BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Being homeless in this upper-crust enclave is not exactly like living on the street in other places. There are handouts of $2,000 and bottles of Dom Perignon, lucky finds of Gucci shoes and diamond-encrusted bracelets, a chance to rub shoulders with rich and famous locals such as Mark Wahlberg and Master P, and even empty houses to live in.
“This is the finest place you can be,” said Isaac Young, an affable 59-year-old with a wide grin and a smooth baritone voice who has been homeless in Beverly Hills since 1992.
In this manicured community of 35,000, Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis glide around city streets, movie stars live in gated mansions and Rodeo Drive price tags provoke gasps from tourists.
But the city also features about 30 rather scruffy residents who live in parks, bus shelters and alleyways.
They’re an incongruous sight amid the shows of superfluous wealth, underscoring the pervasiveness of the huge homeless population in Los Angeles County.
An estimated 74,000 people live on the streets or in shelters, making the county the nation’s capital of homelessness.
“Homelessness is just all over, even Beverly Hills,” said John Joel Roberts, chief executive of Path Partners, which provides street-outreach services.
But the homeless in Beverly Hills have direct access to something most street dwellers do not: rich people who can afford to be pretty generous. They pull up in Porsches and sport utility vehicles offering trays of cooked food, designer clothing still in dry-cleaner plastic and odd jobs.
“They have a sympathetic thing for us, and we’re grateful for it,” said a man with grizzled hair pulling a train of wheeled suitcases, an office chair and a stroller piled high with a motley bunch of items found in the trash. He would only identify himself as “Bond.”
Sometimes life even imitates the 1986 movie “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” in which a homeless man (Nick Nolte) is taken in by a hoity-toity couple (Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler).
At a park where homeless people congregate next to the Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Mr. Young found a benefactor who is allowing him to live free for a year in an empty house in swanky Benedict Canyon.
“He said ‘Here’s your second chance,’” said Mr. Young, who has lived in the TWA lounge at Los Angeles International Airport and on the streets of Hollywood, where he got wrapped up in drugs and alcohol. “I couldn’t believe it.”
A well-off couple from Manhattan Beach who also befriended Mr. Young gave him furniture, he said.
Mr. Young, who cannot read or write but composes poetry in his head and performs it, has six more months in his Benedict Canyon abode. He still panhandles to pay for expenses - Mr. Wahlberg, an actor, gave him new clothes - but after a lifetime as a compulsive gambler and spender, he’s finally learning to save money and wants to get an apartment.
He has a good incentive. His eyes mist as he looks toward a stone park bench where he slept for a decade and promises himself it won’t be another 10 years.
Those lucky breaks are one reason why George, who would not give his last name, has lived in Beverly Hills for the past 16 years. “You never know what you’re going to meet,” he said, noting he once got $10 from singer Rod Stewart.
George, a lanky man who pedals a bicycle around town and sleeps on a building roof, said paparazzi and parking valets can be a problem when he panhandles outside celebrity haunts. But being close to wealth can lead to $100 handouts, or finds such as gold jewelry, video cameras and an Armani suit.
He was so thrilled with the suit that he wore it panhandling until he noticed he wasn’t doing too well.
“You have to have a certain look to get sympathy - dirty, kind of stupid, not aware,” he said.
He also knows an opportunity when he sees one. For a couple months, he hung out in a vacant house, lounging by the pool drinking up the liquor he found in a cabinet until the owner walked in on him. He managed to flee.
“I was just using the facilities,” George said. “I wasn’t robbing no one.”
That’s a typical scenario, said Beverly Hills police Lt. Tony Lee, but for the most part, the homeless don’t cause problems. They occasionally get arrested for petty theft or aggressive panhandling. They’re usually held for 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation and fined and released if deemed harmless.
Many are mentally ill, but pose no threat. The city tries to refer them to counselors, shelters or drug rehabs, but they prefer street life, city spokeswoman Cheryl Burnett said.
Bond said some homeless avoid Beverly Hills because they’re turned off by the uberwealthy, who require a certain amount of deference.
“A lot of homeless don’t want to be with snooty, rich people,” he said. “You have to be respectful and not act like an idiot. If you’re a derelict, they’re going to call the cops on you. We’re the upscale bums.”