BURBANK, Calif. — Even with stimulus aid, economists estimate that eight million Americans have slipped into poverty during the pandemic and millions of others continue to experience financial hardships like food insecurity and difficulties paying rent.
What You Need To Know
- Even with stimulus aid, economists estimate eight million Americans have slipped into poverty during the pandemic
- For many Angelenos, like Doug Culp, the pandemic is only exasperating an already growing crisis
- Culp has been living in his van in Burbank since last March, unable to find a new job
- He was fired from Five Guys for tweeting about customers who wouldn’t wear masks at the beginning of the pandemic
For many Angelenos, the pandemic has exasperated an already growing crisis. Doug Culp is a prime example. He lives in his van parked in Burbank with a message posted on his window that says he is sorry to bother, but he has not had luck finding work.
“Dear neighbors, I’m sorry to bother you with my presence,” Culp wrote.
He posted the note on his after hearing countless people pass by angrily yelling about his van being parked in their neighborhood.
He said he has been living in his van since last March, unable to find a new job after he was fired from Five Guys for tweeting about customers who would not wear masks at the beginning of the pandemic.
"Some people didn’t wear masks and would duck behind the Plexiglas to take their order. I was kind of scared for my life," Culp explained.
Scared because he’s immunocompromised with Lyme disease, a bacteria that causes joint pain and weakness in the limbs.
Culp is a man of many talents. He is a writer, director, standup comedian, and musician, so in love with music he saved every dollar he had to buy a portable piano on Craigslist.
However, he has been applying to jobs for months to no avail, making do with inexpensive entrees and donations from family and friends in the meantime.
"[I] can't find work because I don’t have an address and can’t get an address because I don’t have work. [It is] is such a weird cycle to be in and I got to a pretty Zen place with my situation so I was like this isn’t forever," he said. "It doesn’t have to be forever.”
Culp said he is creating several projects and even documenting his journey through videos and podcasts that can be watched at ReallyGladYouCame.bandcamp.com.
He is trying to dig himself out of this hole, but said the system makes it extremely difficult. If he only had access to necessities, he said it would make the world of a difference.
"It’d be nice to be treated like a human. Like the smallest things are some of the simplest things. A toilet, a shower. Somewhere to go to clean up," Culp explained.
Because he has no formal address, Culp said he did not receive either stimulus, but even if he had, it would not be nearly enough to afford rent in Los Angeles.
Economists said those in need cannot survive on $600 until the summer when the vaccine should be widely distributed. Since the unemployed are more likely to put the stimulus towards emergency needs, experts said the health of the economy will only continue to decline.
Culp said it has been a long time coming.
"The pandemic was a magnifying glass of the problem and we just need to put on our critical thinking caps," he said.
He has a few ideas and plans of his own. Culp said his solution to the housing crisis in Los Angeles are tiny home neighborhoods that are solar powered with food grown on site. It will be a place where the unhoused have privacy, shelter, and the resources to find a job and get back on their feet.
"The point is it’s a transitional place. It is not meant to be a forever home. Hopefully most of the cost is going to be provided for with solar panels, hydro, and wind energy," he explained.
All Culp needs now is the backing from someone with funding to make this happen, but he said it is hard to convince a society with judgmental eyes that look the other way when passing the homeless.
"It’s unfortunate that so many people treat [the] unhoused as so much of another that, it’s almost like a nothing," he said.
Down on his luck after a particularly difficult year – but just trying to make the best of it.
Doug also has a GoFundMe for those who would like to help.