Author: Rodney Akins
After finally moving out of Colonia Libertad, Mexico, which is two blocks across the San Ysidro border crossing, I was homeless with about $50 in my pocket and nowhere to go. I decided to try my hand at sleeping on college campuses and was promptly run off. I ended up my first night at a bus stop on a bench at SDSU.
I was tired the whole next day, so after having a beer or two to take the edge off, I went to St. Vincent’s, where I had placed my name on a list almost a month before. I was told that I was in line and could expect a bed any day now, so I said I would call every morning — I was assured that if I was not in line at 8 a.m. that I could forget it.
So the second night I tried to sleep out on Pacific Beach. Someone had told me that the cops wouldn’t see me right next to those concrete borders (or whatever you call them). So I sat next to one for about 15 minutes and started thinking about all those horror movies involving ocean creatures — Jaws, Swamp Thing, Cocoon — and what very little we actually know about the ocean and all the living stuff in it.
So I bailed and headed back downtown where people sleep on the sidewalks and are actually patrolled all night by the cops and found a spot on the side of the library and fell asleep on some newspaper. At daybreak I headed to St. Vincent’s and got a bed, so I guess you could say I was lucky.
Well, not really. There are always at least two sides to every story, and this side will be the candy-coated version — which is the truth, just simply not stating all the details. So we will call this “reality lite” at this specific date and time, with a promise to fill in all the gaps at a later date.
My first day there was a trip — I met a guy that was Native American or something, and he had maybe 20 wristwatches on his arms. Of course, I had to ask him what time it was, and he replied that none of them worked and started telling me about how he had an apartment and collected all kinds of stuff — especially oil lamps — and was evicted about three months ago because his roommate didn’t come up with the rent. While we were talking, somebody else came up to him and asked him what time it was, so he started the story all over again. I came to the conclusion that he probably spent a whole lot of time not giving the time.
Then I noticed some of the long-term homeless. They stood out, kind of like soldiers that had been in country too long. They had the look — usually very defensive and traveling with all their possessions in a grocery cart or wagon.
So, finally, I went into orientation where about seven of the lucky ones, including me, were given plastic bags to put our clothes in and T-shirts and sweatpants to wear for the next 24 hours. Then we all went to the showers (all I could think about was the Holocaust). Then we all went to this large walk-in freezer with all our belongings in a large garbage bag to be kept for 24 hours in order to kill anything that may be alive in our belongings. This, along with monthly pest control, keeps the place bug-free. I thought this was a good idea and was relieved that we did not have to get sprayed for lice.
I got my bed later that evening around seven and was given bunk number 86. I thought, Now isn’t that ironic? and went to sleep very comfortably on a top bunk that night.