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Published on Sep 9, 2013
Early one morning in June, Jens Erik Gould had plans to interview Harriet Kilgore, a homeless singer-songwriter on the Venice Beach boardwalk. When he arrived, he found her alone, half-naked and plastered between a flattened cardboard box and a tattered blanket in an alley. There was nothing pretty about it. She was bawling and she was desperate, a speck of yellow crud lodged in the corner of her eye and her body and clothes soiled from the dirty, morning concrete. “This is really not good, Jens,” she wailed. “My hip is crushed.”
In the middle of the night, a man had demanded sex from her as she lay in a makeshift bed. When she said no, he kicked her relentlessly until fracturing her pelvis. None of the other homeless sleeping there tried to help. The police attempted, but Harriet refused an ambulance because she would have to abandon her dog, Queenie. Six hours later, Jens Gould arrived and called 9-11. As firefighters loaded her onto a stretcher, Harriet’s screams and deep moans intensified and then went silent as the ambulance took her away. Jens was left holding her stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear in one hand and a leash attached to Queenie in the other.
Harriet doesn’t think she’s been brave. But for her, courage doesn’t have the same meaning as it does for most people. That violent morning in June wasn’t the first hardship she had endured. Harriet began living on the streets after running away from her adopted family’s home at age 12. After getting her life together, marrying and having five children, her house burned down in 2001. Since then, she has lived outdoors, sleeping on the concrete, lugging her personal belongings around with her in a bicycle carriage. She has overcome drug addiction, survived attempted rape and endured assaults.
Music has helped Harriet through all this strife. Through it all, she’s blossomed into a talented singer, writing lyrics about helping the world. When Jens Gould first met her, she performed regularly at local cafés in Los Angeles with a Janis Joplin-like voice as solid as a professional musician’s, trying to earn enough money to get off the streets. Jens happened to perform at one of the same venues, and was shocked to find out Harriet would spend the night in it’s in parking lot after her shows. “That lady has had a life. She lives outside,” the amazed host of an open mic at the café told me after Harriet performed one night. “No one else in her circle does things like this.”