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Kent Willard Is Off the Street, Finding Hope

Sober for three weeks, Kent Willard is now at L.A. Family Housing.

This story is part five of a series:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

 

He is sober, healthier than he’s been in a long while, and off the streets.

With the aid of Patch in tandem with [LAFH], now has his own room in the LAFH's Trudy and Norman Louis Valley Shelter in North Hollywood. And he’s 23 days sober.

While being bounced from hospital to hospital over the past several weeks, he’s been on medication that’s helped him to stop drinking, and given him a new resolve to quit for good.

“I think I can do it,” he said. “The [medication] makes it easier. It’s not easy, but it’s easier.”

Unlike the last time I saw him at Alhambra Hospital, when he was heavily medicated in a wheelchair, barely able to speak, today his eyes are clear and his thinking sound. Entirely cognizant of his situation, he's grateful to those who are helping him.

He called me Tuesday afternoon from , owned by his best friend Silvia Guandique. At first I didn’t recognize his voice on the phone, because he sounded so upbeat and normal.

“I don’t want to be a pain,” he said apologetically. “But I was wondering if you could get me that room you mentioned.”

It’s a call I’d been hoping to receive for weeks, but lost hope I ever would.

Weeks ago, when Patch ran its , we heard from LAFH’s Associate Director of Marketing & Communication, Warren Johnson, who had read the stories and pledged the help of his organization. He contacted case manager Eric Montoya, who reserved a bed for Kent at their shelter in North Hollywood.

But Kent disappeared then for the first of many times, and we never got him there.

On Tuesday, as soon as I hung up with Kent, I called and told them Kent was ready to come in. Case Manager Mark Matlock, in conjunction with Montoya, swung into action. Although no beds were available, they cleared out a room under construction for him.

When I went to pick Kent up from Silvia’s store, I wasn’t sure what to expect, or if he’d object to being taken to a shelter. I was disheartened to drive into her parking lot and see two private security cops outside her back door. I asked them if they were here about Kent, and they asked if he was the homeless guy. I said yes. They told me he’d caused a disturbance, and they’d just released him.

“He’s probably in the park somewhere,” one of them said.

Figuring I’d lost him once again, I was surprised to find Kent, perfectly sober and sound, standing in the back door of the florist drinking a cup of coffee. I told the guards that this was the guy.

“Oh, we meant a different homeless guy,” they said. “There’s a lot of them, you know.”

Kent didn’t look homeless. Showered and dressed in clean clothes, he cut a Lincolnesque figure, quite tall when he’s standing, and with an ample beard.

He was glad to see me, and okay with the prospect of going to a shelter, though a little apprehensive. His main concern was some laundry he wanted cleaned, and he felt the need to do it himself, insisting we stop at a laundromat on the way. Worried we might lose the room if we dawdled too long, I suggested I take his laundry home and wash it, as long as he trusted me.

“It’s not a question of trust,” he said. In fact, it was a question of pride. Later he told me to dump the clothes in the washer without looking at them. “They are really dirty, really bad.”

He also said that, in addition to feeling weak, he was hungry. So on the way to the shelter, we stopped at Taco Bell, which made sense, as it was at a Taco Bell that we first met. We both got burritos, but rather than eat his, Kent held onto the bag of food for later. A man who has been living on the streets for three years now, he knows the value of saving food for the future. Fortunately, where he was heading, he didn’t have to worry.     

When we got to the shelter, which is on Lankershim north of Saticoy, he seemed a little relieved when he saw the nice building, which was constructed in 1983. 

“I have been to a lot of places way worse than this,” he said.

We were directed around to the side, where big iron gates separate the streets from the old 200-room motel the LAFH adapted into their shelter for single inhabitants that adjoins the new building. The families live in a shelter within the main building.

Security guard Jerry Cerda, having been alerted to Kent’s imminent arrival, greeted him warmly and with a smile, which went a long way in easing this transition. Jerry fetched blankets and towels, and led Kent to the room, saying “It’s not much, but it’s better than being outside.”

The room was bare when we got there, just an overhead light and no furniture, but Jerry soon returned with a folding cot and mattress. Each room has its own bathroom with shower, a luxury for those who have gone without one for so long. 

“You just missed dinner,” Jerry said, “but if you’re hungry, we can get you some warm food for later. We will also put out snacks later. ”

Kent looked amazed, as if he might wake up from a happy dream.

He was also given all the necessary bathroom incidentals like toothpaste and soap. We made up his bed, and with the cell-phone that Silvia gave him, he seemed content. His main concern now was to continue to receive the medication he’d been given in the hospital which eased his sobriety.

One of his neighbors, a young African-American man, stepped in the doorway to welcome Kent.

“This is a good place,” he said. “They take care of you here.”

Kent thanked him kindly for stopping in. He was making an effort.

Case Manager Mark Matlock then arrived, and also greeted Kent warmly and with much respect.

“We know who you are and how much you have done for this community,” he said. “Now it’s time for us to give back.”

He couldn’t have said anything better, or more succinctly.

He told Kent about mealtimes and bible-classes, and the freedom afforded each inhabitant. Kent took it all in, asking Mark twice for his name so he’d remember it, and expressing much gentle gratitude for the kindness.

He also explained that the shelter works with the Northeast Valley Health Clinic on the corner, and Kent would be brought there soon to be evaluated, so that he can continue to receive his medication.

It’s a rare example of a community working together. With Patch alerting those in our neighborhoods about Kent’s situation, and with LAFH doing what they do every day of the week — providing an actual escape from the cycle of homelessness — and with the support of so many readers, we’ve succeeded in getting Kent off the streets, and on a road towards potential recovery. Whether he’ll remain on this road remains to be seen, but he’s farther along now than he’s been in years. LAFH serves as a shining beacon of what a community organization can effect during these increasingly dire times.

L.A. Family Housing’s Trudy and Norman Louis Valley Shelter in North Hollywood provides more than the emergency housing so many people require each night. They also provide invaluable assistance in making the transition from the streets. Unlike other shelters that give people an overnight bed but kick them out the next morning, this one is open for business 24 hours a day.

“We don’t just provide a bed or a meal,” said Warren Johnson.  “We get people off the street, and then we work to break the cycle of homelessness. The first challenge is overcoming the stigma of needing help. There’s a lot of people on the street who don’t want to help themselves. But when you get past that, you realize they do want help, like Kent. They’ve just lost hope. But when they realize there is hope, and there are people who want to help, that is when we can make real progress.”   

Last time I met with Kent at the hospital I asked him the main question, which is if he wanted help. At that time, he was unable to answer. “It’s an insidious disease,” he said. “If I could switch a button that would turn it off, I would.”

But now he seemed like a different man, much stronger and with a genuine determination to help himself.

I asked him what made the difference, what made him realize he needed to make a change.

“Katie,” he said, referring to his daughter Katie Willard. “She’s always been there for me. She is such a sweet person, such a loving person. And I am so proud of her. But for the last few years, I haven’t been there for her. I have missed a lot.” 

He was sorry that he missed Katie’s recent LAPD Cadet graduation.

“They had me in a hospital in Hollywood,” he said, “and they wouldn’t let me out. I wanted to be there.”

When I described the graduation, attended as it was by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck  and hundreds of LAPD officers, he smiled.

“I am so proud of her. That is great.”

He was very interested in all the comments people in the community had posted on our Patch stories about him, and I promised I would print them out so he could see all of them. He was astounded that people out of his past – like Craig Brando – and other friends in other cities, learned of his situation because of Patch.

LAFH provides emergency and transitional shelter and supportive services for more than 1,000 homeless adults annually. Since 1983, Valley Shelter has been the largest housing and services program in the San Fernando Valley for homeless adults with 135 transitional beds and 115 emergency beds.

In addition to providing safety and shelter, LAFH offers so much more, having discovered all multitude of needs a person needs to transition away from homelessness. They offer individual case management, employment readiness, placement and retention, permanent housing search and placement, and three nutritious and balanced meals daily in an on-site cafeteria.

They have designated beds and housing referrals for persons with HIV/AIDS, many drug and alcohol recovery programs, referrals to substance abuse treatment facilities, medical and mental health services, hygiene supplies, professional and casual clothing, transportation assistance, life skills training, including money management, and even adult literacy training.

If someone truly wants help, they couldn’t find a better place to come. It’s a place where there is hope. Stay tuned. We’ll let you know wherever this story leads.

 

See these other stories to learn more about L.A. Family Housing:

Donna December 01, 2011 at 04:29 PM
This is such great news. Hats off to everyone involved in helping Kent. There is always hope when the spirit of kindness and compassion is extended to those in need. Anyone could be in this situation under certain chain of events. Let's all give thanks each day we have shelter, food and a job. Each day we have these things is indeed a gift.
Mr. B December 01, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Right on Donna ! Congratulations Kent in your ability to take the first step in the healing process ! This is awesome news ... Thank you Paul for all of your efforts. There is no doubt that your wonderfully written articles, and other contributions have been a catalyst to bringing a community together, which generated a positive outcome ! Of note: This community of folks that maintain an interest even included people as far away as the east coast ! Thank you also to the case managers and the many others who have been involved promoting the well being of Kent ! You are all an inspiration for the soul ! “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” Lao Tzu
Joanna December 01, 2011 at 09:59 PM
This could not be a better update. It warms my heart to know that our community is providing such a gift to Kent. It would be great if you could provide some information on what LAFH might need in terms of donations.
Linda Rubin December 01, 2011 at 10:39 PM
For everyone who wrote before that they wanted to help, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities at LAFH. I have done many stories about this transitional living center which you can search for on Patch. Local synagogue Adat Ari El has been a consistent supporter. Just call Warren at LA Family Housing to find out more.
george December 04, 2011 at 06:04 PM
It's a great service you're doing for our community and beyond, thank you for this. There's a woman who's been living at the intersection of Lankershim and Cahuenga for 2 or 3 years, she keeps her belongings covered up at the gas station nearby. I wonder if someone from your crew would do the same for her, find out who she is, where she's from, her story. Thank you!
Paul Zollo February 15, 2012 at 10:19 PM
I'm happy to report that Kent is still doing well, still living at the LAFH Valley Shelter, and waiting to get into a sober living program. He's been sober for a long time now, and in good health. Anybody who would like to make a donation to him, can send checks directly to him c/o his best friend Silvia Gandique, of Josie's Flowers - Just send to Kent Willard Fund c/o Silvia Gandique, Josie's Flowers, 5041 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. Please make the check out to CASH as Kent does not have a bank account.
Devon O March 14, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Paul, I met Kent on Sunday in Burbank after he was leaving the hospital before being discharged. I took him back to the amazing LAFH on Lankershim that you've described so beautifully. Looks like he fell of the wagon for a couple days there but I've been visiting and were getting him back on track. If anyone wants to help in getting him into a long term rehabilitation facility (ie Passages in Malibu) I think that's what he needs as well as mental health support. PLEASE email me if you are available to help emotionally or financially or if you just have ideas.... Ogden.devon@gmail.com. And Paul thank you for telling his story and for your constant inspiration, it's a joy to know someone like you is out there. Your words are inspiring to say the least and I'd love for us to stay in touch on this and get Kent back to business one day soon...
Linda Rubin March 14, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Passages Malibu is not a place ordinary people should go for rehab. The "cure" is specious at best and the cost is in the tens of thousands if not more. http://www.laweekly.com/2009-01-01/news/june-27-2008/ There are plenty of effective private rehabs to be found locally.

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