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Dinner on Grounds : Park's Neighbors Befriend Homeless

December 25, 1985|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | Times Staff Writer

On Monday, Carol Jackson walked through the park other neighbors have called "a toilet" and extended an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner to the men and women sleeping on the grass and sitting at the park tables.

On Tuesday, four of the tables in North Hollywood Park were draped in red and white cloths and covered with food: turkey, stuffing, chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, salad, fresh fruit, cranberry sauce, milk and coffee.

Few words were exchanged with the guests who approached the tables.

"We don't want to pry," Jackson said. "We just want to serve some dinner."

North Hollywood Park has not been popular with many of those who live nearby. Community groups have complained to police and city parks officials that the 52-acre area attracts a variety of undesirables--transients, "cruising" homosexuals and youth gangs.

Moved by People's Plight

Jackson, who lives within a mile of the park, said she was moved by the transients.

"Every week my daughter and I go to the park and library. I've seen the homeless guys out there. I've seen them go through trash cans to find something to eat, break sticks apart to build a fire," she said. "When it rains, I've seen them lying on the library steps under the awnings."

Jackson said she took her idea to several Tiara Street neighbors whom she had never met and garnered their help in collecting food and clothing.

By 1 p.m. Tuesday, the guests began to trickle in from the outskirts of the park. In the warm weather, Christmas dinner seemed more like a Fourth of July picnic.

Donald R. (Pops) Miller, 64, who said he sleeps in a car and spends his days at the park, ate slowly from the feast piled high on a plastic plate.

"It's nice to be around good people like this for the holidays," he said. "We usually eat anything we can get a hold of. I would climb that tree over their for another meal like this." He pointed to a tall pine.

A spokesman from the city Department of Recreation and Parks said that 20 to 50 men and women live at the park along Tujunga Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard, sleeping in cars or in public bathrooms. About 25 of them turned out for the homemade dinner.

Lived at Tent City

Richard Matthews, 31, said he has lived at North Hollywood Park since the dismantling last January of Tent City, a makeshift shelter for the homeless on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall.

"This is the first full meal I've had in a month," Matthews said. "I was really feeling the blues the last couple days. I get tired of panhandling, living life one day at a time. I'm not kidding you when I say that something like this really makes you feel good."

"I just couldn't enjoy Christmas knowing these guys were out here with nothing," Jackson said while slicing a pumpkin pie. "I just saw too much of it and it is too close to home to ignore."

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