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THE LOS ANGELES TIMESWestside Weekly Section
Sunday, May 7, 2000
Taking it to the streets
Jason Wittman helps kids out of a life of prostitution and drugs, one curbside session at a time.
By DENISE CARSON
WEST HOLLYWOOD -- Propped up against his white van emblazoned with messages of safe sex, self-love and higher education, Jason Wittman, 58, aspires to be a beacon of hope in the lives of the street kids hustling on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Often he succeeds.
As each week brings new news about homeless sweeps by well-meaning city officials, police and business groups to clean up the vagrants, homeless and hustlers from the streets of Hollywood and West Hollywood, there is a newfound sense of urgency for people like Wittman. He must act before the young objects of his mission are pushed to even more hostile environs, or lost altogether.
"His mission is to get ahold of these kids before they are too far gone on drugs or catch an incurable disease," said former West Hollywood Sheriff's Department Cmdr. Bill Mangan, who works with Wittman on his mission to do "whatever it takes" to rescue kids from themselves and the dangers native to the streets.
Many of the mostly young gay males along the boulevard sell themselves for money, using it to buy the street drug crystal meth, which lays further waste to their bodies and can lead to unsafe sex and starvation.
The weight of guilt carried on their shoulders is disguised by a walk of imagined freedom, seen in their swinging hips and flapping hands. Fumes of crystal meth reek from their pores.
Meth is popular on the street because it's cheap, the high lasts for hours, and its mentally distorting effect masks deep wounds and hidden fears.
"A lot of us gay kids don't have families to rely on," said David, 21, a former street kid who now lives in an apartment in West Hollywood. "It's easy for us to get caught up in drugs and prostitution when we have no family to go home to or a job to show up for in the morning."
They've come to live on the streets of a neighborhood where being gay is just one more way of being.
"He is an adult on which the motherless child can rely," David said of Wittman.
Each night Wittman, a West Hollywood resident, chooses a corner, such as McCadden Place and Santa Monica Boulevard, and sets up a table with baskets of condoms and Starbucks pastries, extending an open invitation to troubled youths via a nonjudgmental smile.
Wittman makes himself
available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through his nonprofit Los
Angeles Youth Supportive Services and a 800 number. His is a one-man rescue
effort to assist, support and teach youth to change their self-destructive
behaviors, using 12-step programs and counseling techniques to boost the
self-esteem of his clients. A longtime counselor, Wittman now finances
his nightly rounds from private donations.
A NIGHT ON SANTA MONICA BOULEVARD
The street kids emerged furtively on a recent Friday night as the sunlight dissolved into the dim glow of the city lights.
"Hollywood is like the carpool lane on the freeway," said 20-year-old "Tweedy" as the streaking beams from headlights illuminated his boyish face, yellow locks and glazed eyes.
"You don't get out until the double yellow lines break. And that's not for a long time."
Tweedy was spinning from a recent sequence of events that had led him back to this street corner where the night before, he explained, he had watched a friend -- clasping a plastic bag and a syringe -- fold into a familiar car.
He desperately asked Wittman to help him find the missing friend.
Tweedy wrenched with despair while telling the story, shifting to the right and looking over his shoulder anxiously, then repeating the move on his left side. He had been searching the streets since sunrise when his friend didn't return to their hotel room in West Hollywood. Acquaintances on the streets had no answers. Signs of his return were bleak.
Wittman reached in his back pocket and dialed the West Hollywood Sheriff's Department on his cell phone. The officer at the station recognized Wittman's voice immediately.
"There's a young man missing," Wittman announced.
A young man who frequently dresses like a woman.
"Do you [want to] know her last name?" queried Tweedy of Wittman, wanting to be helpful, his words tinged with fear.
Wittman already knew the youth's last name, however, and rattled off a detailed description to the police. Afterward, Wittman embraced Tweedy to console his boiling fears.
"His card is in my
back pocket," Tweedy said. "I can always reach him. That goes without
saying. And I live the night life so my hours are ungodly."
Please write to Jason Wittman, the Executive Director with your comments and questions.
Copyright © 1996-2014, Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc. All rights reserved.