Homelessness among older adults has surged to 22 percent in Los Angeles. An honestly shocking number that caught my eye when I was scrolling through the news last week. Piquing my interest as a possible writing topic, I clicked on the L.A. Times link expecting to read about elderly parents forsaken by their relatives, priced out of their homes due to increasing property taxes and other fees, and, of course, addicts and the mentally ill.
However, that’s not the lead paragraphs-long-story of woe the L.A. Times decided to pull people’s heartstrings.
Instead, writer Gale Holland decided the example of elderly homelessness in Los Angeles she wanted to put front and center wasn’t an unfortunate octogenarian who fell through the cracks. The lead person of interest is a transitioning man in his late 60’s who willingly put himself into untold thousands of dollars in credit card debt to undergo surgeries to physically transition him into looking like a woman.
Andrea Colucci’s long, slow slide into homelessness began, as it does for many, with medical bills.
At the age of 67, she had decided to finally transition as a transgender woman. Her insurer balked at paying her surgeon’s bills, so she put them on credit cards.
Then her post-surgery housing plans fell through. A hospital put her out on the sidewalk in a paper gown.
Now 70, Colucci lives in a white van with no license plates, a sagging tire and a broken window. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, “playing the role of a man” was tough, she said, but added that the stigma of homelessness is worse.
I do feel for Colucci’s predicament. He struggled with meth addiction in the past, as well as gender dysphoria, but choosing to take on medical bills for voluntary surgeries — whether it’s from having one’s ears pinned back or gender reassignment — does not cut a very sympathetic figure to represent L.A.’s growing homeless problem among the elderly. Indeed, I quit reading the story after reading those paragraphs and only days later have gone back to read the rest.
That’s where Colucci’s story continues — including a snobbish insistence that while he’ll receive a housing voucher from the city, there isn’t anything for the max $1,200 for rent in his preferred area –before the genuinely heartbreaking story of Larry Wynne and his wife appears.
Larry Wynne quit his job in the restaurant industry after his wife, Tess, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Both are 55.
The couple was evicted last year from the Alexandria Hotel, one of downtown L.A.’s largest providers of subsidized apartments for poor and formerly homeless people.
Larry, who describes himself as bipolar, said the hotel lost his income-verification papers and ignored his attempts to resubmit them. An attorney for the hotel said the Wynnes missed three appointments to resolve the matter.
They were found sleeping side-by-side on a bus bench in Glendale and brought to the Ascencia shelter. The Glendale facility is open to residents only overnight. So by 7:30 one morning last month, the Wynnes were walking hand-in-hand down San Fernando Road to start their rounds as part of the suburban homeless.
“The joke is if I don’t survive this time, the cemetery is close by,” Larry said, pointing to the cross wavering in the fog on a Forest Lawn Memorial Park hilltop.
“The joke.” Unfortunately, his joke is a reality they could very well face and isn’t very amusing. And neither is the Ms. Holland’s burying it under the gratuitous identity politics of Colucci’s story.
Get it together, L.A. Times.