Ben Wahl, a 29-year-old Philadelphia native, served in the Navy in the Persian Gulf. Diagnosed with mental disorders, he left before his two-year enlistment was up. That made him ineligible for HUD-VASH vouchers.
A year ago, he and his wife, Brandi Wahl, and their Chihuahua-Sheltie mix, Zelda, were at the Hollywood PATH shelter and were not happy about it.
They had to keep Zelda in a kennel in the garage. They had to sleep separately.
“We all joked it was like baby prison,” said Brandi Wahl, who has colored her hair blue and is writing a nonfiction book about her homeless experience.
“I want to expose that life,” she said. “I want to show that there are people who are homeless not just because they’re drug addicts but because their families abandoned them … That’s why we stay on the streets.”
The Wahls now are in an apartment near MacArthur Park — housing they obtained through a Department of Mental Health Section 8 voucher on the basis of mental problems that Brandi Wahl has. The voucher covers $416 a month. The rent is $466.
“I love my kitchen, but I hate this apartment,” Brandi Wahl said. “But this is better than PATH. Being on the street was better than PATH.
They spent nine months in the shelter.
“They almost kicked us out of the shelter,” said Ben Wahl, who recounted being covered with bedbug bites when he lived there.
He has a part-time job operating the 3-D Transformers ride at Universal Studios. But it’s not tourist season, and he gets only one shift every two weeks until spring.
Piles of dirty clothes were piled up in a corner of the living room. They had no money for laundry. They received a bed, but the rest of the furnishings are skimpy — just two chairs and a table. Brandi Wahl, who suffers from back pain, made a makeshift beanbag chair by stuffing a sheet with clothes. She sat on it to write as Ben Wahl rolled a cigarette.
“But you couldn’t pay me to go back to PATH,” he said. “I would go back to Venice first” and live on the beach.