Bessie Mae Berger is 97 years old and homeless. Her two sons, Larry and Charlie, are ages 60 and 62, respectively. Together, the three of them live in a rusty 1973 Chevrolet Suburban that they shuttle around Venice, California and Los Angeles.
Bessie occupies the front seat of the Suburban, and occasionally panhandles on the street for cash handouts with a cardboard sign. The three must constantly move the car, parking for free in lots with a disabled parking tag, washing up in public restrooms and occasionally enjoying a free hot meal from a food truck.
Charlie used to work in construction and as a painter before degenerative arthritis disabled him. Larry's cooking career was ended by compressed discs in his back and a damaged neck nerve. Struggling with both homelessness and poverty, the family is able to scrape by with the aid of state and federal programs:
They live mostly on Bessie's $375 monthly Social Security check, Charlie's $637 disability payments, Larry's $300 food stamp allocation and cash from bottles and cans they collect and recycle.
The family's homelessness was brought on by a mixture of personal circumstances and government policy. The Los Angeles Times article brings up new issues with state support and how it's applied, such as the issue of how Section 8 housing is allocated:
They thought Bessie had finally qualified for federal Section 8 housing -- she had been promised a rental voucher, they say. But then she needed surgery to replace a pacemaker and spent three months in a recovery center. Housing authorities in Northern California awarded the voucher to someone else during her absence, according to her sons.
Though Bessie qualifies for government-paid senior citizen assistance, her sons are too young. They want to find a housing arrangement that will keep them together, but that has proved difficult. The Bergers may be entitled to more benefits than they are currently receiving, and it was the end of a state In-Home Supportive Services program several years ago that pushed them into homelessness.
This is just one of many heartbreaking stories of homelessness and poverty that have surfaced recently. But you can get involved by learning more about the issues and the organizations that are working to combat homelessness.
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