Even though I was homeless, I always had a vehicle, and that made life far easier than it was for those living out of backpacks. Having to watch everything you own every minute of the day (including when you are asleep) makes for a tough existence. When a homeless person was arrested, many times the cops would leave their belongings behind. Numerous people I met, who had identification, lost it on the way to jail — the cops would just throw it out the window of the squad car.
One colorful character in P.B. has been living in vehicles for upwards of 20 years. He was laid off after 19 years at a local aerospace company. Nowadays, he’s pretty crippled up and has a hard time walking. He is one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known. He’s always there to talk to anyone who wanders by. He helps people to get to court, helps them file for disability, and gives them rides to the feeds. He’s well-read and highly intelligent. He loses one or two vehicles a year. Either the cops tow them for some infraction, or they die of old age. Within no time, he’s found a new beater “home.” Why live like this? With his disability, he can either afford a dumpy room in a bad neighborhood or he can eat.
There is a definite feeling of family among the local homeless at the beach. They often share what they have and try to watch each others’ backs. Most are loners by nature, but there is a definite feeling of extended family when they get together for meals at the local churches.
And speaking of the local churches (were we speaking?), there are four churches in Pacific Beach and one in La Jolla that feed the hungry one day a week, and the church in La Jolla feeds six days a week at Mariner’s Point. The Methodist Church not only provides a meal, they also have a medical clinic, dental clinic, and acupuncture.
Most of the churches have been hassled by neighbors and the City of San Diego. The churches are careful to insist that people only come on the property one hour before the feed and leave the property after the event. All of the feeds are put on by volunteers and often, to some extent, at their own expense. The hassles faced by the churches active in feeding the poor no doubt discourage other churches from starting their own programs.
I was amazed by the commitment of many of the volunteers who spend most of one day a week preparing for the feed, collecting the food, and cooking it. Then they have to clean the kitchen and dining room and leave the property as they found it. The people coming to dine are always greeted with a warm smile and a hearty welcome. The often-heard criticism of these programs is that they are “enabling” the homeless. I guess the theory is that if the poor could just get hungry enough, they would snap out of it, realize that poverty is their own folly, and then they would immediately become successful used-car salespersons.
I was at a meeting yesterday of the City Council Permanent Homeless Facility Task Force. There were many compassionate folks at the meeting, responsible for years of hard work furnishing shelter, food, and counseling to those living on the street. But the political and much of the financial will behind this group’s efforts emerged gradually — the wealthy owners and realtors downtown were upset that all those folks sleeping on sidewalks were making sales of all those new million-dollar condos difficult.
The chairman just wanted a number — how many beds do we have to provide before we can again start writing “illegal lodging” tickets and round up the strays.
The reason the City of San Diego had a moratorium on rounding up the poor was not out of compassion for the poor. It was because of a lawsuit, filed pro-bono, by two young lawyers who pointed out that if there were no beds available in the community, then the only legal option for those living out of backpacks was to keep moving 24 hours a day, every day. Even a well-fed Olympic athlete might have trouble with that after two or three days.
But I digress.
So, I’m on the street, working mostly, and for the most part staying under the radar of the SDPD. I had been on my knees for a few weeks laying tile for “K.” One morning I woke up with a swollen knee and I could hardly walk. After a few days, I went to the emergency room at Scripps. They drained some liquid off my knee and said I’d have to stay off it for a few weeks.
I had saved up some money and I thought — road trip! My plan was to drive to Norfolk, Virginia, and visit with my brother and his family.
Before leaving, I managed to hook up with a woman who wanted a ride to some religious community in Arkansas. She didn’t make it that far. She jumped ship in Arizona, thank God.
Meanwhile, my leg was getting worse. I had a wild ride one morning talking to 911 on the cell phone and asking where the hospital was in Kingman, Arizona. I was 60 miles out of town, and the operator tried to talk me into pulling over and sending an ambulance for me, but I couldn’t leave my van out on the road. I finished the drive in agony and spent a few hours in the emergency room. The diagnosis was that I had a cyst behind my kneecap. The doctor said to elevate my leg and stay off it for a while. He gave me a prescription for pain pills and I was back on the road. I made it as far as Austin, Texas, when I got a phone call from some friends in Virginia City, Nevada. They said that my wife had been busted for methamphetamine (yes, I’m still married to her) and that I might want to head that way in case she had to go to jail, so I could take care of our ten-year-old son.