Jerry Pryor, who has pushed his belongings in a shopping cart around the Lakewood Village community for many years now, once said that he’s “not homeless,” but rather just a “man without a home.”
The 74-year-old, the subject of a recent profile by the Post, now has a home at the Crofton Manor Assisted Living Facility, thanks to a lot of help from a few local residents.
It did not come easy; in fact, it took more than nine months of paperwork and convincing Pryor to get a vaccine. The pandemic didn’t help, either.
But Corliss Lee, a longtime community leader and resident of East Long Beach, was determined. She first met Pryor after hearing about a GoFundMe set up for him.
She wanted to bring him a blanket one night last January, so she went out and found where he was sleeping.
“This great big hand came out and he took (the blanket) and said, thank you,’” she said. “I was smitten.”
Lee learned that Pryor had once worked, so he had to have a Social Security number. She then had to get him down to the city’s Multi-Service Center, admittedly tricking him by telling him the two were going to go get some money.
That first day was promising; Pryor saw a doctor and got $160 in CalFresh benefits for food.
Lee then took him to the county clerk’s office and the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new identification card—however, he had used different names on documents, a problem that took three months to resolve. (“I wanted to dive through that window and kiss that man,” Lee said of the Social Security worker who at last helped.)
Lee set him up with Medi-Cal so Pryor could see a doctor, though he hated that. He had problems with his teeth, growths in his nostrils and his hearing was bad.
She met a physical therapist during this process, Laura Brewer, who also wanted to help, and the two set out to find Pryor a place to live.
They found Crofton Manor, but the facility required a tuberculosis vaccination. When he saw the needle, Pryor refused.
About a week later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything came to a halt. Restaurants closed, which homeless people like Pryor rely on for food and use of the restrooms.
Many of the businesses in the area have known Pryor for years and watched out for him. He pushed a heaping cart slowly around the area, often cleaning and picking up trash.
“I was afraid he was going to die, laying underneath that tarp behind the flower shop in the freezing cold,” Lee said. “I mean, that is just a ticket to pneumonia. He was in such bad shape, he could barely walk. He needed to get off the streets.”
When COVID hit, Lee said “I just couldn’t leave him, I just couldn’t.”
Pryor finally agreed to go to a hotel, at least temporarily. Lee and Brewer then looked into accommodations through Project Room Key, a state program that provides funds to turn hotels and motels into homeless shelters.
When that program ended, Lee again tried to convince Pryor to get the vaccine. He wanted to know more about it, so she gave him information and talked him through it—and finally succeeded.
He moved in late last month, and now has three meals a day, his own room with a television and a cell phone.
Last week, Brewer and Lee met Pryor at his new home, and Brewer handed him a root beer freeze, his favorite drink from one of the many spots he frequented on the streets, Dale’s Diner.
They listened to music from his childhood, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac. He started to cry.
When asked how he liked his new home, Pryor, a man of few words, said “The food’s all right, but I’m not going to tell them.”