Lucas Foster was a stolen turbine in a blackout, a freak hail storm amidst biblical drought, a turbo-powered antidote to the tyranny of the algorithm. Raised in the mud and waves of north San Diego County, the surf champ-turned-amphetamine-urchin-turned-vagabond-seer drifted to L.A. in the dwindling years of the last decade. A wandering badlands prophet reincarnated as the Beach God, Lucas was born under a shadowbanned sign, condemned to be custom-made for our radioactive moment.
In a better dimension, his Krylon prose punched out on a cracked iPhone screen would have made him the cult heir to Bukowski and Burroughs. Instead, Lucas’s legend was confined to several thousand denizens of deep-fried meme pages and esoteric rap blogs. Divinity anointed him the voice of those searching for the right diction, those desperate for refuge and redemption, whose tragedies he absorbed and multiplied with his own; but destiny offered conflicting directions.
I was his editor, friend, and occasional life raft. I succeeded at the first two, but drowned at that final, fatal component. During the time that I knew him, battles with substance abuse and mental health often debilitated him. For months, even years, the streets won out, casting him adrift on punctured Greyhound odysseys around the country. But when he could silence his demons, he was one of the most gifted writers of his generation, suffused with a fundamental decency and selfless generosity that enriched anyone within his gravitational vortex.
In the fall of 2019, the riptide seized him again. For months, he was homeless, shivering in sleeping bags on Skid Row, a clairvoyant in rags, prey to any illicit substance that would help him sleep through the night. But the temporary derangement offered a wild clarity. Despite the psychological and physical violence surrounding him, he glimpsed the horrors of late Capitalism in L.A: the tens of thousands of humans abandoned to the elements; the sanctimony and hypocrisy of ostensibly well-meaning liberals; the sheer absence of humanity in a social welfare state that’s more sieve than functional system.
When winter arrived, we coaxed Lucas back into a rehab deep in the Valley. For months, he detoxed and recovered from the chemical ravages, writing and reading feverishly, plotting his opus about Soundcloud Rap and the doomed generations of the decaying west. Upon his release in early 2020, Lucas produced some of the finest music journalism in recent memory, a 21st Century mutation of gonzo that distilled the schizophrenic lunacy of life in Trump’s America. When the pandemic struck, it triggered a relapse. Paranoia, isolation, and poverty took him under. Lucas endured another breakdown and disappeared into a drugged archipelago of couch surfing, the streets, and jail. He eventually found himself back in San Diego County, where his mother enrolled him in a Veterans facility that offered treatment for those suffering from addiction and homelessness.
Last summer, Lucas left the halfway house after the time allotted to live there had expired. Soon after, he was found dead from an accidental overdose in San Diego’s Gaslamp District — barely 26 years old. In the aftermath of his tragic demise, I found myself mournfully sifting through the letters and emails that he’d sent to me. In one missive mailed from rehab, Lucas mentioned an article that he’d been writing for theLAnd. He’d recently devoured Mike Davis’ City of Quartz and wanted to capture the scope and dysfunction of the local homelessness crisis, one rooted in his poisoned traumas and personal disillusion.
In a stroke of fortune, Lucas sent his first draft to theLAnd contributor Will Schube, which otherwise saved it from being lost like so many of the other longhand pieces that he’d written over the years. The letter — a harrowing chronicle of life on the asphalt — is published in full below. Beyond the glaring magnitude of the genius lost, what strikes me most is how many others remain out of reach. For all the Spring Street posturing and the billions of dollars spent, this epistle remains as relevant as the day it was written two years ago. It reads as one last frantic plea from a life that couldn’t be saved, an apoplectic plea to end the inertia, and salvage whatever and whoever can still be redeemed. — Jeff Weiss
Los Angeles County consistently tells itself there are 40,000 bums sleeping in the rough between its borders. I’d put the number somewhere north of 100,000, and climbing. Drive East on the 105 from LAX towards Orange County on a clear day and you’ll see some 10,000 tents in dense encampments along the still water and trickles of the L.A. River system. Walk on Fifth Street from Figueroa down through five miles of open air drug markets and abject squalor and you get the feeling that there [sic] at least 20,000 souls camping on Skid Row. And anywhere you find yourself in LA, from Koreatown to Winnetka, from Venice to Long Beach, from Highland Park to Sylmar, there are the ubiquitous tents. Technicolor camping gear boosted from Wal-Mart or even bought on Amazon that grow on the toes of highrises and in the knuckles of housing tracts. Tents that drool hypodermic needles and Hot Cheeto Wrappers. Tents where dreams die and propane tanks ignite canyon fires. Tents that, however numerous, still contain only half our indigent population.
Besides a general capacity for observation and distrust for any figures on homelessness given by a county that proclaims a homlessness crisis without doing a thing about it, my 100,000 plus estimate was shaped by my own experience as a homeless Angeleno. For most of October, I was couch surfing across the state or spending my nights ambling aimlessly across Downtown’s haunted streets. Despite hospitalizations at Good Sam and Hollywood Pres no Polo-shirted censure (or nurse or doctor) asked me explicitly if I was homeless. In fact there was no interaction with any sort of outreach prostelyzor or liberal do-gooder or county bean-counter out and about during those surreal fall nights when I wandered between tall buildings with thousands of other slouching souls. In the DT every night quite a few humans with hoodies and hats drawn constantly walking to nowhere, getting high to forget that the winds moving silver moonlit clouds across the starless sky, between imposing skyscrapers, are going to whip them til sunrise.
The only officials I interacted with were security guards, who apparate whenever you cross unmarked boundaries into the property of some highrise or another, instruct you to move along, and disappear just as quickly. This was the experience reported universally to me by the dozens of unsheltered Downtown and Koreatown residents I became acquainted with over those weeks. Curiously, the popular rumor seemed to involve “The Reptilians.” Reports of malevolent, humanoir, dimension-hopping reptilian-like creatures who pop out to feast on the suffering of the sick, tired, house free residents of Downtown. Among the whispers of these beasts of malevolent benediction, there were a few witnesses. One was a booster from Buffalo who, between rips of fentanyl and meth, told me about the police getting ahold of one some late night and the thing laughing maniacally as they tried unsuccessfully to behead it.
These are the sorts of things one tends to believe down and out in Downtown L.A.
The cast of characters one comes across here is what our progressive, high-minded, and even (self-styled) socialist politicians, academics, media loudmouths have pledged to protect. A rainbow coalition of drugfucked or mentally ill or unlucky proles who all had some bad breaks and now find themselves perennially in the hole. A few weeks on the street is a bad break, a few months and you’re both a social pariah and unemployable. First month’s rent and a security deposit anywhere in L.A. is $3500. General relief is $224 a month for single, childless adults. Meth is $10 to $20 a gram. You are welcome to calculate this yourself.
To paint all of us as deviant speed freaks in search of risks and violence and without a care is grossly irresponsible and partially incorrect. While plenty of able-bodied and sound minds duck behind dumpsters at night and boost merchandise during the day, an unreported number rolled snake eyes at some God awful juncture.
While meth is once again king between San Julian Park and Bunker Hill, plenty of opioid connoisseurs play Russian roulette with fentanyl. There’s a sad old story you hear from opiate addicts: injury, surgery, pills, heroin, oblivion. One such tale told to me by a man named Mike. A few years earlier Mike lived not quite comfortably but halfway decently. He was reared in the Inland Empire and, like so many boys out that way, grew up racing and jumping bikes in nearby deserts. He wasn’t rich so learning to fix and maintain his motorbike was a necessity, and he took amateur mechanics naturally. By his late 20s he was working on bikes full-time, making enough for his own house and a wife. Then riding his bike one day he fell and broke his neck. Like all hard luck junkie stories, his began with a pill prescription. And when the scripts ran out and the cold sweats of withdrawal began he quickly found heroin. When he got strung out there was no one to bail him out. He lost his home and business and followed the dope to where it was cheapest and readily available, and found himself a smoker in Ktown. He was quiet, shy even, with boyish good looks cocked to the side by a horribly crooked neck. With a striped polo and backward hat, a quiet, sad demeanor, he seemed like a lost boy led astray.
His Pied Piper was a fentanyl junkie with a broken back hunched over so far he shrunk from 6 foot four to five foot seven. His back was so busted that half the time the top of his hunch was higher than his low hanging head. Posner looked about as sorry as they come, mumbled most of the time, and was incapable of speaking after a few good issues of fentanyl, but he was resourceful. He kept his eyes on the ground, not just because his back pointed that way, but constantly on the lookout for lost phones, cash, cards, and baggies. One night I saw him pick up an eight ball of meth off the sidewalk in Silver Lake, another night an iPhone out of the Red Line’s tracks at Western and Wilshire station. His actual hustles were endless, constant, and unprintable, and he seemed to have an endless supply of fentanyl, leading a train of junkies across Koreatown until he’d nof off standing up for a few hours, his crunched back holding his head at his feet, while a few itching fiends patiently waited for him to rouse from his slumber.
“We gotta get you to a doctor, man. There has to be something,” I said to Posner one moon-lit night.
“What? Go to a hospital. I’ve been, they don’t do shit.”
And with a few mumbled words he summed up the realities of homelessness in L.A. It is a massive humanitarian and public health crisis unfolding in plain view of highrises where finance gangsters move billions of invisible dollars, of city hall and superior courts, of supposedly progressive, fair trade coffee vendors, of filthy, overcrowded shelters and rehab programs. The frigid indifference of the monied classes and their institutions is almost unbelievable. There are no public restrooms in Downtown, all restaurants lock theirs with a code that requires purchase, coffee shops do not have power outlets and no eatery will take yours behind the counter to charge your phone. So your [sic] left with the library. You’d think that when faced with this crisis literally on its doorstep L.A. Central Library would at least feign an attempt at outreach. I spent many days writing in the library. The computers were atrociously slow, dated by 10 years and incapable of loading the PDFs I needed to edit to file invoices in the browser or Adobe PDF software. There were no social workers, no resources, no seminars, any inquiries into this or using staff computers to get hard-earned money were callously rebuffed.
It is a common theme everywhere you turn when you have grubby hands and sad eyes in Los Angeles: inhuman indifference. Whether ground down by the constant, intense human suffering or programmed by a dehumanizing capitalist culture, the brazen lack of empathy and inaction on display here is a gut punch. America has never cared much for its losers, nor has it tried much to understand them. The homelessness crisis cannot be reduced to a fentanyl or meth epidemic, nor a mental health crisis. The children of the middle and upper class are sent to rehab and therapy. Their parents pay the rent when they cannot, health insurance is upgraded when they suffer some terrible injury, school when their [sic] unemployed. The working class is constantly one paycheck away from sleeping in the dirt. Junkies, speed freaks, winos, schizophrenics, maladaptives, and the simply indolent are an undeniable majority out there, but many of those camping across the county are normal working people who had some bad luck and nowhere to turn. My friend Karen works 40 hours a week and shares a room with 3 people in a motel. Plenty more are much worse off.
It is a crisis of poverty and a nonexistent social safety net, and absolutely no one gives a shit. Certainly not the arrogant, preening “progressives” who drone on pretentiously about all their liberal sacred cows, their fashionable affectations, yet lack the gumption, currency, and decency to do anything. A separation from the realities of normal, working class life is so viscerally apparent amongst our political class as to be comedic. Medi-Cal covers breast implants, hormones, and facial feminization surgery for transgender men, yet when trans people are struggling with employment or thrown out by their parents, there is little in the way of help.
The human tragedy unfolding here will probably continue unabated. The grinding gears of a capitalist hellscape ran by Charlatans, fools, and thieves turning unabated. The human cost is incalculable, but surely noones [sic] counting.