This story is part six of a series. See below for links to the previous stories.
A mapmaker’s son, he inherited his father’s perfect sense of direction. Even at his most down and out, Kent Willard always knew where he was.
Tonight he is safe, 45 days sober, and in a room at the .
As previously reported, he was arrested and booked into the Los Angeles County Jail after suffering a seizure and being taken to St. Joseph's. A nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank told us that Kent had been discharged and caused a disturbance which resulted in him being arrested, but Kent said that’s not what happened..
Because he was unconscious, he was accepted into the hospital and given care.
However, because Kent had checked in and out of St. Joseph’s so many times as what they call a “frequent flyer,” the hospital had filed a restraining order against him, according to Kent, and since he was there again, even though brought there unconscious by paramedics, he was in violation of the law.
When he awoke in the hospital in the middle of the night, he said he slowly recognized the unnerving sight of two LAPD officers in his room. They handcuffed him in his hospital bed and brought him to Burbank Jail, where he was booked. From Burbank, as we reported, he was taken to County Jail in Los Angeles.
Getting admitted into County Jail was an ordeal that took several hours, during which time he was kept in a holding cell with many men. After being booked, he was taken to a dorm-like room — a cell with bunks that housed many prisoners in the same space.
“County Jail is a toilet,” he said at the Denny’s in Noho on Lankershim Boulevard, where we met after his release. “They treat you like an animal, so you act like an animal.”
Although he said he never felt in any danger, he did say there were several prisoners in his cell that caused disturbances, and were removed by guards.
“Also, they’ll wake you up at 2 in the morning, and have you stand in the hall for hours as they search through everyone’s stuff for weapons or drugs," Kent said. "It’s terrible. Just hell.”
Because of prior arrests and warrants, Kent was kept in jail for five days, until he was released because of overcrowding. He said the public defender assigned to his case worked out a plea arrangement in which Kent would be admitted to a sober living facility in January, where he could potentially stay for several months to work on his sobriety.
Upon release from jail, Kent made his way on the bus back to L.A. Family Housing, but was told they gave his room away because he had not returned after the first night and they were unaware he was in jail. They offered him what seemed like the best alternative — the location of the Van Nuys bus stop where a shuttle from the Sylmar National Guard Armory picks up homeless people to give them a place to stay overnight in its facility.
Because of a bad car accident in February of 2009, Kent’s in constant pain. Many ribs were broken, as was his knee and shoulder, and he suffered a punctured lung. He had a knee replacement, but because it never properly healed, he needs another operation. In the meantime, the pain was so extreme that he said turned to alcohol to deaden it.
So, walking is very difficult for him, yet he had no choice but to do a lot of walking, and got himself to the Van Nuys shuttle that took him to the armory. There, in a giant space like a big school gymnasium, are hundreds of cots for homeless people to use each night. The armory, however, does not allow anybody into the facility until 6 p.m. It serves dinner, assigns cots, and turns off the lights at 11 p.m.
At 4 a.m. all the people sleeping there are awakened, given a sandwich for breakfast, and told to wait for shuttles to carry them back to Van Nuys and North Hollywood. It’s a system that provides food and shelter, but it’s a trying system to use, simply because it takes so much time and effort each day to get back to the shelter. People start lining up for their shuttle at about 4 p.m., and can wait for an hour or more before they are driven to Sylmar, where they have to wait until 6 p.m. for entry. So just getting to and from the shelter each day can take up most of a person’s day — a day that could be spent seeking other solutions.
Kent spent two nights at the armory before calling me on Thursday, Dec. 15. I called everyone I knew at LAFH, including Case Manager Eric Montoya, who has been a stalwart champion for Kent, as well as their press representative Warren Johnson, who has served as a liaison between Patch and LAFH.
I left messages saying that Kent would be starting in a sober living facility in January, and just needed a room until then.
After about an hour I received a call from the shelter’s director John Horn, who informed me they had no room for Kent that night, but that we could come the following morning to discuss various issues that Horn felt might be problematic. He also said he didn't believe that Kent was set up to enter a sober living facility in January.
I assured him we’d get all the documentation necessary, realizing the predicament homeless people are in. Because of their condition, their credibility is always in question, as is their mental capacity. Although Kent suffers from alcoholism and other maladies, people often wrongly presume his mind is incapacitated. But it isn’t. He’s sharper than most people I know, his long-term and short-term memory are strong, and he has the vast knowledge of a historian about North Hollywood and its environs. His explications of the urban archeology of NoHo is fascinating, replete with a rich knowledge of where things were before new buildings replaced them.
He also related with much detail many of the crimes, big and small, committed in the community over the last few decades. His own business, Willard’s Florist, was held up at gunpoint seven times, he said. Fortunately, nobody was killed, although a female employee was pistol-whipped.
While waiting for me to get him a room at the Valley Shelter, and hopeful I’d be successful, Kent bided his time at the Denny’s restaurant on Lankershim Boulevard. I told him I’d meet him there, and my Patch editor, Craig Clough, also took this opportunity to come and meet this man about whom we’ve run so many stories.
The three of us had dinner together. It was nice to be inside with Kent sharing a meal, after all these long months knowing he’d been living in the park, just a few blocks away. Kent had spaghetti, salad and a cup of coffee as he spoke proudly of his daughter Katie’s recent graduation from the LAPD cadet program, and her plans for the future.
After dinner, I drove him to the Sylmar Armory. I initially got mixed up about which freeways to take, but Kent gave me directions, and he was right.
“I’m a mapmaker’s son,” he explained. “My dad was a mapmaker, and he had a perfect sense of direction. You could put him in a closet, spin him around, and he’d know which direction he was facing. I’m the same way.”
At the Armory, there was a line — though not as long as usual, Kent said — of other homeless men and women waiting to be allowed into the facility. Once admitted, they were checked for weapons or drugs by security guards and assigned a cot for the night.
At L.A. Family Housing we met with Horn and several other workers and discovered that there were potential problems with Kent saying there. I brought up the fact that Kent had his sober living program starting in January and only needed a place for a few weeks, thinking it would help Kent’s case. But Horn began questioning him about it, and Kent told him it was a court-ordered program. Horn said that if Kent wasn’t going to stay with LAFH, they couldn’t offer help, as their help is contingent on a person’s pledge to work toward permanent housing within the LAFH system, and not a temporary plan.
He explained that for LAFH to receive their funding, they are required to provide a successful outcome report on their residents. While getting into a sober living program would be a successful outcome for Kent, he said, it wouldn’t be for the shelter, only a record of a person who left without being permanently situated.
Horn also said it was problematic that Kent needed medication, and that LAFH didn’t have any means by which to get him to a doctor. Although they work with the nearby Valley clinic, the clinic was unable to take him in for reasons still undetermined.
“What would be best for us,” Horn said, “would be for you to take him now to a clinic so that he can get the medicine he needs. Then if you do that, you can bring him back here and we’ll see what to do.”
Unwilling to allow what little we’d gained to slip through our hands, I suggested that we give Kent a chance to settle down in a room, unload all his belongings, and have the peace of mind knowing that he’ll have a bed to sleep in that night. Horn agreed to let Kent have a room, which was the best news we’d heard in a long while.
“But it’s just for the weekend,” he said, “and after that, if you stay here, you need to share a room.”
Kent stoically said OK. I went and fetched all his bags of clothes from my car and we regrouped in his room, with its big bed right in the center. He was given blankets, sheets, towels and toiletries, including a razor and shaving cream. We joked that he wasn’t going to need that, as he is amply bearded.
The next hurdle to clear was getting him to a free clinic that would see him, so that he could get his meds. In North Hollywood, we were told the best place to go was the on Coldwater Canyon, which serves many low-income and needy people. I called and they asked if Kent’s Medi-Cal was active. I wasn’t sure, but he gave me his Social Security number and with that, and his birthday (New Year’s Eve of 1955), they were able to check.
“Yes, Kent Willard. I see it right here. Yes, he can walk in anytime.”
I requested a 3 p.m. appointment, which they gave me, which is when we then arrived. But as seems to be the pattern, nothing was as easy as we had hoped. When we got there, we were informed that although Kent does have Medi-Cal, he wasn’t on their list, and they refused to see him.
I tried, to no avail, to persuade them to reconsider and allow him to get treatment. But we were told that their computer would not allow them to treat Kent. The best they could do was arrange an appointment for him with a doctor on Jan. 4. I told them that would be too long to wait, but they had no other options for us.
Kent, accustomed to having his hopes dashed repeatedly, took it in stride. I drove him back to the shelter, and he said he felt OK without his meds, but said he hoped I would find another clinic. I promised I would.
So far, we have failed to find another clinic that will see him, but we are still searching.
Kent's main concern, besides getting the meds, was to get some money, mostly to buy some Christmas gifts for his daughter, Katie.
“I need about $200,” he said. I promised him I’d put that in the story, with the hope that people in the community who want to help Kent will donate to his Christmas fund. If anyone is so inclined, let us know, and Patch will be happy to collect the funds on his behalf.