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Desperation Registers at Motel to Homeless

March 08, 1985|DOUG SMITH | Times Staff Writer

He held a plastic glass in one hand and reclined on a soiled couch in the motel lobby.

He seemed to be just passing time. His face was as desolate as his surroundings.

His home was the Fiesta Motel in North Hollywood, a nondescript, dingy place along a strip of bars, auto parts stores and industrial buildings a few blocks north of Sherman Way on Lankershim Boulevard.

The motel has been in the news.

Its owner, Leslie Goldhammer, and his son, Stan, have set aside 20 of its 77 rooms for the homeless. The residents pay with vouchers they collect from a San Fernando Valley organization called Better Valley Services. It reimburses Goldhammer for stays of up to two weeks.

'I'm One of Them'

The money comes from $75,000 in federal grants that became available in late January. In the first month, 286 homeless people, including 114 children, stayed in the motel.

When a reporter dropped by Wednesday night, Goldhammer wasn't in.

Instead, a heavyset man with a red bandanna around his head stood behind the plexiglass window enclosing the manager's desk. The visitor, he said, couldn't talk to residents without Goldhammer's approval.

That's when the man on the couch spoke up.

"I'm one of them," he said.

At first he was suspicious and testy.

"You got ID?" he snapped.

He studied the plastic card then gave it back.

He followed the visitor out into the night.

He pointed to a bar on the corner, surrounded by the two wings of the motel.

"Buy me a drink and I'll tell you everything."

When the offer was refused, he tolerated the cold a little longer.

'This Is Home'

He was handsome. Curly hair, a strong face, a well-trimmed mustache, an athletic build.

"Buy me a drink and I'll tell you everything," he said again. "Let's go up to my room. Did you ever think about writing a story about alcoholics?"

He searched for his key. But the door was ajar.

"This is home," he said. He shut the door behind him.

He took off a thin black jacket. Under it was a white T-shirt with a golden sun and the word "California."

An Army bag stood in the corner. Next to it were a Bible and a blow-dryer.

He reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of vodka. He filled his cup halfway and went into the bathroom for water.

"I know I'm killing myself," he said. "There's a lot of people like me that are basically nice people but can't handle it."

He sat on the corner of the bed. He said he didn't mind having his name in the paper. But he never would say what his name was.

"I'm 30," he said. "I've been drinking since I was about 12. My wife is a recovering alcoholic. She's been there 14 years."

He tried to concentrate on questions about the motel.

"From what I get, this place is like a Peyton Place," he said. "There's a lot of poor people here. There are a lot of people out here that are professional, know how to use the system. Everybody here knows the scuttlebutt about the four or five places where you can get free food or you can stay for three or four days."

After he said it, though, he didn't like the way it had sounded. He didn't want to hurt the program.

"There's not enough places for idiots like me that are trying to get it right," he said.

He got up and opened the door. Cold air rushed in.

"I've been here for five days," he said. "No new sheets. That faucet runs all the time. It doesn't matter. Nobody complains. This is better than being in the streets. It's tough. It's very tough. You know what I do? I sit here and be depressed."

He said he came to the motel from People in Progress, a five-day alcoholic detoxification program.

"Detox means you don't drink and you go through very bad stomach pain. It's basically that you think you're dying."

His goal was to get into a 90-day detoxification program he knew about.

He checked into the motel to wait until he was accepted.

"I got a bed and a great view of a bar," he said.

Wife 'Can't Handle It'

The yellow marquee of the bar on the corner shone through his window.

The first three days he resisted. Then he went to the bar.

He said his wife at first joined him in the room. But she left for her mother's house.

"She's so disgusted she can't handle it," he said. "My wife left me some chips and deviled ham."

He took them out of a drawer in the desk in his room. They hadn't been opened.

"I want to save my marriage," he said. "I detoxed. Now I am up to going in liquor stores and stealing bottles of booze to feed my habit."

He walked to the door and closed it. Then he filled the glass again. Drops of vodka spattered on the carpet.

"We're both Christians," he said. "God just isn't working with us now. I went through one program. I was sober for six months. It was the first time I was sober. I'm about on a stage of killing myself. But I don't have the guts."

He opened the door again. He grabbed his throat until the skin turned red.

"I've got something I want to say," he said. "But my throat won't let it out."

He stared silently for more than a minute. His eyes opened wide.

"Don't look at me like that," he shouted. Then he said he was sorry.

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