A small group gathered on Monday to honor the memory of Helmut Hermanns, who died in August. Hermanns lived his life in anonymity, sleeping on a park bench at the corner of Sunset and Highland in front of Hollywood High School.
Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, first stumbled upon Hermanns when working last year with a Hollywood coalition called Hollywood 4WRD to compile a “Vulnerability Index” as part of a homeless registry to identify those who were most at risk.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact here was this 80-year-old man living on a park bench,” Morrison said of the man with twinkly blue eyes.
Hermanns is believed to have a peaceful death, Morrison said. During the time she knew him, she learned a few details about him, which were included in a brief bio next to the bench on Monday.
Hermanns, was born and raised in Germany, his family ran a horticultural business, he traveled to many countries, worked at a BMW dealership in Beverly Hills, lived on Franklin Avenue for more than 40 years, collected coins and keys, liked to sunbathe, had never married and had beautiful handwriting.
At the memorial service, Morrison fondly recalled his “lilting German accent” and his initial insistence that he didn’t want any help. The park bench where she and other volunteers found him was his home for nine months before the homeless advocacy organization, Gettlove, paid for him to move into the Gilbert Hotel on Wilcox Avenue. They eventually helped him secure his own one-bedroom apartment.
Sonny Duron, managing director of social services at Church of the Blessed Sacrament, visited Hermanns every day.
“He was really reluctant to take the apartment,” Duron said. “He said, ‘It’s too big. I don’t want it.’ The first night he slept in the closet.”
Duron said Hermanns eventually took pride in his apartment, referring to it as “my own palace.” He lived in it for about nine months until his death, Morrison said.
Reggie Holmes, a case manager for PATH or People Assisting the Homeless, was one of several people who talked of how Hermanns inspired him. Holmes said Hermanns, who had no living family, became like family to him.
“All that he got, he gave 10 times to me,” Holmes said. “I know he made a comment he didn’t believe in God. It’s proving obvious that God believed in him.”
Ryan Bell, pastor of Hollywood Adventist Church, agreed. While he didn’t know Hermanns personally, some members of his congregation did. Bell talked of what a difference volunteers made in Hermanns’ life and made reference to Psalm 56 in the Bible which talks about facing distress in life.
“It reminds us that God remembers us, and we are not forgotten,” Bell said. “I thought this is Helmut’s story.”
Bell encouraged those gathered to honor Hermanns’ memory and “keep working and not be discouraged that it’s one by one.”
Morrison said she is simply glad Hermanns didn’t die on the street. Holmes is grateful too.
“His last days were some of his best days,” Holmes said. “For me, it’s inspirational. It’s recharging my battery to find many more Helmut Hermanns out there.”
There are more than 745 homeless people living in Hollywood, according to PATH’s Director of Outreach Rudy Salinas.