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Woman Evicted From Shantytown Reunited with Chicago Relatives

May 13, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A woman whose shantytown shack was bulldozed last week had a tearful park bench reunion Monday with two cousins who arrived from Chicago after recognizing her picture in a newspaper, but she refused their offer to take her home.

″I’ve been in L.A. since 1943. This is home,″ said Helen Oliver, 61, after the reunion. ″I’m going to be cared for. Everything’s going to be all right.″

″I’m grateful. Really, I am,″ she said of her cousins’ efforts to find her and help.

Mrs. Oliver has been living at a Skid Row park bench since Friday with her cat and three dogs after city cleanup crews demolished Justiceville, a teeming collection of wood and cardboard shanties erected by the poor to protest the lack of adequate shelter and to give them housing.

About 50 people had lived in Justiceville, 12 of whom were arrested by police for trespassing when they refused to leave Friday, Lt. Dan Cooke said Monday. Mrs. Oliver had left voluntarily, however, and was not arrested.

Barbara Whittington, 43, said she recognized Mrs. Oliver hugging her cat, Pam, in a news photo that appeared Saturday in the Chicago Sun-Times. Mrs. Whittington and daughter Deirdre, 23, left that afternoon on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train and arrived Monday to take their cousin home with them.

Reporters led them to Mrs. Oliver’s bench, where the three hugged, and the Whittingtons wept.

Mrs. Oliver, wearing an orange knit stocking cap and red-and-black checked cape, seemed more composed but smiled happily when she saw her cousins.

″This is the little one I brought home from the hospital in my arms,″ she said of Mrs. Whittington. ″Why wouldn’t I be glad to see her?″

Mrs. Whittington brought family photos showing Mrs. Oliver in happier times. One picture taken in 1956 showed a smiling Mrs. Oliver sitting on the grass in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with her fiance.

Asked by reporters why she refused her cousins’ help, Mrs. Oliver said: ″I have my own plans. I’m going to try to carry them out.″

She said she would marry a man she has identified to relatives only as Herbert, and ″I’ll go where he brings me.″

Mrs. Whittington said her cousin has also spoken of having seven adopted children.

″It all seems like she’s living in a fantasy,″ she said. Earlier, she had said of her cousin, ″...It makes me sad, because I know she doesn’t have to live this way.″

Mrs. Oliver interjected: ″I’ve never lived this way.″

Deirdre Whittington said she is optimistic they can persuade her to return with them to Illinois or go back to New Orleans, where Mrs. Oliver’s mother, Lucille Williams, lives. Mrs. Whittington’s mother, Octavia Brown, who also raised Mrs. Oliver, lives in Darrol, La.

After the reunion, Mrs. Whittington left her cousin on the bench and went to find other relatives who live in Los Angeles. But Mrs. Oliver said she couldn’t join them because she couldn’t leave her three dogs and cat.

″I won’t stay in a hotel. I won’t be separated from my animals,″ she said.

Mrs. Whittington said she hadn’t seen her cousin for seven or eight years. She said the family urged Mrs. Oliver to get care after the breakup of her 16- year marriage to James Oliver, a San Francisco airline maintenance worker, more than 10 years ago.

According to Mrs. Whittington, her cousin had lived in San Francisco most of her life, but after her divorce in the early ’70s, Mrs. Oliver moved back to her mother’s home in Louisiana. Then after four or five years, she returned to California, writing only occasionally and leaving no return address.

Mrs. Oliver said she has worked as a vocational nurse in San Francisco and Las Vegas but has been unable to find similiar work in Los Angeles.

Asked how long she has lived on the street, Mrs. Oliver refused to answer Monday:

″I don’t want Barbara to know about it,″ she said.

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