.
There are many able and capable souls among the disheveled thongs that ended up there through overpowering circumstances.
I experienced this personally. Through a series of misfortunes that quickly spiraled out of control, I ended up with a street-level view of Helter Skelter Street that changed my perceptions of homelessness forever.
Rising rental rates in areas of the county without rent control forced many families on Helter Skelter Street. Escalating rents competing with other priorities like car notes, automobile insurance, life insurance, utility bills, kids clothing, and food with job salaries lagging behind inflation, devastated family budgets. In many cases, some priorities went ignored.
MY PARTICULAR TROUBLES involved government bullying from the Social Security Administration. The agency contacted me in June 2018 to notify me of an overpayment of retirement benefits – money that I earned over the course of more than 50 years in the job market. Adding to my consternation was the fact that the so-called error was no fault of my own as the SSA determines a retirees’ cumulative award at age 66.
The agency sent a letter informing me of the overpayment amount as it related to nominal social security disability benefits paid over 18 months for a stroke suffered in 2018, and the time period in which it was paid, ordering restitution. Ironically, the SSA routinely makes the same error with thousands of retirees each year. SSA’s justification was, “We incorrectly figure your benefits because of incorrect or incomplete information.”
That excuse was questionable and offered without an itemized appraisal, but that did not matter. SSA’s subjective determination was going to stand. They gave me a choice to make restitution — monthly payment plan or a one-time remittal. The amount of overpayment was for thousands. A one-time payment was impossible, as it would have left me destitute, unable to meet my financial obligations and provide care for my 18-year-old daughter still living at home.
The SSA urged me to make arrangements online. The dilemma was too serious to leave it to an online transaction. I needed a live phone interaction with an SSA account representative. Anyone who has attempted to phone-in to the Social Security Administration knows how virtually impossible it is to reach a live voice, which can take hours. I was determined to speak with someone. Following a marathon three-hour wait on hold on a Monday afternoon in June 2018, a live woman’s voice alas crackled in the receiver.
I informed her I wanted to make financial arrangements for an overpayment at $100 per month. She agreed and after pulling up my file, I assumed updated the information reflecting my request. I should have notated her name. Later in June, I received a second letter from the SSA, which completely dismissed my previous conversation with them. The letter informed me that the Social Security decided to withhold the entire amount of the overpayment over four payment periods. My next payment would not be until November 2018.
The payments were withheld on the third of each month beginning in July through October. I attempted to get the SSA to reverse the action back to their previous agreement but learned from yet another letter I failed to arrangements for monthly payments, ignoring their request. That was a mistake. I had spoken directly to one of their agents in June.
Social Security failed to acknowledge their error and moved ahead with the final action.
That created a financial conundrum for me, and though I managed to pay the $ 1,850-month’s rent; the payments were tardy, but never more than two weeks and compounded by $185 late penalties. Prior to that difficult period, I was only late remitting the rent once in four years.
Despite my excellent payment history, NHG Properties, LLC, the property manager, sought to evict me and my daughter. My wife, suffering from multiple sclerosis, was confined to an acute nursing facility at the time and thus was secure. But, operating a business and my daughter’s plans to enter her freshman year at the University of California at Davis, were in serious jeopardy with a pending eviction, which would wipe out any semblance of stability.
I appealed to Norma Streams, the principal at NHG Properties, who passed the buck to the real estate owner. Two weeks late on the June rent payment, I had the cash in hand and told Streams that it could be delivered to her a day later. She said she was going on vacation the following day, and that the owner “wanted a tenant who could pay the rent on time.” I explained my financial predicament, but she countered with, “The owner would refuse it anyway” because it was too late. I told her I had been a responsible tenant for four years that my record should account for something.
I asked for the property owner’s name and she balked. That’s when I realized Norma Streams was a cold, heartless soul governed by greed, looking to dump my daughter and I onto the unforgiving street, forcing two more to the fraternity of the homeless. There was no good reason to follow through with the eviction, other than to rent the unit to another family which would pay a much higher premium than $1,850 in the rapidly gentrifying city of Inglewood where rent control is non-existent.
A little checking produced the owner’s name — Leonard Green, Jr. I sent both Green and Streams the following letter, hoping it would persuade them to pass on what would serve nothing but cruel and unnecessary punishment. I wasn’t a criminal and didn’t deserve to be punished.