The man with eyes that revealed his painful past stood amid a crowded homeless encampment on S. Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, talking to an LA County deputy public defender.
The LA County Public Defender’s Homeless Outreach Unit is setting the stage for his rebound.
An owner of two businesses — home repair and property management — the man was the sole survivor in a horrendous car crash caused by a drunken driver. He lost chunks of muscle from his back and thighs and was hospitalized for six months, two in a coma.
He lifted his shirt to prove his injuries, exposing a massive scar that covered his lower back. Losing his businesses and home pushed him to the streets. A single father, his son went to relatives.
Sober for five months, he is physically and mentally ready to start over. While at a community-based organization located near a homeless encampment, he saw the Public Defender’s brightly colored “help squad” van and took a business card from one of the attorneys.
He followed up and met with Deputy Public Defender Gil Mares to begin the process of expunging his record. He said he was eager to return to the workforce.
Related: LA County Homelessness Up 12%
“I want to get the expungements so I can get my license back and maybe drive for a living,” the man said. “I can no longer do repairs or property management because of my injuries. I’m so grateful for the homeless expungement program. They reach out to people who would not know this program existed.”
Head Deputy Justine Esack, who oversees the Homeless Unit, said the man was exactly the kind of client who can benefit from the services.
“The people we serve have had mental health and medical help and other services from community-based organizations, so they’re ready to deal with their criminal records,” Esack said. “They need record clearing because they’re looking for permanent housing and jobs. They’re still homeless but they’ve dealt with some of their demons.”
Launched in January 2018 with Measure H funds, the homeless outreach team works with various CBOs and drives their two vans and SUV to homeless encampments to start the expungement process for people living there.
The three deputy public defenders, three paralegals and three secretaries work with CBOs to identify those who are homeless but have received some mental and medical care preparing them to reenter society.
“What we don’t do is drive our van up to somebody’s tent, knock on the tent door and say, ‘Hey, do you want an expungement?’” Esack said. “We want to show our clients the right kind of care and respect.”
They see the homeless team after they address some of their issues and are ready to “get down to the nitty-gritty of life,” she said.
“They’re ready at that point to present themselves back to the world again. And that’s where we step in.”
Mares said he believed that the man he was helping was on his way to reentering society. He will be added to the 2,102 people experiencing homelessness the unit has assisted from its inception through March 2019.