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She was suffering on the streets of Santa Monica. Here’s what it took to rescue her

VENICE, CA - OCTOBER 14: Dr. Coley King, director of homeless health care at Venice Family Clinic, right, visits Suzanna, left, one of his clients on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 in Venice, CA. Dr. King helped treat Suzanna when she was living on the street and now she is housed. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Dr. Coley King, director of homeless health care at Venice Family Clinic, right, visits his client Suzanna, who now has temporary housing and will be moving into an apartment soon. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Coley King, who practices street medicine for the Venice Family Clinic, wasn’t frightened by the angry and disoriented woman at Wilshire and Lincoln boulevards in Santa Monica, who was chucking her belongings in all directions.

“My usual approach is to give some distance,” said King, who studied the homeless woman’s behavior from afar before approaching.

She was limping badly and teetering on the curb, and King feared she might tumble into the path of speeding cars. The doctor conferred with his traveling companion, outreach worker Katie Holz, and moved closer. He recalls the woman continuing “to throw a fit” for a while, tossing a flashlight and backpack in his direction, but then the anger began to melt away.

“At some point I said, ‘Hey, can I buy you a cup of coffee?’ and she said yes,” said King.

Her name was Suzanna, and she was in her mid-50s, living on the streets with a combination of mental health and addiction issues. Over coffee and doughnuts, Suzanna told King about the hip surgery she’d recently had and a bit about her mental health history.

Suzanna also told King that he appeared to her to be spinning about, as if trapped in a tornado.

King is a physician, not a psychiatrist, but more than a decade of visiting homeless encampments offers an education you can’t get in school, and he has learned that it’s often better to provide help as soon as someone agrees to it than to write a prescription that may never get filled. He carries anti-psychotic drugs with him, and after a series of questions about her medical history, he asked Suzanna if she’d like him to administer an injection, right then and there, that might help relieve her hallucinations and other symptoms.

Suzanna said yes.

That was in late June. A week later, he returned with another, longer-lasting dose of the same medication, and again she agreed to the treatment.

When I met with Suzanna a few days ago, it was at a Venice hotel, where she has been given temporary housing. She is living a new life, filled with dreams rather than despair. She said she feels “immensely” better and would be moving soon into her own apartment.

I’m sharing Suzanna’s story because in a county with 60,000 homeless people, three or four of whom die each day on average, it’s just so good to hear about a successful intervention.

Last week I wrote about a homeless woman after Silver Lake residents alerted me that she was often naked and disoriented, and that she had been seen crawling across Sunset Boulevard, in grave danger. After the column ran, I heard from readers, as I often do on this topic, who said that if she was known to be using

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