Kurt and Tony are friends who travel together for safety. At night they sleep in one of San Diego’s many “cubbyholes,” as the homeless call the spaces behind bushes and buildings. Kurt Wiley said he came here from Michigan; Tony, who preferred not to give his last name, is Native American and has family in Salt Lake City. The two have been road companions for almost two years.
On Thursday, October 23, at about 7:00 p.m., Tony called the police because his friend was threatening to kill himself, he later told me. Officer Lint and his partner arrived at the Balboa Park location and began a conversation with the men. Wiley “has a history of depression,” Tony told the officers. Wiley, who pulled back his sleeve to reveal scars on his wrist, said he had “done some really weird things,” but Tony is his friend, and “if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be alive.”
Two more officers arrived. One kneeled beside Wiley and opened a conversation with the two men, who were sitting on the grass. Wiley talked about coming to San Diego, saying, “I landed on the moon,” to describe what it’s like to be homeless here.
“What substances have you used today?” the officer asked Wiley. Wiley admitted he’d had some vodka earlier. “What did we do wrong?” asked Wiley. “I’m curious because we could have been left alone.”
“Nothing,” the officer replied. Then Tony accused Wiley of having a knife.
“He’s a drama queen,” Wiley said. “I know the best thing to say is nothing, so I’m gonna keep saying it.”
Finally, the officer asked Wiley if there was anybody he wanted to hurt. “No,” he answered. “Do you want to hurt yourself?” the officer asked. Wiley said, “No.” “Do you hear voices that aren’t there?” “No,” again. The officer told Wiley he could call them anytime for help.
After the officers left, Tony asked me if the winter shelter was opening soon. They can’t sleep in Balboa Park “because the sprinklers come on.” They have to keep moving, finding new places. When asked what they’ll do this winter, they both answered at once: “We’re going to Salt Lake,” Tony said. Wiley: “We’ll get a blanket.”