Editor’s Note: This story was first published on May 7, 2018. It is reprinted here as part of our year end coverage.
By Kate Cagle
The pristine lobby of Affluencer Financial is not the kind of place you would ever encounter the homeless.
With eleventh-story views overlooking Interstate 405 and the Santa Monica Mountains, wealthy clients filter in and out of offices looking for financial advice. Two receptionists near the elevator offer coffee, water, and candy. Beyond the double doors, founder Samuel Rad wears a silk tie, a tailored suit, and a smile. He usually charges by the hour – $350.
Recently, however, Rad has encountered the biggest challenge of his career, a ‘client’ he’s taken up pro-bono. His name is Parvis Sistani. He’s 77 years old and he’s homeless.
“He’s a gentleman,” Rad said smiling at Sistani, whom he calls Peter. “He reminds me of my dad. He’s a great guy.”
The high temperature was 62 degrees the day Rad met Peter walking down Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica. It was April 5, and in broken English, Peter begged Rad for a place to get off the street. The homeless man worried he wouldn’t survive another night outside.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Rad said. “The day we met him he was ready to collapse.”
A naturalized citizen, Peter says he came to Los Angeles seven years ago. Somewhere along the way, he lost his job and his family and ended up on the street. Without any address, identification and little English speaking skills, Peter had no way to collect money from the social safety net.
When Rad figured out they both speak Farsi, the two began a month-long journey to get the aging and ailing man a bed of his own. The very first night, Rad called 2-1-1 and found all the shelters booked besides one on skid row in Downtown Los Angeles. The social services worker advised Peter to turn down the free bed.
“The guy said, ‘I don’t think it’s good for him.’ He’s 77-years-old, he said ‘it’s too rough for him,’” Rad said. It was the first disappointment of many. Rad says Peter has been turned away by two dozen agencies, churches, temples and organizations. Some people said they couldn’t help Peter without an identification, some said they were full, others said he was the wrong religion.
A month later, Peter is shaven, showered, fed and clothed and often sitting quietly in the lobby of Affluencer Financial. He is still suffering from diabetes and arthritis. He is still homeless.
Peter’s plight has been complicated by the fact little is known about him. He speaks very little, even in Farsi. When Rad brought him in off the street, he had no identification. The DMV became a catch-22: he couldn’t get an ID without an ID. Without ID, he couldn’t get on a waiting list for housing. In the meantime, finding Peter a home has become a second job for Rad and his colleague, Blanca Reynoso.
“How are these homeless people ever able to navigate this system?” Reynoso wondered. “We have a car. We speak English. We’re taking him all kinds of places. One guy on foot can’t go to the DMV, the Federal Building, Social Security. It’s impossible for these people.”
Rad and Reynoso said a state official – who asked to remain anonymous – finally stepped in to get Peter a California ID. The process took three weeks. Rad said he was beaming when he picked up the phone to call the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to tell them Peter could now get on the list for housing. Rad thought they had the problem solved but the news was hardly reassuring: Peter could now get on a six-month waiting list for a bed. In the meantime, the LAHSA employee warned Rad that if Peter continued to sleep on his couch he will no longer qualify as “homeless” and would lose his spot on the list.
Rad was stunned.
“Every agency we talk to tells us to call another agency,” Rad said. “Everyone is looking for a reason to disqualify, rather than say ‘hey, how can I help you?’ The system is broken.”
Reynoso says the process has opened her eyes to the difficulties the homeless face every day.
“We are really, feeling helpless when we’re trying to do a good deed and get him some stability,” Reynoso said. “We don’t seem to be making any headway.”
Throughout their efforts, friends have offered medical help, dental check-ups, and clothing.
What they haven’t found is a place to stay.