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Ron Kaye: Get up and do something about the homeless

September 07, 2013

My connection with Robert the Walker started back in March with an emailed copy of his letter to Burbank officials about how much he loves the newly-opened Glendale Narrows portion of the Los Angeles Riverwalk and the sadness he feels seeing homeless people living there.

He didn't get an answer to his question: "How about a couple of bucks to create a sanctuary for the homeless, vagrant scavengers that are living (on) your streets?"

Several dozen emails followed in the ensuing months. They contained pictures of the beauty of the Narrows and the ugliness of homeless people hidden in the nooks and crannies and the trash they leave around.

His missive at the end of August pushed me to take a greater interest: "Seeing some innocent kids going down to the river at night to have their fun, or a single woman walking her dog. Would these innocent folks represent an opportunity to the homeless who have nothing … this is a disaster waiting to happen."

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So I made a date for Robert the Walker's Glendale Narrows tour — a date that coincidentally occurred the same morning last week when I got an email from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about the city's 232nd birthday.

"The L.A. River is the best-kept secret of Los Angeles! You can bike, kayak, walk and run throughout the 51-mile stretch with great scenery like Glendale Narrows and Atwater Crossing," Garcetti wrote in explaining it was the public's choice to use photos of the river to greet tourists arriving at Los Angeles International Airport.

Still, I was not prepared for the beauty, the serenity I encountered when I met up with Robert the Walker or the truly L.A. vista of natural beauty amid two massive freeways and steel-and-glass high-rises — the light and dark of a schizoid place in a single image.

We were at the start of the mile-long first-phase pathway, the exact point where Burbank, Glendale and L.A. meet — a political and law enforcement no-man's land.

"This is a bird habitat, birds you don't see every day," Robert the Walker explained.

"That's a stilt over there. That black bird there, standing on the rock, that's a cormorant. That channel over there is where the fish all come down, guys are around here all the time with fly rods."

Before we've gone very far, we encounter a guy named John Pearson, who tends the native gardens of succulents and cactuses and who comes regularly to look after what he helped create as the Glendale Parks Department's project manager for the Narrows.

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