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How the star of a high school play ended up being homeless in LA for years

He was once the star of his high school play, but 30-year-old Caleb DeWitt is now wandering the streets of Hollywood.

DeWitt been homeless for years, addicted to methamphetamine, in large part because there are few places to help and house LA’s homeless with severe drug and mental illness problems.

While the city of LA spends a record amount of money to get the homeless off the streets and is building 4,000 units of new homeless housing, the most vulnerable on the streets are often left behind.

The I-Team has been following the plight of Caleb since we first found him, near death, lying on a sidewalk near Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in September of 2019.  

Back then, NBC4 discovered he was from a small town in Ohio, the star of his school musicals, but came to LA where he got addicted to drugs and began a downward spiral living on the streets.

“Caleb is not capable of taking care of his basic life needs,” said Kerry Morrison, founder of Heart Forward, a group trying to improve care for the mentally ill. 

The city of LA will spend a record $250 million this fiscal year on the Inside Safe program, aimed at bringing the homeless off the streets, first putting them up in motel rooms and then into apartments.

“I don’t think Caleb would do very well in Inside Safe,” said Morrison. “He probably needs to be in a more clinical setting to be stabilized.”

“This plan doesn’t work for everyone on the streets,” said NYU Professor Alex Barnard, who wrote a major book titled “Conservatorship: Inside California’s System of Coercion and Care for Mental Illness,” detailing California’s failure to help the mentally ill, especially those on the streets.

“It’s important to have options for people [who suffer mental illness and addiction] who need to live in more structured environment… like a residential treatment center,” Barnard told the I-Team.

But there are few of those options for people like Caleb, once the star of his high school play.

After NBC4 did a story on Caleb’s plight in 2019, caseworkers found him a temporary spot in a rehab center near east LA where he started to improve.

But he eventually left that rehab, and in recent years, the I-Team has found him back on the streets of Hollywood, sometimes smoking meth.

“I’m addicted. I have an addiction,” Caleb told the I-Team.

Caleb, who was once the star of his high school musical, then and now.

The I-Team brought Caleb’s case to the attention of Mayor Karen Bass.

“I think it is a crime to allow him to be on the streets like that and die,” Bass told NBC4.

She admitted there aren’t enough housing and services in LA for people like Caleb suffering from severe mental illness and addiction.

“That’s why Caleb is on the streets,” Bass said.  

Of the 4,000 units of homeless housing now being built in the LA area, the Mayor’s office couldn’t name one building under construction geared specifically to house and help the severely addicted and/or mentally ill.

The I-Team reached to the LA County Department of Mental Health to talk about this, but the department never replied to our inquiries.

Mayor Bass is urging people to vote in March ballot for California’s Proposition 1, which would authorize $6.4 billion to build treatment facilities for the homeless with mental health and substance problems.

But money isn’t the only obstacle to helping the most vulnerable on the streets, NYU Professor Alex Barnard told the I-Team.

“There’s a lot of people intervening in the lives of somebody like Caleb, but no clear responsibility for actually putting together what he needs,” Barnard told NBC4.

Barnard said the system is “fragmented,” with a lot of agencies and non profits trying to help these people but not one is actually in charge.

“It’s too easy for every provider in the system to say this is really someone else’s problem,” Barnard added.

Just this fall, the I-Team found Caleb yet again, lying in a stupor on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

“We as a community have really failed him and let him down,” Kerry Morrison told NBC4.

There are a few tiny glimmers of hope for the toughest cases living on the streets like Caleb.

After spotting him on that Hollywood sidewalk, Morrison made a few calls, and Caleb has ended up in a new pilot program called the Mark Twain, which provides temporary housing and mental health services for 58 people, out of the thousands of addicted and mentally ill on the streets of LA.

The Mark Twain project is overseen by LA County Department of Mental Health and a group called Hollywood 4WRD.

“I now have a clean place to stay,” Caleb told the I-Team, about his room at the Mark Twain.

But during the day, he is allowed to wander the streets of Hollywood where he admitted to NBC4 that he still gets drugs and is still using meth.

“I’m still using. I’ve heard magic and stuff, in my head, about other worlds,” he said. 

Residents of the Mark Twain can only stay up to two years and Caleb says when his time there is up, he has no idea where he’ll go.

“I might be back on the streets.”

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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