Andrew Costa is 25 years old and was previously in several homeless shelters until he found a permanent home at Menlo Family Housing. He was adopted in Germany by Italian parents and lived most of his life in Long Island. He left New York in 2015, and was briefly caught up in drug usage. He enjoys fishing but hasn’t been able to recently because of the coronavirus. He likes to spend time with his cat, Casper, in his apartment.
Where is your hometown?
[My hometown is] Long Island, New York. It’s pretty awesome. Obviously, same as LA, there are some areas you don’t want to be at, but other than that most of it’s pretty great. Just all mostly suburbia. We’ve got Jones Beach, we’ve got two different counties worth of beaches. [My favorite place in Long Island] is Jones Beach.
I’ve been in California for seven years or so. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for six and a half years, so since about 2013. I was adopted. I have two sisters. They were also adopted. I had great parents. So it was good. I actually was in New York, visiting them a couple weeks ago. It was actually a lot better than I expected, especially with this whole COVID thing.
Have you been anywhere else other than Long Island or Los Angeles?
I’ve been to San Francisco, Oceanside, all types of places south from LA. I’ve been to San Clemente a bunch of times with one of my friends. We just had a good time going fishing, kayaking, and did a bunch of stuff. I started fishing probably when I was about 19 or 20-years-old. I started at the Santa Monica Pier with a friend. I’ve just been waiting for the summertime to hit, but ever since COVID happened everything’s just so messed up right now.
I’ve also been in the middle of the country, somewhere starting with an ‘A’. I visited for a couple of days at a time. I definitely like the more liberal areas, like LA and San Francisco, basically all of California. I was with one of my friends and his friend, who I met for the first time [a few days before]. [Traveling] opens me up to other cultures. It helps me be less prejudiced against all cultures and people.
Do you live or work in Ktown?
I live in Koreatown. I lived in a different part of Koreatown [before]: Western. But in Menlo, for about two years or so. To be frank, I’ve been telling people for the past six or seven years that [I moved to Ktown] for the three W’s of life: weed, weather, and women. I just needed a change of scenery. I needed to get on my own path in life.
[Koreatown] is not really that different from [Long Island]. Long Island City is a big melting pot of all types of cultures, and it’s the same way here in LA. I’m a little closer to the ocean here.
What led you to Menlo?
I’ve worked with a bunch of different resources and outreach programs. I volunteered with a bunch of them too. Eventually, Menlo came up and I got an apartment and I was able to move in. I would say Menlo is a lot more independent [compared to] the other places that I’ve lived in, like the Salvation Army, Los Angeles Youth Network, places like that. But this is cool because I’m all on my own.
It’s wonderful [having a stable home]. I have no rules. I can come in and out whenever I want, except for right now. I’ve had a cat for at least 16 months. I love her to death. I’ve had her for close to a year. My buddy got her for me as a present. Her name’s Casper, like Casper the Ghost. She’s a little annoying sometimes, but she’s a cat. She’s about nine months old or so, maybe ten and a half.
What’s it like to be at the Salvation Army?
It can be a little hectic, but overall it’s pretty alright. I don’t really remember exactly how I got there. I probably just found out about it through a friend or something. I turned in an application, and a couple of months later I was accepted. I wouldn’t say I was homeless, but I haven’t been homeless before. It’s not that bad if you’re on the younger side like my age, but I would imagine it’s a lot easier than, say if you were 45.
What was it like being younger and on the streets?
It wasn’t really that bad. It definitely could have been better, but it wasn’t all that bad. There’s a lot of resources if you take advantage of them. [There are] internships, jobs, plenty of resources all throughout LA.
All the people that I’ve met, all the programs, all that generosity from, whether it be strangers or strangers that became friends or staff members at youth centers…[motivated me to get through homelessness].
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
Overall, it’s a pretty nice area. I’ve also lived off of Western, so I’m pretty familiar with the area. [I like] the food.
What’s your favorite place in Ktown?
There’s this little park a couple of blocks down from Menlo. It’s calm and peaceful. Sometimes, me and my buddies will all just hang out. Sometimes we’ll maybe drink a beer. Other times, we’ll go there and relax and just hang out. I play basketball every once in a while.
Can you tell me more about your family?
My baby sister doesn’t really talk to me that much. Once in a blue moon. She holds a grudge against me, I would imagine because she resents the fact that I left her in New York, came out to California. Before that, we were hanging out every day, doing different things together, smoking weed. She’s only younger by three years. Her birthday is on the 16th, so she’ll be 22. I would say that, no matter what she says or does, she’s my family, and I consider her blood along with my eldest sister and my two parents. [I tried to talk with her] when I was in New York maybe two months ago. We hung out and it actually went a lot better than I thought it would. She got pregnant and she had her kid a little less than a year ago, so I got to meet him for the first time, and that was awesome. I didn’t think she would let me play with him or anything like that, but she was more or less an open book. Maybe not about personal things in her life, but with the baby, yeah.
What is one moment in your life that you’re most proud of?
Probably this internship I did up in Hollywood. It’s called My Friend’s Place, straight off of Hollywood Boulevard on the 101 freeway. That was a nine-month-long internship, basically a community outreach program. It’s a drop-in center. You can go there for showers, food, counseling, internships, job resources, it’s endless. Before, I had permanent housing at the Salvation Army, which is right across the street from [My Friend’s Place]. So, I ended up going there anyway. Eventually, I started getting counseling and receiving good services. I got on really good terms with them, and eventually they just kind of offered it to me. One of my case managers at My Friend’s Place in Hollywood cared–wholeheartedly cared–about me. Her name was Isabel, but unfortunately, she left a little over a year ago. The other person was Terry. She was my counselor at CHLA. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have housing right now. I’d either be in an adult Salvation Army or just back on the streets. But I have my own apartment. All the help I’ve gotten has motivated me to keep up with my rent payments and everything.
Throughout the whole internship, I’ve gotten to participate in a lot of activities there and also in the community. [I’ve made connections with] plenty of people. Both clients and staff. I also got to make a lot of friends. We’ve been to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, we’ve seen Star Wars when it came out and a bunch of different movies too actually. We’ve gone hiking in Griffith Park with a pretty large amount of people. [I remember] walking down the boulevard, going to Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, all types of stuff.
Can you describe your personal journey with substance use?
I was adopted from Russia, and I was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. My birth mom drank when she was pregnant with me. I was predisposed. I kind of blame that a little bit on how much I drink, because I do drink socially, but I drink more or less five or six days out of the week. Yesterday, I didn’t drink at all. I was just like, “I’m gonna take a day off.” But most days, it’s two to four beers, maybe five.
What has been the most challenging part about the COVID experience for you?
The masks. It gets sweaty in two minutes, and now that it’s summertime everybody’s sweating and coughing and sneezing ‘cause of COVID. I don’t even want to take public transit. A month into COVID, [I went out] 8 to 16 times a week. When COVID first came out, it was pretty much every day, multiple times a day. I wasn’t really taking it seriously. I try not to go out too much. Today, I had something to do, which is why I’m out right now. But other than that I try not to go out unless I’m just going right down the block to 7-Eleven or the bodega.
What does it mean for you to live a meaningful life?
It means everything. I mean, if you don’t have something to live for, then why bother living? Not everybody always has something to live for, or at least they might not feel like it, but the majority of the time I try and make the best out of a bad situation. I squeeze lemons to make lemonade.