How the Star of a High School Musical Ended Up Homeless and Overdosing on LA Streets

"This guy could die. Tomorrow, he could be under a white sheet."

Caleb D. was first spotted passed out on a sidewalk near Sunset and Vine, apparently overdosing on methamphetamine. We learned Caleb, 25 years old and emaciated, is on a list called the "Hollywood Top 14," which keeps track of some of the most vulnerable homeless people in this part of LA.

"This guy could die. Tomorrow, he could be under a white sheet," said Kerry Morrison, head of Hollywood4WRD -- a coalition of government and business people, and social service agencies, that compiled the Hollywood Top 14 list as a way of trying to help the most at-risk homeless people on the streets.

The Hollywood 14

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Credits: Hollywood4WRD

The I-Team traced Caleb D.'s history to rural Sabina, Ohio. He loved to sing, and was the star of the school musical during his senior year at East Clinton High.

"Caleb just always loved life," his mother Mindy D. told the I-Team in an interview. 

After high school, he told his family he was heading to Los Angeles. His mother admits it might have been to escape a troubled life at home. Mindy told NBC4 she was addicted to heroin while Caleb was growing up.

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"I feel so bad because I wondered, is it because of what I did, that he's where he's at now," Mindy said while sobbing. 

Mindy says Caleb also had run-ins with police, and may have moved to Los Angeles to escape legal problems.

According to Hollywood4WRD's Top 14 list, Caleb has been on the streets for over five years, a meth user, and steadily deteriorating. Mindy says she hasn't seen or spoken to her son for five or more years.

"I just wonder, where does he sleep, what does he eat, does he have any friends?" Mindy said.

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Morrison of Hollywood4WRD said Caleb and the others on the Hollywood Top 14 list symbolize how the system is often failing the homeless who suffer from severe mental illness or drug addiction.

Morrison says the city's plan to spend $1.2 billion to build shelters and apartments for the homeless doesn't adequately address the needs of the most vulnerable on the streets.

"We don't have many options for these people," Morrison said.

Morrison says people like Caleb often need round-the-clock care or intense drug rehab.

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"He is not capable of taking care of his basic life needs," Morrison said. "Housing is not the answer for Caleb."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said some of the housing planned for LA's homeless population will be able to support those with severe mental illness, but his office couldn't say how many beds might eventually be available.

When asked if he's satisfied that there is enough housing being built for the severely mentally ill homeless, Garcetti responded, "Absolutely not."

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"We need a countywide strategy, a statewide strategy, because LA city can't do it alone," he added.

But while government officials figure out their strategy, many homeless are dying on the streets.

"What is it about this society that we would let a young man like Caleb deteriorate to this level?" Morrison said.

The death rate of homeless people in LA County doubled from 2013 to 2018. Last year, 1,047 homeless people died on the streets of LA compared to 536 deaths in 2013.  

Caleb was possibly hours away from dying of an overdose when NBC4's I-Team first spotted him in September on a Hollywood sidewalk. An outreach worker who saw the I-Team's camera crew got Caleb to a hospital and then to rehab, where he remains today.

For now, Caleb has a shot at a life off the streets, but he's the exception. Of the original Hollywood Top 14 list, three have died while on the streets and four have disappeared.

Note: The Hollywood 14 List has always been in flux since it was first created in 2013. It changes when someone a homeless person on the list finds housing, is incarcerated, or dies.

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