Homeless in SoCal – Ryan’s Story

• Over one-third of Americans are one to three paychecks away from not making rent or mortgage payments, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

• According to the Federal Reserve report in 2015, 46% of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense out-of-pocket.

What is a statistic for some is a reality for others. CVW has been following the reality of one of these “statistics” for the last 10 months. We have changed her name to protect her privacy.


“Ryan” grew up in Santa Monica. She was an athlete and loved any type of water sports. She worked for over 35 years as a freelancer in the film business in music production. She had made strong connections and was working on a regular basis. Then she fell in love. Her husband wanted to move out-of-state for his career.

“But for me it was career suicide,” Ryan said. “That was the problem, the catalyst to my financial demise.”

She found that, although she was able to work remotely on some projects, she was unable to work with most of her clients. At the same time, her husband was struggling with his career and was not working. Then she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that is similar to multiple sclerosis. Her diagnosis was not great; she would begin to lose the ability to walk and would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

“My husband did not want to be married to someone in a wheelchair,” Ryan said.

The two parted ways.

“It was a very expensive divorce,” she said. “Then, when I moved back to Los Angeles, a lot of my connections were gone.”

She was feeling the effects of her disease as her legs became weaker. The divorce resulted with her paying alimony to her husband. She knew her ability to work would become more compromised so she got a lawyer to help with her divorce and with arranging Supplemental Security Income through Social Security, an area she had never had to deal with before. She discovered that, though she paid taxes all her adult life, being an independent contractor made it difficult to prove how much she earned or worked over the years.

Her lawyer cost several thousand dollars. In addition, she was paying for life’s basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter.

“It took every single dollar out of my savings, my 401K and everything out of my money market accounts,” Ryan added.
Even with her lawyer’s help she was only able to get SSI support from the federal government and not from the state, which made her income extremely low. Eventually she ran out of money and ended up on the street with a backpack and her wheelchair.
She was lucky to find a couple that would allow her to keep in their garage what few personal items she had left. It was then she began the journey into homelessness.

She was able to connect with a social services organization near Santa Monica and for about four years was working to get housing. During that time she has been on the streets, learning many things she had never thought she would need to know. She knows what malls and libraries allow a person to stay all day. She also has learned to tie her wheelchair and her backpack to herself when sleeping under the pier.

In the last 10 months, though, things have gone from bad to worse.

It is important to note that even though Ryan found herself with a debilitating disease and on the streets, she maintained a remarkably positive attitude. But then, 10 months ago, things began to change. She had been in Venice watching skaters when she hit a curb as she was leaving. She fell out of her chair. She was transported to the hospital and, along the way, her wheelchair disappeared.

When CVW spoke to both the ambulance company and the hospital, both said she did not have a wheelchair. It is important to remember she did not have the ability to stand, let alone walk.

At the hospital, she was patched up, told she would probably need surgery and transferred to a “convalescent hospital” in Glendale. In 2017, that facility had 22 complaints, 13 Facility Self-Reported Incidents, one state enforcement action and 42 survey deficiencies. In 2018, there were five state enforcement actions. During this time, when CVW went to interview her, she was covered with a tablecloth, not a blanket, and had not been receiving any physical therapy.

Unfortunately this is a typical reflection of her 10 month odyssey: she would be transferred from one medical facility to another, losing personal items along the way as she was moved. She had to become her own advocate, although she had several case managers. Her fight was to continue to receive SSI and get good health care but her main goal was to get housing.

After being in and out of the hospital, being robbed, kicked and punched, she finally got to a point where doctors agreed she needed surgery on the leg she had broken from the first fall.

“When she was brought in, her records showed she had stomach issues. So we were concerned about her stomach,” said a surgical nurse who took care of Ryan.

There was nothing wrong with her stomach; it was her leg. It was always her leg. Doctors performed surgery.

“She will be staying here to recover. She has staples in her leg. We are worried about infection,” the nurse said in an interview at the hospital.

But the next day Ryan was told her insurance had run out and she was dismissed. She was released to the streets. Over the past months she has been able to afford a couple of nights in a motel; however, the cost of one night’s lodging takes almost all of her SSI for the month.

Another of the problems of being homeless is the ability to keep in touch with those who can help. Ryan had one phone stolen and another phone was broken during a robbery. After she was dismissed from the hospital, she ended up under the Santa Monica Pier.

Ryan has been diagnosed with severe depression; however, she has not been prescribed any medication. She does get anxious when she is in a hospital or nursing home for too long. This mostly stems from worrying about when she will be kicked out again.

There have been many issues over the months among case workers, homeless organizations and doctors after her initial leg injury. One of the homeless organizations had even asked for proof she was homeless. Though Ryan had been working with the organization for four years and had been robbed and beaten and lived on the streets, it was requiring letters from other homeless people and businesses that noticed her “hanging” around.

“No one is going to write letters,” Ryan said. “I found it is better to just stay invisible so no one will notice me.”

Eventually the pain in her leg was so great she went to a mall and refused to leave until someone called the paramedics. She was transported and it was found she had an infection that was so bad that she had to have her leg amputated, which was done a few weeks ago.

“I feel sad but I was in so much pain,” she said. “I am still in pain [but its different].”

Advocates have been helping her and just recently she was able to get a bed at a shelter, which she is very excited about, but she still is waiting for that “other shoe” to drop.

“You know, being in a wheelchair makes you invisible even without being [homeless], but I have learned. I won’t complain or report anything no matter what happens,” she said. “I have learned to just stay invisible.”