James Harris has lived in a tiny alcove beneath the 110 Freeway for close to five years. Originally from New Orleans, Harris came to Los Angeles in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home.
“My house blew down and then the people took the property — I think they blowed the thing up,” he laughs, referring to city’s levee system.
Harris’ new apartment is a two-bed, zero-bath complex completely furnished by the dumpsters of South Los Angeles. While it’s not the ideal spot for a 62-year-old man, he says the place is better than his last home.
“We was under the freeway, but everybody come off the freeway, they’d be pointing: ‘Oh look at them!’ like we [were] in the circus.”
The privacy of the alcove lets him bring over female “acquaintances,” but sometimes they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
“One of the ladies came in and I was in here with another lady, oh boy,” he chuckles. ““I ain’t none of ‘em’s man! I’m just a man.”
Harris says he’s okay living on the streets, but he admits he needs to find a stable source of income.
“I hustle bottles and cans now,” he says. “I was getting $1,600 a month until they cut it off.” Harris has earned a number of public drinking tickets over the years, for which he needs to serve 45 days in county jail before he starts getting his Social Security checks again.
“All I gotta do is go do a little 45 days. I gotta do that, ‘cause sometimes I wake up . . . I don’t feel like going recycling, but I have to go ‘cause I ain’t got no money, no food to eat, no beer to drink, no cigars.”
This Saturday, however, Harris is relaxing. With two cigarillos, a cold beverage and a full stomach, life is alright underneath the freeway.
“I went to Chano’s and had a pastrami,” he smiles. “I’m cool brother. I gotta wash it down with this beer.”
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