Q How long were you in prison?
A A grand total of ten years.
Q How young were you when you went in?
A Nineteen. I’ve been out now since November of ’94. I’m off parole and I’m free. I don’t have any warrants or anything. So I guess that’s an improvement.
Q Do you have plans for the future?
A Hopefully I’ll become a professional rock musician someday. I know that’s a well-worn dream that a lot of people have, and they never achieve it, but I think it’s within my grasp.
Ocean Beach, on the wall
Tommy — Age 34
Q How long have you been homeless?
A About 19 years. I’ve lived in Ocean Beach 27 years. I’ve been homeless since I was 13 years old.
Q How did you become homeless?
A My grandma died, and I came down here for her funeral. And I haven’t left yet [laughs]. It’s a good place to live. I can survive out here even though I don’t have a job. I would like to have a job. One of these merchants is going to give me a job one of these days, hopefully.
Q What do you do for a living?
A Well, right now all I do is work for food. I work at the pizza place, and they give me food. I also work at the Greek place up the street, and they give me food. Sometimes they give me money, not much but enough — five or ten dollars. It’s enough to survive on, couple beers [laughs]. It’s not like I can go get a whole keg or nothin’ like that. But the police harassment around here has been really bad. They’ve been nailin’ us left and right for no reason. Hopefully they’ll leave us alone.
I’m going through sobriety right now. I’m trying not to drink. As you can see, I got a nice, brand-new T-shirt on, new pants. I’m tryin’. You know, that’s so they leave me alone. It feels good to be clean and everything like that, but they’re still not gonna leave me alone. So I don’t know what to say.
Q How long have you been sober?
A This will be my ninth day. I’m cookin’, baby. I’ve gotta go through a hundred days’ sobriety. If I go through a hundred days’ sobriety, they’ll leave me totally alone. I figure if I could do a hundred days’ sobriety, I just might as well quit all the way around, you know.
All I really want is a job so I can get me an apartment and act like a normal person instead of being marked as a homeless person or — rephrase that — houseless.
James — Age 39
Q What happened to put you on the street?
Q What were you doing before you were homeless?
A Drivin’ a truck 11 years till I lost my Class 1 license. I got a DUI. I was the owner-operator together with my wife. Then we got divorced and she got to keep the truck. You know, women get everything. Eleven years of marriage threw my life down the toilet. No big deal [shrugs]. I just haven’t decided to put my life back on track. I’m capable of working. I can pull myself out of this, but I don’t want to. I’m on vacation straight up. I worked my whole life. Then I lost everything. I had my life turned upside down. I loved her. I still love her.
Q Do you have any contact?
A We still talk. We’re still friends. Still see my kid. I’m just not goin’ nowhere. It doesn’t matter to me. People can say this or that justifies it, but I don’t want to go anywhere. They think it hurts. It don’t hurt. I think that everybody that lives in a glass house château on the hill, they oughta come down here and sleep outside and have no showers, no hot water, get spit on, pissed on, shot at by the cops, and fuckin’ come out here and try it before they judge me. What the hell! Our taxes pay for an RSVP Retired Citizens’ Volunteer Program so they can drive up and down the wall and harass homeless people ’cause they got nothin’ else to do with their life. They get their stipend. They get paid a dividend, part of their social security income.
Remember, all homeless people are not intelligent, or we’re not supposed to be. We’re not supposed to have brains. We’re not supposed to be a functional part of society, but I’m one of the few. I do think. I’m computer literate, and I can really jam some shit up their asses if I choose to. I don’t want to. I just like to live. I like to be able to breathe, to walk down the street. I like to be able to go into a restaurant and not have them say, like they do, “You can’t come in here ’cause you’re one of THOSE.” That’s how these business owners, some of these business operators, treat some of these homeless people out here. And the society allows it to happen. You know, homelessness is around all across America. Okay? It’s not gonna go away.
I sit there and I look down the street, and I look at the military base, and I look at space for over 50,000 people to live, houses just sitting there on a military base rotting into the ground. They have been vacant and boarded up for years. You tellin’ me that the government can’t use their brain and take some of these homeless people and give them a place to live? They don’t want us on the street. They don’t want us in society. But we got beaucoup unused housing that our government pays for, which you pay for, your taxes, your government dollars. And they say they have no place to put these people?