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97-year-old woman, whose homelessness plight was told in The Times, dies

January 20, 2010 |  7:27 am

A 97-year-old woman forced by homelessness to live in a battered 1973 Chevrolet Suburban has died three months after strangers rallied to help get her off the street.

Bessie Mae Berger died Monday at a Sherman Oaks hospital after suffering a stroke and a heart attack, said son Larry Wilkerson.

Berger moved into temporary housing with Wilkerson and another son, Charlie Wilkerson, in October after The Times reported on the family's plight. They were spending their nights sleeping on Venice streets in their SUV after they lost their home in Palm Springs and failed to find affordable accommodations for all three of them elsewhere.

Although Berger qualifed for housing, her two sons were too young for such government assistance. Because of an earlier negative experience in a group home, Berger was fearful of being separated from her sons.

Larry Wilkerson, 60, had pledged to her that he and his 62-year-old brother would never abandon her. After The Times’ story was published, authorities from the city, Los Angeles County and the state stepped up efforts to assist them, and a nonprofit group, the Integrated Recovery Network, found temporary housing for them in Van Nuys.

Hundreds of readers, meanwhile, made donations to the family and comedians at the Laugh Factory staged a show to benefit them. Larry Wilkerson said no services are planned.

Along with him and Charlie Wilkerson, Berger is survived by two other sons, Tom Wilkerson and John McKay, both of the Santa Rosa area, Wilkerson said.

-- Bob Pool

Photo: October 2009 photo of Bessie Mae Berger. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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