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Around the Foothills

Jones became the municipal symbol of homelessness.

June 07, 1990|DOUG SMITH

By what we are told was a happy partnership of providence, charity and good diplomacy, Glendale has been relieved of a prominent civic blight.

For a week now, the crescent-shaped concrete bench beside the illuminated bronze globe on the City Hall lawn has been unoccupied. As anyone who drives by City Hall from time to time knows, a man had been living on that bench for about two years encircled by a growing stable of shopping carts.

The squatter, whose name is Creadel Jones, was relocated, without apparent coercion, through a delicate maneuver involving Mayor Larry Zarian and Lt. Kenneth Hodder of the Salvation Army. When last heard from, Jones was living in an apartment with first and last months' rent paid in advance.

The story is that Zarian was fretting over the effect the man and his carts would have on a Memorial Day ceremony at the bench, which is part of a peace memorial.

So he dispatched a city employee to summon Jones upstairs for a chat. Now Hodder, a Harvard law school graduate who is so consistently cheerful you'd think he never had a bad day, said he had been working on Jones since 1986 to accept help, without success. And just as he dropped by City Hall to give it one more try what did he find but Jones chatting with the mayor.

"I honestly believe that in situations like this, the Lord has a hand in it," Hodder said.

Jones was apparently much impressed by the audience and congenially accepted the assistance which he had previously turned down.

Everyone is so delighted with that resolution, that I wonder why it's so hard to find the moral of the Creadel Jones story.

There is a pointed adage in the news business that says: "News is whatever happens near an editor."

The analogy to the Jones case is illustrated, in a bureaucratically muffled way, by City Manager David H. Ramsay, who commented on the affair: "For a civic center where a great deal of city business is conducted, it wasn't appropriate to have six shopping carts lined up."

It was where Jones lived that made him a greater blight than the dozen or so homeless people who live in equally public squalor on Brand Boulevard where a far greater deal of business is conducted.

By taking up residence right where the city leaders had to confront him every day, Jones became the municipal symbol of homelessness.

That subject is not a popular one in this city. Once, the City Council tried to prohibit the homeless from residing here. They were dissuaded, finally, on the advice of the city attorney that the notion was as defective constitutionally as it was semantically. Zarian and other council members have often said that it's not the city's problem and that a solution should come from the federal government.

There is no indication that Jones intended to mock that view. During his stay, he declined to give interviews to Times reporters. He carried no banner and never attempted to engage others in conversation. He merely sat all day behind his shopping carts, often smoking his pipe, the picture of a meditative man in his own living room.

He made no show of rejecting materialism. Just like those who live in houses, he acquired possessions and occasionally had to expand his means of storage. That was his mistake. Although the specific number has not been codified, it appears that if two shopping carts are acceptable, six are too many.

So, is the moral of the story, "People who don't live in houses should travel light?" That hardly works.

The moral, it seems to me, is not yet in, because the story of Creadel Jones is an unfinished opus, not just on the chance that Jones will be homeless again as soon as his rent runs out.

It's also unfinished because Mayor Zarian and Lt. Hodder have yet to try their one-two punch of charity and diplomacy on those other disturbing souls who make their bedrooms on otherwise stylish streets.

Could Zarian next send his intermediary to summon the leathery old woman with the long fingernail and fake polar bear vest who sleeps on a bench at Harvard Street and Brand (uncomfortably near an editor)? Or the tall skinny man who wears a white mask and urinates in the gutter as people walk by. Or the curly haired young woman who assaulted a man the other day when he admonished her for scribbling in crayon on a city bench.

These people repel, frighten, annoy and confuse the casual shoppers and crisply clad business people who move about Brand Boulevard by the thousands each day.

The business community tolerates the homeless, I suspect, because it is not thinkable to take away what little comfort they have gleaned out of pitiless circumstances and no one has a better idea. Hodder says he has approached them also and found them too disconnected to help.

So perhaps the mayor could persuade them, one by one, to accept a roof and two months' rent.

Or is the moral of the story really that a homeless person must live at City Hall to know the beneficence of the city's good housekeeping?

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