Richard: "I could have got a job here at Target doing stock at night, but that’s hard labor."
  • Richard: "I could have got a job here at Target doing stock at night, but that’s hard labor."
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Target, Sports Arena area

Richard — Age 38, approximately

Q How long have you been homeless?

A I’ve been homeless here in San Diego for about two and a half years. That’s how long I’ve been selling Street Light newspapers. I sell them every day. I get a room down at the El Rio. I’m able to do laundry, eat, you know, take a shower. So Street Light helped me. They’ve done a lot for me. I’m kind of dedicated. I even got my name in the paper in this issue right here on the last page. I set up drop spots for the other vendors.

Robert: "I got into a fight with my roommate in ’98, and I ended up breaking my hand hitting him, which caused me to lose my job."

Robert: "I got into a fight with my roommate in ’98, and I ended up breaking my hand hitting him, which caused me to lose my job."

Q What were you doing prior to being homeless?

A I did commercial fishing in Florida. And before that I worked at a strip club in New Orleans dancing. I also worked in Key West as a barker for a strip club. I’ve been around. I lived with a stripper in Mexico. I grew up in Chicago. Surprised that I don’t have my Bulls hat on. I did 34 years in Chicago. Had to get away from the cold and snow. That was enough.

James: "We got divorced and she got to keep the truck."

James: "We got divorced and she got to keep the truck."

Q What caused you to become homeless in the first place?

A A relationship went bad a couple years ago. That was the main thing that brought me out here. But I used to drink a lot, so that messed me up a lot as well.

Q What are your plans for the future?

Rudy: "I saw an extraterrestrial craft, like, in 1995, and this thing came up to me and zapped me."

Rudy: "I saw an extraterrestrial craft, like, in 1995, and this thing came up to me and zapped me."

A Well, I’m into sales. I could have got a job here at Target doing stock at night, but that’s hard labor. I like to work telemarketing, or I could be a sales rep down here at Dow’s. I like being with people.

John:  "I’m just waitin’ till Mom dies and then I’ll have $250,000."

John: "I’m just waitin’ till Mom dies and then I’ll have $250,000."

Q How do you feel about the state of the homeless in San Diego?

A There are a lot of homeless in San Diego that are homeless ’cause they want to be homeless. They do drugs. They drink. They do crimes. I’m not down on the homeless, ’cause I’m homeless, but if I don’t watch my cart settin’ over there, someone’s gonna walk off with it. I have my sleepin’ bag, and my friend’s stuff is all parked over there around the corner. And that’s the way they are. They’ll rip you off in a heartbeat. You have to look out for number one over here.

Jessie:  "I had lived on a boat for two months when it sank. All our possessions were lost."

Jessie: "I had lived on a boat for two months when it sank. All our possessions were lost."

I’m not really sure what comes next, but I like this. I’m my own boss. Nobody tells me what to do. Nobody tells me when to stop. I make as much as I want to make. Well, not always, but I do pretty good.

Q What is an average day like for you?

Chris:  "My old boss, the telemarketer, is going to hire me back as of March 1."

Chris: "My old boss, the telemarketer, is going to hire me back as of March 1."

A I’ve got a routine. I come out here. I sell my papers. I go get my room. I shower, shave, watch HBO, come back out here the next morning, go to sleep, wake up, go down and get my soup. I’m big on the Cup O’ Noodles. I do a lot of those. You know, it keeps me goin’. And sometimes I get enough to go over to Burger King or Jack in the Box and go back and get a room again. It’s like a routine. Gotta make sure you have cigarettes though.

Florien: "Every year I go to Tucson. I’m their dancing Santa. This year I raised $20,000 for the Salvation Army."

Florien: "Every year I go to Tucson. I’m their dancing Santa. This year I raised $20,000 for the Salvation Army."

Q You mentioned that you were a barker for a strip club. What is a barker?

A We stood out in front of strip clubs in New Orleans and Key West, and we would say, “We got hot women and cold beer right here. We got ’em ’cause you need ’em.”

Ocean Beach, on the beach

Jonathan: "One night the police came around and took our son from us ’cause we were sleepin’ in the car."

Jonathan: "One night the police came around and took our son from us ’cause we were sleepin’ in the car."

Robert — Age 30-something

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Well, I’m not always homeless. I am, though, on the weekends because I lost my license for a DUI. I come here and just camp out on the beach, party, play guitar. It’s like a free music school here. I was totally homeless several times before, a grand total of three or four years of my life, and it wasn’t that bad. I had to make do. I could survive. I always found something to eat. I don’t mind just hangin’ out on the street for the weekend, and I don’t need another dui.

Timothy: "I’m just thankful that my main diagnosis is schizophrenia."

Timothy: "I’m just thankful that my main diagnosis is schizophrenia."

Q So you’re homeless by choice on weekends so you can drink?

A Yeah. I had an accident. I got hit by a car a year ago, and I’m livin’ at my mom’s house now. She doesn’t like all the drinking. So I come here for the weekend.

Q How long has it been since you had your own place?

Anonymous: "I want to write a book about Christian stuff like Jesus and about my life."

Anonymous: "I want to write a book about Christian stuff like Jesus and about my life."

A It’s been a while.

Q What happened?

A I got into a fight with my roommate in ’98, and I ended up breaking my hand hitting him, which caused me to lose my job. While I was waiting for it to heal, the job moved to Las Vegas, and I just haven’t been able to get back on my feet since — not that I’ve tried very hard. The predicament I’m in is my own fault.

Michael: "I was driving down Interstate 5 and my appendix blew out."

Michael: "I was driving down Interstate 5 and my appendix blew out."

Q What do you do for a living?

A The last job I had was in marble and granite fabrication. For now I do little odd jobs — wax people’s cars, do a little bit of mechanic work, and some minor carpentry. Sometimes I go with a friend to the swap meet. We go to garage sales and look for stuff to sell at swap meets.

Q Do you ever get money for playing guitar?

A Occasionally, but not very much though.

Claire: "I worked at Miramar Naval Air Station. I was a real Certified Red Cross Water Safety Instructor."

Claire: "I worked at Miramar Naval Air Station. I was a real Certified Red Cross Water Safety Instructor."

Q Are you a songwriter?

A Somewhat. I started playing in prison seven years ago.

Q They let you have a guitar?

A Yeah, they do in South Carolina. They used to here, but they don’t anymore I’ve heard.

Q Did you grow up in the South?

Jim: "I did have three houses in Phoenix back in ’78–’80."

Jim: "I did have three houses in Phoenix back in ’78–’80."

A No. I grew up all over the place. My dad was in the Marine Corps. I’ve been to Alaska, Florida, Virginia, both Carolinas, Texas, California, Arizona. When I was a kid, I remember the thing that I would look forward to the most would be when the family was going to pack up and leave and go somewhere. I was always glad to go. I didn’t have many friends when I was a kid. I had a really severe attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and mild autism. So I didn’t have any friends. When I was a kid, everybody else was my enemy. I wasn’t interested in school. I got my education in prison reading books.

Anonymous: "I get a government check, you know. I don’t do anything really. I don’t know — sit on the beach."

Anonymous: "I get a government check, you know. I don’t do anything really. I don’t know — sit on the beach."

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.

Old Tom: "Right now I’m washing dishes. Make about a hundred fifty a week, and I’m not payin’ rent."

Old Tom: "Right now I’m washing dishes. Make about a hundred fifty a week, and I’m not payin’ rent."

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.

Anonymous  "I met up with my brother about seven years ago. He was on the street too."

Anonymous "I met up with my brother about seven years ago. He was on the street too."

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.

Ricardo: "There’s little names for places, like that’s Rock Town right there, and I’m one of the Rock Town Rockers."

Ricardo: "There’s little names for places, like that’s Rock Town right there, and I’m one of the Rock Town Rockers."

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.

Christopher: "The most I ever stayed up in a tree was four and a half weeks at one time."

Christopher: "The most I ever stayed up in a tree was four and a half weeks at one time."

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.

Point Loma

James — Age 39

Q What happened to put you on the street?

A Divorce.

Oscar: "I have been living outdoors all the time since I was six."

Oscar: "I have been living outdoors all the time since I was six."

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.

Manny: "Too much money. I’m, like, against it. I’m not a capitalist. I’m not materialistic. The material I do have is the necessities that I need to sustain and that’s it."

Manny: "Too much money. I’m, like, against it. I’m not a capitalist. I’m not materialistic. The material I do have is the necessities that I need to sustain and that’s it."

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.

Francisco: "I have nothing in my pockets."

Francisco: "I have nothing in my pockets."

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.

Donald: "I’m sinnin’ my balls off, and I know I’ll go to hell if I die. But I’m tryin’ to get better. I’m moral."

Donald: "I’m sinnin’ my balls off, and I know I’ll go to hell if I die. But I’m tryin’ to get better. I’m moral."

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?

Street Trash: "They tried to attack me last night, and that stick saved me."

Street Trash: "They tried to attack me last night, and that stick saved me."

We have four shelters in the city of San Diego. There’s St. Vincent de Paul. They take in beaucoup dollars in donations. They do nothing that changes the homelessness, but they get millions given to them every year. Explain that to me. Same thing with the Salvation Army. The program don’t work. How many homeless women’s shelters are there in San Diego County? Two — Rachel’s and the other place. That’s it.

Stoney: "The whole house thing and family vibe didn’t work for me. It felt awkward. My friends are more like a family."

Stoney: "The whole house thing and family vibe didn’t work for me. It felt awkward. My friends are more like a family."

Everybody in America has a skill of some kind, whether it be painting, plumbing, doing paperwork, doing bookwork. You offer me a place to live and a place to take a hot shower. I’ll work. You don’t have to give me shit. Just give me a little bit. Give me a place to pull myself up. I can go out and get a job, but who’s going to hire me if I can’t take a hot shower every day and I don’t have a place to keep my clothes? So instead, I’m down here getting harassed by the police. They say I’ve had one too many beers, and they want to run me through their system check for warrants. To me it don’t matter. I got a criminal record. I did 5 years in the federal penitentiary. So I’m gonna suffer the rest of my fuckin’ life for it even though I paid for my crime.

Toto: "I found out that everything my parents taught me was true."

Toto: "I found out that everything my parents taught me was true."

And that’s over 15 years ago. I’m 39. Am I still going to play their game? I don’t think so. I don’t stand on the corner. I don’t panhandle. I panhandle from my friends. I don’t stand on the corner with a sign. If somebody’s got a job for me, I’ll do it. I’ll work. Give me a five-dollar-an-hour job. They should put a huge wall up at the border. Maybe then I’d have a fightin’ chance at a job. These guys are workin’ for three dollars an hour. I watch America send billions of dollars every year for overseas foods. So they will drop 10,000 pounds of food over in Guadalupe, but do you think a homeless person out here is gonna have a chance to get a half-eaten doughnut? And as far as the merchants’ association, they can kiss my ass. Who do you think baby-sits the Christmas tree every year and the sand castle? Homeless people. Who else is out here 24/7? I don’t see any of the rich people on the hill comin’ down and givin’ up their time. They are not going to leave their house, put down the remote control and watch the tree so their family can come down and enjoy it. You think we get any respect? No. We get a ticket.

Joe: "They were selling snacks and candies in the jails that did not have the nutrition facts printed on them."

Joe: "They were selling snacks and candies in the jails that did not have the nutrition facts printed on them."

Point Loma

Rudy — Age: “I think I’m 42; I worked it out the other day”

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Five years.

You’re gonna trip on this one! Guess what happened to me out on the cliffs. I saw an extraterrestrial craft, like, in 1995, and this thing came up to me and zapped me, like, with some sort of energy. I tracked it down on the Internet to see what it was. What I came across were people, like, with these crop circles, formations, something, and I came across a video of the same type of energy ball, or whatever, making crop circles on the Internet. So I copied that. Now I just kinda keep my ear to the ground, see what’s goin’ on. Right now I have an ssi case pending to get disability ’cause whatever happened to me, I ended up with schizophrenia.

Roy: "Digging my food out of a Dumpster or getting lunch and a sermon is so much better than working like a dog."

Roy: "Digging my food out of a Dumpster or getting lunch and a sermon is so much better than working like a dog."

Q What are your plans for the future?

A Well, my case is within a month, so it’s kind of up in the wind right now. I am hoping the case will come out my way.

Q What were you doing before you were homeless?

A I was around here in San Diego lookin’ for work mostly, had a couple odd jobs here and there. I worked in the computer industry here, and it kinda went kaput. I like San Diego, and I don’t feel like leaving.

Q Do you have anything to say about the treatment of the homeless here?

A They have a strange attitude. It’s like they don’t want to know that they exist; you know, push them to the side, keep them out of view. They have this Outreach truck I saw yesterday. It’s from the police department. They were talkin’ to this guy, and I just wanted to make sure they weren’t gonna just throw him in the back and take him away. It said “Homeless Outreach” on the side. It was down at North Beach in the parking lot. So I went up to hear what they had to say. They said something about jobs, like they could get you jobs or something, but they didn’t give me a pamphlet or nothin’. It was like they were just trying to see who’s homeless so they could come back later and try to arrest you or somethin’. I don’t know. It was just scary — two cops in a white step van.

Q What were they reaching out with?

A Not much — no coffee, no doughnuts, no sandwiches; and it’s dinnertime. What are they really after? It was strange, like a census. But I am doing okay for out here, but these are the cold days. They have a cold-weather shelter down on Sports Arena for vets. I could get into that one. I’ve been thinkin’ about it, at least during the rainy part.

Pacific Beach

John — Age 52

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Most of my life either present — I came from millionaire people, and when Mom dies, I’ll be worth a fortune. I love nature and the street and the weather. I had frostbite in Chicago. Down here, I can deal with this. I can eat and sleep free, but unfortunately all the money goes to beer. How embarrassing.

Once I did 11 days in jail for a rusted shopping cart. It was a hundred years old. You know why? I was in the Gaslamp Quarter, and I was hurtin’ tourism. They wanted to give me 30 days. Now that’s ridiculous. Usually you’ll do one day, but I was in the wrong area, you see. And that old thing was worthless; it was a produce cart. I dropped cans off at Ralphs. I walked five miles — I’m talkin’ too much; I’m drunk.

I do some writin’ and readin’, and I work out every day. I’m just waitin’ till Mom dies and then I’ll have $250,000, but my brother will be in charge of it, and I want him to be. Then I’ll get rent.

I just applied for a job at a restaurant up the street. The blonde says, “Come back —” It would have been perfect. She said, “Wash your hands; see the boss at 2:30.”

I go in at 2:30 the next day, and he says, “We don’t hire homeless.” And I showed him my BankAmericard, and he could have gave me a chance. But I’m tryin’ to get work. What the hell’s goin’ on? Some of these guys —

That’s a beautiful restaurant. He’s a millionaire probably. He owns this place. But, see, I don’t have time. I’m happy collecting cans and the day’s mine. Hell with ’em. It’s hard if you don’t have a phone and an apartment. The homeless won’t get work. And we need work too; we’re human beings.

Let’s go on TV. I’m a character. My whole life’s been music. Every day I listen to ten hours of it, mostly jazz and love. I’m not into all that rap — killin’ and all that crap. I should’ve played an instrument, but by ear. I just love music.

Q What did you do before you were homeless?

A Oh, I’ve worked golf courses, landscaping. Then I married a millionaire girl, but the daughter’s 27; and the ex-wife, when her dad dies, she’ll be a multimillionaire. We bought a house for cash in 1973, $32,500, like nothin’. The trust fund came in when the dad died. He ran an air-conditioning and heating business. He ran away with the secretary, my wife’s dad!

I was learnin’ the bottom. I was a draftsman in high school, and they said, “Don’t say you’re the son-in-law,” and I started doing the drill press. “In a week or two if you learn that, we’ll move you up to draftsman and see how you do.” And he runs off with the secretary. And they divorced and — Oh, it was like a soap opera, but when he died, she got all this trust-fund money; it came in one shot. Now her mom is about 86. When she dies, my daughters will be taken care of. I’m divorced for years. Everything’s taken care of, so I ain’t worried about it.

I’ve had some good jobs, but I’m restless. I like to move around. I like the day to be mine. I’m into nature. I’m no good sittin’ in a place workin’ eight to five. But now this restaurant, that would have been ideal, it was part-time, a dishwashing job. I was getting $325 a month, trust fund, but I’ve been drunk, and they cut it down to $125. I got it back up to $150, but even at $325 I never would have done anything more than a fleabag downtown, share a bathroom with all these other guys, no windows. You know, you can’t get much for $325.

I wish Johnny Carson or Jack Parr was still on. I’d like to get on one of those shows. Those were the days.

Ocean Beach, Newport Avenue

Jessie — Age 20

Q How long have you been homeless?

A I’ve been kicked out since I was 15. I couch-surfed for a couple of years. I’ve had apartments, and I went through a transitional-living program when I was 17. Last year I was living in my apartment, and I decided to quit my job. I wanted to go out and live on the street with the street kids, but I had a chance to live on a boat. I decided to live on this boat and go sailing, and it was a great experience. I had lived on it for two months when it sank. All our possessions were lost, and I had to start over. I just got off with my hoodie, my glasses, and my Converses. Then we hitchhiked to the gathering [hippie convention]. Then when I was in Portland, I lived for three months in a shelter because of the winter. The cots kinda sucked, but the place really treated me good. I got my tooth fixed and acquired some more possessions.

I then lived in my car at 17 while I worked at a ski resort in the middle of winter as a test to myself, just to see if I could do it, and also because I thought it was going to help me get to Ireland. My friend lives in Ireland, and she was gonna be there for a year. I was gonna move out there and have some fun in Ireland. I choose to be on the streets now ’cause I don’t have time to work and pay rent and bills. I’m writing a magazine/book. You know, it’s about life ’cause I have some stuff to teach people. I think I can really help ’cause this world is getting pretty bad. We’re getting pretty selfish and greedy. Out here on the street I learn the most about people. I learn about who’s got a heart and who doesn’t. There’s so many people that are just brainwashed, already programmed. And there’s a lot of people I meet that are de-programming, or have the potential to de-program ’cause once you’re programmed, you’re screwed. I choose to be out here because I have to do the things I want to do. When I was living in my apartment, I was working so much I hadn’t drawn a picture or written anything in so long. There is a time and a place for a job and a house, but why give up my whole life for it? I know I can survive out here, and that will help me survive in the long run.

The world’s changing and you’ve gotta be prepared for anything. If you don’t know how to survive in the wilderness, you’re screwed. I really wish there was a way to make money out here in a nice way, an easy way. But they make it so hard to live out here. On the streets you are constantly fighting. What you’re really fighting is the government and the cops. I’m not scared of the murderers or the rapists.

We live by the river. It’s the only piece of nature left in San Diego. We were living down the river before, and the rangers evicted us ’cause the mayor was coming into town. The cops had to do a sweep. That’s fine. It’s a sign telling us to move along, not to be too lazy, and get some writing, make some music. You need to move up, but in the right way. I don’t want to get a job I’m not happy at. I don’t have time to waste like that. There are so many other things to do.

Q Do you have a favorite piece of poetry you’d like to read?

A Here’s one I just wrote. This is called “Don’t Mess With Jess.” “You’re busy / I forgot combination / Crime pass the time / Rotate jag last to join it / Contribute to suit self / Grow up or grow down / Profit will break your fall / Long crucial years spin your memory / Create new movement / Reception deleted / Accept the dessert / Intense installation complete with a crystal / The games have begun / Maybe you could be the one / Don’t destroy the biggest chance / Take a glance / Is that glass pieces of whole self or un-blowing face glowing humanity / Knowing would they, could they / Mother may I / Red light green light in sight delight / Radio waves found with extreme frequency / The delinquency of teenage kids they are ready to make their bids / Free no money value, value life / No stress do your best give your self your biggest test / Clean up your goddamn mess / Don’t mess with Jess.”

Old Town, Recycling Center

Chris — Age 47

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Two years.

Q What were you doing before you became homeless?

A I was in sales, telemarketing in particular.

Q How long did you do that?

A About three years. It was after I got out of the military.

Q I see you are recycling bottles and cans. Is that how you make a living?

A For now, but my old boss, the telemarketer, is going to hire me back as of March 1. The thing is, I live in San Diego, and the office is in Escondido. I’m tryin’ to save up some money, and this is how I’m doin’ it, ’cause in Escondido they don’t really appreciate homeless. That means I have to have a room. So that’s why I’m doin’ this now.

Q How close are you to your goal?

A Real close. If it’s a good weekend, I’ll be up there by March 1.

Q What happened to put you out on the streets in the first place?

A Well, when I got out of the military, I worked for a lot of private firms. And one right after another kept going out of business, and I just kinda lost my faith. So I decided to depend on myself for a while. But, you know, that’s getting old too. I’m 47 years old, and I’m not all that healthy. I’ll try to make it again, but if it doesn’t work, I’ll be right back doing this again.

Q How well do you do with the cans and bottles?

A Well, that depends on my energy level. I can do quite well. I can make anywhere from ten to a hundred dollars a day. I also have restaurants that save stuff for me. I’m drivin’ these guys nuts [gestures toward the recycling station] ’cause I come in here all filled up sometimes several times a day — another $20 and another $20. But, you know, that doesn’t happen too often. Usually it’s between $5 and $10 a day.

Q So local businesses are helping you with this?

A Yeah. I’m not gonna mention their names ’cause I don’t want any competition, but they are close by. I’m not the kind of person who’s gonna stand on the street corner and ask anybody for anything. There’s not much left for me. I had a wonderful career, but that’s behind me. I’m just ex-military. I didn’t adjust too well; that’s the bottom line.

Q So as of March 1 you will be employed as a telemarketer?

A Hopefully, if everything works. I got fingers on both hands crossed.

Downtown

Florien, a.k.a. Santa — Age 47

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Twelve years. My life on the streets has been pretty cool. I’ve seen other people who have not been able to adapt to it, eating here and there and putting up with a lot of stuff. Like St. Vincent de Paul; you get a lot of static there. They put you down.

What I was going to tell you mainly is, how can these places like the Rescue Mission be so hard up? They get all these donations, yet they don’t put nobody up. No homeless can sleep there unless they are going through the one-year program. If I need to get out of the rain, I can’t go to the Rescue Mission, but they will feed you breakfast in the morning. They used to let us sleep on mats in there. Not anymore. No homeless can sleep there. So where is all the money going, funds from the government and what have you?

Now, the Neil Center, they help the homeless better. They help more people. They got laundry. You can get your mail there. Now at St. Vincent de Paul you can only get mail if you are a resident of some kind or in one of their programs. You can shower there, but half the showers are out of order. Where is all that money going? More towels, more soap — they don’t have it. What’s going on? Whose pocket is the money going into? The government gives them X amount of dollars per homeless person to sleep during the winter. That’s for the cold-weather shelters. Even so, they got us sleeping on filthy mats. I know ’cause I volunteered there. They need new mats. Something’s wrong in China [laughs]. I sleep outside for that reason. I’m much happier. The only thing that the Rescue Mission is producing that’s good is that they do have clean showers for the men every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. St. Vincent lets you shower from 9:00 to 11:00, and that goes by fast when you’ve got 50 people waiting.

I do work, but it’s charity work. Every year I go to Tucson. I’m their dancing Santa. This year I raised $20,000 for the Salvation Army. I’ve been doing that for six years. That’s why everybody calls me Dancing Santa. I don’t keep my wages either. I donate them to Jerry Lewis. I make $1300 in five weeks, and it goes to him. I made $890 in tips, and that goes to the Shriners.

They want me to be the dancing Santa here in San Diego to raise money for charity, but I am a tradition in Tucson, and I cannot let them down. I come back to San Diego to be homeless ’cause I love the climate. I also collect clothes for the orphanage in Rosarito. A gentleman in Tucson pays the shipping to get it there. Once in a while I’ll go there to cook breakfast, dinner, and lunch and help to run the orphanage. I also volunteer at the ucsd hospital up in Hillcrest in the laundry room. I love to help people. At least four or five hours a day keeps me busy.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A I want to start some kind of foundation for the homeless, but I want the money to be used for the homeless, do my own charity work here on the streets. If I find clothes, I wash them and give them to people if they need it. I find a lot of clothes.

I’m content with where I am. It gets rough sometimes, but it’s all right.

Downtown

Jonathan — Age 44

Q How long have you been homeless?

A On and off for two years.

Q What were you doing prior to being homeless?

A My wife was working, and I was staying home with our two children ’cause they were both underage. She had the opportunity to make more money than I did. On the salary that I could make I’d be paying a stranger to baby-sit our kids. It made more sense to me to stay home with the children. We were receiving AFDC, and my wife had just started workin’. It was about a year after our son was born. The county sent our AFDC check, which we used to pay the majority of our rent. They sent it late three times in a row. So the first three months we paid rent after the 15th. By the time they straightened out the situation with the check, we had already been given an eviction notice. That’s when it all started. We lived in hotels on and off with the kids.

Then we went up to San Jose to try and find better employment. By that time our son was old enough that we could get him into preschool. We stayed in a shelter in San Jose while I was goin’ to school to retrain myself. I was learning printing and my wife was working. Then we were told we’d get an extension at the shelter we were at. But when it came time to get the extension, the people at the shelter said, “No, everybody’s got to leave.” So we ended up livin’ in hotels again. Then the money ran out and my wife couldn’t keep her job. We had to sleep in our car. One night the police came around and took our son from us ’cause we were sleepin’ in the car.

After that we went to court several times, and we did everything they asked us to do. We both got jobs, we had a car, and we had a studio apartment. This was after about two years without our son. Then the authorities told us that wasn’t good enough. They said that our son needed his own bedroom. We tried to make a deal with my wife’s mother that she would take custody of him. That way we could get the case closed in San Jose ’cause she lived in San Diego. She was watchin’ our seven-year-old daughter for a while; and when we came back down here, she asked us to write her a letter so she could get Section 8 housing. The letter stated that our daughter was going to stay with her. We stayed at her house. We were both workin’. I was doing construction labor and my wife was doin’ another job. We were giving my mother-in-law money for rent, and we were buying groceries as well as giving her a little money for baby-sitting.

About six months ago my mother-in-law locked all of our stuff out on the front porch. The door was locked and she was gone. So we ended up on the street again tryin’ to figure out what had happened. We went to the district attorney’s office, and we reported it to the police and everything. They said that she had filed for guardianship of our daughter. So she basically ran off with our daughter, and we have not seen her since then. We stayed at St. Vincent’s for about a week. It was a nightmare. After two days I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life. I ended up with a bronchial infection, and I lost my voice for two days. They had everybody sleepin’ in the same room — 200 people! The place was a breeding ground for bacteria. Despite all of this we found work, and after a week we had enough money for a hotel room. The room had a single bed for the both of us. I fell out of bed and broke my hip. Three days later I had kidney failure.

When I got out of the hospital, we’d stay a couple days inside and a couple days outside. I’m still disabled. They can’t figure it out. They say there’s scar tissue pressin’ down on nerves. I can walk about four blocks and maybe stand about 30 minutes. And they cut me off of disability last week. I want to get retrained so I can do something else. I don’t see shovels and sledgehammers in my near future.

Downtown

Timothy — Age 48

Q Are you homeless?

A I consider myself to be houseless.

Q How long have you been houseless?

A About 15 years.

Q What happened to cause you to be houseless?

A Work and a schizophrenic breakdown. That’s what I was diagnosed as. I had a nervous breakdown in Missouri and I came out here. I worked in-between times, but I couldn’t stand the pressure. It seemed to be a groovy thing to panhandle. It seemed to be the right thing to do to beg a little bit to get a better place in society. But I’m getting to the point now that I’m thinking of getting back into the workforce, if I can put up with the stress. I suffer from schizophrenia. Others suffer from depression and anxiety pains. I’m just thankful that my main diagnosis is schizophrenia. I knew it was a nervous breakdown to begin with. And they have medications now that I’m on to get me back well again. It’ll take time. Someday I’ll be clear as a bell.

Q What were you doing before the breakdown?

A I was cooking and laboring around the country.

Q So did anything in particular happen to bring this on?

A Yeah. I was heavy into drugs. I was into speed, and I was doin’ a lot of drinkin’, heavy drinks like margaritas and tequila sunrises. I spent a good majority of my checks having a drink or two or three or four. I’d get my check on Friday, and by Sunday I wouldn’t have any money. That plus my childhood experiences — being beaten in the head all the time by my father — set off some schizophrenia. That’s what the doctors call it. It could be something different. But I know that the medication I’m on now has cleared me completely. Now I can more or less almost function in a nine-to-five job or maybe a part-time job. I’m workin’ on it.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A Well, eventually I’ll get my degree in either teaching or functional psychology. So I could be a therapist. But I’ve procrastinated over the last eight or nine years since I stopped working. I enjoyed working, but I couldn’t handle the pain in my leg ’cause I got run over by a car in 1989. The guy that was driving was drunk, and I was about ten miles high and I had no pain. I woke up in the hospital. It was a near-death experience. The doctor said I was lucky not to be dead. I said, “But I was dead, wasn’t I?”

He said, “That’s not what we call ‘dead.’ ”

I said, “Well, it was to me.” I never felt so peaceful. Maybe it was called Hades, but I called it death. It was so peaceful I didn’t have a care in the world.

Q And how do you make your living?

A I collect a VA pension for the stress that I was under and the Agent Orange. I’m told to go back in. I was talkin’ to a lieutenant in the Navy today, and he said, “You should have a talk with a recruiter.” But they want young, sprouting men, young men who can go out and maim, kill, and destroy.

I believe in a peacetime peacekeeping army. But if you’re going to train me to kill, you’d better let me do it. And they didn’t in the Air Force, except if anything moved while I was on guard duty. While Nixon was over there in Peking, if anything moved along the perimeter, I was supposed to shoot. That’s the way we were trained in the Air Force. I can’t do that. I don’t have the heart to kill. But I figure if I had an M16, I’m bound to kill somebody. I shot twice. Whether I killed two men or not, I have no idea. I was high on heroin, but I swear I saw something move.

Ocean Beach

Anonymous female: age 37

Q How long have you been homeless?

A About five years.

Q What were you doing before that?

A Oh, I used to work as a shipping secretary, and I lost my job. I’d rather live on the street where it’s free.

Q What happened to make you lose your job?

A I just didn’t like to go to work anymore. When I woke up in the morning, it was really a bad thing; it just seemed very pointless. I was very much part of the rat race, and I decided I didn’t want to be anymore.

Q How is it working out?

A It’s okay. I feel free now, and it’s not so bad to be homeless. There are places you can get food and shelter and cool stuff like that.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A Yeah. I want to write a book about Christian stuff like Jesus and about my life. I’ve hitchhiked all over the place. Yeah, I could do it. I think my book would be unique ’cause I have an interesting perspective on life and Christianity among the homeless people. Christian people around here help me a lot. Sometimes they give me food and blankets. And if you need help, you can call them, and they’ll try and hook you up with somebody who can help you. And it’s really neat when they have services for the homeless people. I like to work with stuff like that.

Q Have you done any of it?

A No, not really. I play my guitar.

Q Do you write your own songs?

A Yeah.

Q What do you like to write about?

A Oh, freedom and love and basic things like the Grateful Dead.

Q Would you like to recite some of your lyrics?

A Sure. “Dense mist rose out of the sea / as I think of my time to be / a future a fortune foretold by a mystic queen / places in time / as I sit by the water memories elude my mind / I never knew how wrong I was / places in time / and tell me do you know? / or does anybody really know? / and tell me does it show? / this break in this heart of mine / and can we be fooled by false tomorrows as we follow the path the pipers chose to follow? / and if I leave you alone, will you leave your love behind? / and if you leave me alone, will you be strong enough to cry? / places in time / the ocean shore’s like a burning in this heart of mine / so many pages, so many memories / places in time / and as the golden mist moves on into a stormy sky / remember what he said / is this your time? / to try to rest your heart / what did you expect to find? / all in the name of life / places in time.”

Q What do you have to say about the state of the homeless in San Diego?

A Well, the police really hassle the homeless a lot more than they should. A couple have gotten killed around here being homeless. The police pull out their guns and shoot them rather than arrest them. I think that’s really a big problem. The homeless really don’t bother anybody. I mean, I don’t think they do. I’d really like to do something about the problem if I could. I’ve been harassed a couple of times myself. Nothing really big ’cause I’m really mellow.

Q How do you make a living?

A I just bum change, show up at the church meals, go to things like that.

Q Do you ever consider getting off the street?

A I will someday. I’m not in a hurry.

Q Do you have contact with your family?

A Well, I moved out after high school. I had a couple kids. They stay with my family. I visit them at Christmas

Q Where is your family?

A Arizona. They send me a bus ticket once a year.

Q Any closing thoughts?

A Just be nice to everybody. Love each other like Christ loved us.

Ocean Beach

Michael: age 33

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Two weeks.

Q What happened?

A I was driving down Interstate 5 and my appendix blew out. I had to pull over and have my wife drive me to the hospital. While I was in emergency surgery, my old lady took off with the van. So I was stuck in San Clemente with a couple of sleeping bags and a bunch of stitches. I’d been through Ocean Beach a few times, so I figured I’d come down here and see if I could get something together. I just need to get some money together so I can go to Yuma, which is where our house is. I don’t know why she deserted me in my time of need. I don’t really care either. I just want my van back.

Q How long have you been married?

A Three years. She told me she loves me every day and all that bullshit. She got real weird when I told her I had to go to the hospital. She didn’t want to go. I said, “What the hell’s the matter with you? I’m all bent over in pain and you don’t want to take me to the frickin’ hospital. Something’s wrong with me!” I was right, my appendix had blown up. I felt like I had been shot. I was throwin’ up bile and all this stuff. So I had an operation and they took it out. I guess when they had me open, they flushed me out. I could have died that night. And now I’m homeless [laughs].

Q What are you doing for a living?

A Buyin’ for less and sellin’ for more.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A All I want to do is get enough money to go to Yuma and get my van. Then at least I’d have a place to stay. I’ve got property, too, in Garberville and in San Felipe. Got property in Washington too. In fact, we were en route to San Felipe ’cause we hadn’t been down there to check on things for a while. So I’m kinda not homeless, but all the United States property is in her name. I don’t own anything in this country. I won’t own anything in this country. I hate this government. I don’t really want to support it. That’s one reason I won’t work a legitimate job. I don’t really like payin’ sales tax either. If I could get around it, I would. I could go live on the land in Mexico, but I can’t make any money down there.

Q Have you talked to your wife since this happened?

A No, I haven’t even tried.

I don’t need much, but I do like to have money to buy coffee in the morning, smoke a cigarette. I eat out three meals a day. It’s a rough life [laughs].

Seriously, though, at night it is rough. I’ve been stayin’ over here on this concrete slab. It’s a lot like jail. The first night I was in town was last Monday. It was rainin’ like cats and dogs, and I wound up sleeping in the bathroom. Then this guy comes around in the morning and says it’s time to get up. Two minutes later two police came in, and they gave me a ticket for sleepin in a dry spot.

But, you know, this whole thing has taught me a lot. I had a bunch of live Dead tapes from being on tour for eight years. It means a lot to me to be able to listen to them. She took all of those.

I did some time in prison after that for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute lsd. They said me and my friends were sellin’ acid to people who came to the show; and I will neither confirm nor deny that suspicion. They consider breaking a large quantity into smaller doses to be “manufacturing,” changing the physical form like liquid to blotter. The government’s crazy. They locked me up for ten years. Murderers get seven; and here I am, a peace-lovin’ hippie, ain’t never did nothin’ to nobody. I told the judge when she said, “Do you have anything to say before sentencing?” I said, “Yes, Your Honor, I do. I don’t believe I need a big paternalistic government telling me what I can and cannot play with. That’s why I moved out of Dad’s house.” And she banged the gavel and said, “One hundred twenty months.”

Pacific Beach

Claire: age 40-something

Q What is your name?

A Claire, scam name.

Q What is your age?

A I’m over 46, but I can’t get my birth certificate.

“She looks 30,” says a homeless bystander.

I do not [laughs]. Look at my teeth and my ugly gums that make you sick — my stretch marks.

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Since 1992 November election. Get it? You know, directly related to that. Even though I had never even had a misdemeanor or time in jail. That’s the truth.

Q What happened, if you don’t mind my asking?

A ’Cause I was married into this scam. My last name was Fullerton. And they were a scam also, and most of them went to work for Clinton. So they decided to dump me ’cause I don’t like Clinton and I don’t like Arkansas. I knew I did not like Clinton and never would. Because of Clinton, me and my children have been destroyed, left homeless, ripped off, and denied our true identity.

Q What were you doing before you were homeless?

A I worked at Miramar Naval Air Station. I was a real Certified Red Cross Water Safety Instructor. I needed to train more; I’ll admit that. But they wanted sexual putout on the job, like you couldn’t work there unless you did blow jobs all over the base, and I didn’t want to. And then the Gulf War, I really didn’t believe in it. And I didn’t say anything. But they knew I didn’t believe in it, so they said, “You either have to quit or we’ll fire you or you’ll be laid off.” That happened in ’91 or ’92, and then there’s no record that I worked there. They took my W-2s even though I worked there for three years. And I didn’t want to give blow jobs, and I needed more training. I knew what was right, and I went by the book, and that’s the law according to the Red Cross.

And then the boss we had was real dirty. She made everybody put out and date and everything, date Navy guys. And I thought that was ridiculous. Here I am over 40 years old dating a 20-year-old guy. They just laughed at you.

They broke into my apartment — they were using the kids and everything. I had two children. I lived in Poway. I gave him my key ’cause he was my boyfriend, this young Navy guy. Then after about a month I realized I was just being used. Everybody told me, “They’re setting you up. They’re just going to use your kids.” And that’s true, that’s what happened.… “You’ll get fired.” And that’s what happened.

Then they broke into my apartment. They did this ritual on me, the purity ritual. I got the message that I was too old for them and didn’t try to go after any more of them.

Q What is the purity ritual?

A They use some burning, like caustic, like acidy material, and they burn out your genitals. Yes, it’s true. I swear to God. They call it a dip. They make you into a dip and then you can’t ever get a husband, you know. A regular man doesn’t want a dip.

I tried to recover, keep going. Applied for jobs; nobody would hire me. And Clinton was goin’ campaignin’ all over, including Poway and Miramar, everywhere. They just wanted to use kids — sell children into prostitution and to become president. And that’s true. Then they started abusing all the children in Poway school district with it.

I’m not on drugs. We had a drug dealer in our apartments, and she was in on that, working for Clinton selling drugs, dating Navy guys. So they got me evicted. I paid the rent steadily for three years. I was half a month late. I paid him half the rent and was going to pay him the rest. Because of her and the drug dealer and Clinton, they got me evicted.

Then my ex-husband just took the kids — up in Campo. He was on drugs. His family was all on drugs. And then they just destroyed the kids. They had Clinton on their side. You can’t fight against the federal government. So I just took off hitchhiking.

And then it was sort of all right for a couple of years. Then it got real bad by the time the reelection — I mean, all the shelters got worse and worse ever since Clinton became president. They’ll beat you up, they’ll murder you, and they’ll destroy every child they can. The food is disgusting. In ’92 in Denver they had good food, they helped you, got you school, got you jobs — ’cause I’m a two-year veteran. I had an honorable discharge. I only made E3, but I fulfilled the contract honorably.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A My plans are to get up north, like in Minnesota, and work again, try one more time. I’ve been all over, and no one will help me because of my political views.

Q What do you do for a living?

A Mostly begging and recycling. I make between 10 and 15 per day; weekends, 20.

Pacific Beach, Lifeguard Tower

Jim: age 44

Q How long have you been houseless?

A Five years.

Q What were you doing before you were houseless?

A Living in the woods and in the desert, thereabouts. I did have three houses in Phoenix back in ’78–’80. I moved out here, went back there for four years — came back again.

Q What do you do for a living?

A Look for work.

Q What kind of work do you do?

A I do landscaping and construction, stuff like that.

Q How do you feel about the treatment of the homeless in San Diego?

A I really don’t know; I never really thought of it. It’s rough [laughs], but it works out; somehow it always works out. You always find what you need.

Q Have you stayed in any of the shelters?

A Out here, no.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A I don’t know, maybe make enough money so I could do what I was doin’ before I came out here. I did a lot of camping, primitive camping. It’s good sometimes to just be alone and just go out in the wilderness.

Q Do you know what plants are edible?

A Yeah. I can usually find food. I’d work part-time, like ten hours, make enough money for food, and go back out. Sometimes I would mountain bike from Flagstaff to Sedona. That’s a good ride. And I lived in Cottonwood near Tucson, out in the desert. It’s all right ’cause you can still get a bus into town. I was camped about a mile from the college. I did a lot of that — campin’ around town, get enough money to go back out, camp some more. Right now I gotta find some work…well, eventually [laughs].

Pacific Beach

Anonymous: age 35

Q How long have you been homeless?

A It depends on what you mean by “homeless.” I worked up in Alaska for a while. I lived in Quebec for a while; I was staying in youth hostels there. I took a bus to California, and I’ve been on the streets here for a while — I’d say since June. So that’s almost a year.

Q And what do you do for a living?

A Shit, not much. I get a government check, you know. I don’t do anything really. I don’t know — sit on the beach. My check is directly deposited into my account.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A No.

Q Do you have anything to say about being homeless in San Diego?

A No, not really. I have no complaints.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A No, none at all.

Pacific Beach

Tom, a.k.a. Old Tom: age 49

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Since ’95. I got divorced and I haven’t really had a place since.

Q What were you doing before that?

A Golf-course maintenance.

Q What happened to that job?

A Insurance. My wife was the skittish type, and we had insurance on our insurance. Tryin’ to keep up with the Joneses drove me right into the ground. So we just split up. I gave her everything and said, “Settle it.” And she said, “Fine; fair enough,” ’cause there was surplus. So she got the mine, I got the shaft, which is all right ’cause I’m free. I’m as free as that bird goin’ by right there, and she’s still stuck with all that stuff she wants so bad. It will come around for me again. I ain’t done. Hit a little bump, that’s all. Now I’ve decided to just have some fun for a while.

Q What do you do for a living?

A Right now I’m washing dishes. Make about a hundred fifty a week, and I’m not payin’ rent. I don’t pay rent to wake up alone.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A Finish this beer and do my laundry. Plans are nebulous with me. Planned to be a This, planned to be a That. Got there and it was a piece of shit. Plans are not good with me.

Q Do you get free food from the restaurant where you wash dishes?

A That’s one of the fringe benefits — being around food, hot water, and soap. And I get the mistakes — too well done, whatever. Where I’m at now it’s a good job. It’s nice to just have a place you can go to, get out of the way of all this for eight hours. I work four days a week.

Balboa Park

Anonymous: age 30-something

Q How long have you been homeless?

A About ten years.

Q What happened?

A Taxman got my house. I come from a small town, and there’s no work there unless you’re somebody’s brother or uncle or something like that. So the property taxes caught up to me. I was takin’ care of my mother. She was terminally ill. I finally realized that I was in a situation that I couldn’t get out of. When you’re taking care of an invalid, it’s like 24/7. There’s no breaks. I had a tax bill sent to me, and I put it away and forgot all about it. Subsequent tax bills I paid, but that one I forgot. Somebody came along and paid the tax bill, which was $232, and bought my house out from under me. I had the money, but I just misplaced that one bill for five years. They give you a five-year grace period to pay it.

Q So you did not get a second notice?

A Nope, they don’t do that. I didn’t know about all this till I went to probate for my mother’s will. She left me the house and everything. So I had to take everything out of the house. Had me a giant yard sale. What I couldn’t sell I took out in the back yard, poured gasoline on it, and set it on fire, took my backpack and left. I hated that little town anyhow — Jonesboro, Illinois.

Q How long have you been in San Diego?

A Since about the end of November.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A Well, originally I came out to the West Coast tryin’ to get away from the weather. Then I met up with my brother about seven years ago. He was on the street too, and we just run into each other by accident. Me and him have been traveling around the country ever since — south in the winter, north in the summer, mostly Seattle. We went to Seattle originally to get on the boats. Then we found out what the deal was. They were payin’ $6.50 an hour to sling 75-pound fish in freezin’ cold weather for 16 hours a day for 90 days.

Q How do you make your living?

A Well, my brother’s over at the stab lab — plasma center — right now, and we usually work day labor. We do a little panhandling now and then when things get really thin [laughs].

Q Do you have access to a shower? You look well groomed.

A Well, that’s a problem. They got two places here in town where you can take a shower. The problem is that you can’t hold down a steady job because you have between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. to take a bath. You have to take a day off to get cleaned up. That’s how come I have to work the day-labor outfits.

Q How does that work for you?

A Well, you work that day; you get paid that day. If I sleep downtown, I’ve got to get up at three in the morning to make the two-hour walk to the day-labor outfit. So I’ve already done two hours of work before I get there [laughs]. I get there by three, and maybe I get work; more than likely I don’t.

Q What does an average day look like for you?

A Lotta walkin’.

Q Any closing thoughts?

A Yeah. Let’s say you’re jaywalking and there’s a whole bunch of suit-and-tie jockeys doin’ the same thing. Who do the cops nail? Bingo! Me. Now, it’s against the law for somebody to discriminate against somebody for the color of their skin or religion or national origin or any of that crap, but it’s not against the law to discriminate against anybody ’cause they’re poor. Now, I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to a service station and they say someone locked the keys in the restroom or it’s out of order or some rot like that. I get discriminated against a lot ’cause I’m poor and homeless. They see that backpack and, wham, I’m a no-good, lazy drunken bum. I got the paycheck stubs to prove otherwise. I just can’t scrape up that first and last and security deposit. You’re talkin’ a couple thousand dollars just to move into an apartment in some kind of decent neighborhood. You just can’t do that on minimum wage. It just ain’t gonna happen. No car, no phone, no job.

San Diego River

Ricardo: age 47

Q What brought you to San Diego?

A I’m down here from San Francisco doing music. Up there I was a bike messenger.

My family lives here in San Diego. I’m the black sheep of a professional family here. My dad was a music teacher. I’ve kinda been winning them over by sayin’, “Listen to this song I wrote.” And they are saying, “Yeah, those are pretty good songs.” One brother tells me not to get a job — “Just keep playin’ music; it’s gonna work.”

I love San Diego and the river here where we’re at. We get into the tides; we have a tide marker over there, and we keep it neat around here. The ranger actually let us hang out for a long time. He even came down and hung out with us one time. Staying out here’s really got me behind the ecology movement. I see the ducks are all crowded up together. Those of us who stay out here call it Duck River. And we are the Duck River Gang. There’s little names for places, like that’s Rock Town right there, and I’m one of the Rock Town Rockers.

The view here is great at night. It’s one of the best. I still think Tijuana is the most beautiful of the bay cities. You can see the top of the mission there, the very first building in Alta California.

Q How is the music doing for you financially?

A Well, not well enough to be indoors, but that’s ’cause we’re busking. We are pretty loyal to O.B. and it’s loyal to us. We write our own music and O.B. likes that. You have a better chance in O.B. writing your own music. They kind of like us as their bards.

We have had a little bit of a problem with the police. But we have been blessed, and two of my brothers are lawyers, so I get legal help for free. My brothers are musicians. That kind of pisses them off that some cop’s fuckin’ with musicians.

Q Any plans for the future?

A Well, now that I’ve got a real bass player, we are gonna move ahead with our music. I’ve actually been busking well enough that I have a little money in the bank. Actually it is from my unemployment. I was able to just stick my unemployment in the bank, and the community has supported us. We’ve had three nights where we’ve had a hundred bucks laid on us. One of the guys has since become a friend. He came up with a hundred-dollar bill and said, “Merry Christmas.” Then later a guy came out and Jessie [a street poet and fan] said to him, “Listen to the words,” and he said, “The words are good,” and he threw in a hundred and thirty bucks. Yeah, she brings good luck.

San Diego River

Christopher: age 27

Q How long have you been homeless?

A A year this time — on and off since I was 16. I’m not homeless, just houseless.

Q What started your houselessness?

A It was more of a personal decision not to do the nine-to-five thing with the house. I figured there was better ways and alternative ways of making a living. This time around I had the accident with my leg. I broke my femur bone, lost my job. So I was kinda motivated by that and lack of money to pay rent and things. I didn’t have much money saved. Ended up staying on the streets and tree-sittin’.

Q What’s tree-sittin’?

A I learned it in Fall Creek in Oregon. There’s a colony that’s been out there for about a year and a half, two years. Julia Butterfly’s probably the most famous out of all of them. She was up in a tree for several years. I went and saw her and learned how to climb from a guy named Jungle.

Then we took off to Arcada Community Forest here in California because they were cuttin’ community forest there, and the people didn’t necessarily want it cut. So we protested against it, set up three tree-sits up there. I gained a lot of experience there last year.

The most I ever stayed up in a tree was four and a half weeks at one time. You become off-balance when you get back on the earth. We successfully stopped them last year without much resistance. We have to go back this spring and sit again ’cause they still want to cut. They haven’t set up anything new.

Hopefully this year Earth First could come together a little bit more with the tree-sitters and maybe get something done to protect community forests. Ninety-five percent of the old-growth trees in California have been cut down. We just want to preserve what we can. There’s only 5 percent left, and they want to cut more every day. And they’re sendin’ it to Japan and all these foreign countries to use the wood. We don’t need it. Not that I’m against Japan or anything like that. It’s just that we should think more about preservation instead of domination.

Q What are your plans for the immediate future?

A The immediate future is to head to a national hippie gathering sort of thing, I guess. It’s kind of changed. The Rainbows changed since Jerry Garcia died. Then there’s a 420, pro-cannabis rally, gathering in northern New Mexico. We’re gonna head there. Then we will head towards Arcada and get our base camp set up for this year’s tree-sitting, then head north to Montana for another gathering, the national gathering; it’s a big one. That’s our plan so far.

San Diego River

Oscar: age 26

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Actually, I have been living outdoors all the time since I was six. In a house, you’re with your mother, and then you go away, nobody to teach you, people like uncles. You see on your own. You know what I’m talking about? See, in my mind that happened at that age — no, too old. But to be aware, to keep for your own, like food, water, whatever. At the end I was with other — was safe in that thing. Anyway, I’m just high [laughs]. I’m, like, feelin’ the air, havin’ a good breeze — Ah, there’s a bird.

What was the question again? Like right now it’s the moment, so I cannot tell you how long I’ve been homeless. My body is my temple.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A [Laughs] To keep talking right now, answer your questions if I could, keep living. What else should I say?

Q How do you make a living?

A Right now I’m working as a gardener, but I don’t start till Wednesday, so I’m having a day off. I came walking from North Park, I believe. Then I found my friends. And then I sat down here, and you got here, and you started talking to us.

San Diego River

Manny: age 33

Q How long have you been houseless?

A About two years.

Q What happened?

A It’s too much for me to catch up to. I can’t deliver what they want. Too much money. I’m, like, against it. I’m not a capitalist. I’m not materialistic. The material I do have is the necessities that I need to sustain and that’s it. Yeah, it’s too much to catch up to their machine and feed it. Livin’ in a box is just temporary anyway to pay for space. It’s just absurd. So I just try to keep unattached to any material now.

Q Any plans for the future?

A Well, uh, if the system doesn’t collapse — ah, to be more spiritual, closer to God, to know God.

Q How do you make your living?

A I go to Labor Ready. And now that I play music I do it that way, to sustain, you know. I’m not here to catch up to the machine or have more than what I need. So I just get by.

Q Do you have any closing comments?

A Ah, maybe ’cause my situation is probably because of the machine. It’s too controlling and too demanding on the people, on the citizens. So I guess this is one way I can rebel — not so much rebel, but in a good way, for a good cause.

Downtown,

Market Street

Francisco: age 67

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Two years.

Q And you make your living collecting cans?

A Yeah.

Q How much money do you make each day recycling?

A Not too much. For eat some.

Q Do you ever make enough to get a hotel room?

A No, I’m on the street; I’m homeless.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A Go to Island and 31st. I’m gonna sell it. I need it. I have nothing in my pockets.

Q Would you like to add anything?

A I don’t know. I don’t speak the more English too.

La Jolla

Donald: age 36

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Twenty years.

Q How did you become homeless?

A A woman. I met a woman, had a couple of kids. Thought I was doin’ all right; thought things were good. I drank a lot. Got drunk and I left. I took off hitchhiking, and ever since then every time I had a problem I took off hitchhiking drunk, then I settle down somewhere for a little while.

I can’t go home. I owe too much money to the government. That’s what sucks, but it’s okay. I’m not a felon. But they’ll snag my ass if I go home. And that’s way across the other side of America. So I choose to live out here right now. Got me a job. Just hope things work out ’cause I drink a lot. Got me a pancreas problem. I got a lot of problems. But I haven’t been drinkin’, so I’m doin’ all right. I drank today. I had one beer, a quart, and that’s all in three weeks. But when I drink hard liquor, I end up in the hospital, so I gotta quit. Other than that, I’m out here tryin’ to bide time till I get a paycheck, basically.

Q How long have you had the job?

A Just got it. Worked two days, got 50 bucks, one day’s pay. He’s holding back the rest till next week. So, anyway, it’s gonna take two weeks before I get a whole paycheck. Then I’ll be set. I’ve been tryin’ not to drink. I’ve been drinkin’ strawberry shakes, eatin’ ice cream, eatin’ a bunch of food, puttin’ on weight. I can quit anytime though. I just had one quart of beer and I’m, like, yeah! [laughs]. Now I can figure out something else to do, ’cause I was kinda bored, ’cause I didn’t have nothin’ else to do till Monday. Don’t feel like sittin’ around the park gettin’ drunk. All my friends are down there getting drunk right now.

Q What do you do for a living?

A I’m a painter, an artist, back to your first question. It has taken me 20 years to realize it’s my fault, my problems. I fell in a bonfire. I got thrown from a car goin’ 60 miles an hour. And I’ve been in the hospital seven times for my pancreas. Somebody’s tryin’ to smack me upside the head, tell me to knock it off, no drinkin’. That’s what it is. I see that. My life is a shambles, but I’m not really concerned about it ’cause I believe in Jesus, and I know that every day He will take care of me, even if it’s the merest thing. I will eat food. He’ll give me more food than I can eat. So I smoke pot and drink a beer occasionally. I don’t think that’s too terribly wrong. I smoke cigarettes too. I’m sinnin’ my balls off, and I know I’ll go to hell if I die. But I’m tryin’ to get better. I’m moral. I have always been. I’ve got kids too; some of them are almost grown.

Q Do you talk to them?

A It’s been a couple of years. It’s not that I can’t. I just haven’t called them. I mean, I can’t find my sons, but I can find my daughter.

I don’t know, it’s kinda weird. I grew up real fast ’cause I was kicked out when I was 15. I was on the streets, freezin’ fuckin’ cold in South Carolina in the middle of winter, ain’t got shit. My mom called me a bastard ’cause she caught me smokin’ a joint. She said, “You little bastard.” And I just took off.

Now I have ID, a social security card, a birth certificate. I’m not a wanted man no more — well, except in 15 states, but that’s all just misdemeanors. So I just have to watch my ass when I go through those states.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A I don’t know. I think I’ll just see if this job’s gonna pan out. If it don’t, I’ll get another job. I’m gonna start savin’ my money. I can’t pay all what I owe; I’m too far in debt to the fuckin’ government. All these lawyers’ fees and crap. All of a sudden they put it on me, of all people. “’Cause we let you have custody.” Well, fucker. I was in prison. Give me a break.

Q Any closing comments?

A I guess I’m a spoiled homeless person. I know a lot of people in this area and they help me out.

Q What was your best day standing there holding your sign by the road?

A Man, I’ve gone out there, and in 15 minutes I made 50 bucks.

Q What is your average?

A It depends. I can get out there for an hour and make 20 bucks. My average is about 10 bucks an hour.

Q What does your sign say?

A “We all need a little help sometime. God bless.”

I know I drank today. My pancreas won’t fail from one beer. You see? That is where Satan says, “Your ass is mine.”

Downtown, Broadway

“Street Trash” — Age 54

Q How long have you been homeless?

A About seven years.

Q What were you doing before you were homeless?

A I was a home person. I had a wife and kids, a two-bedroom apartment, the whole nine yards. Then I lost my wife to throat cancer. I lost my kid; I lost everything. Been on the streets ever since.

Q What do you do for a living?

A Nothing.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A Not really. Living as best as I can. That’s all I can do; try to get along. People need to be more peaceful toward one another, quit stealin’ from each other. Might be a better world if they quit killin’ each other. I get tired of all the violence, all the meanness that goes on all around us.

You’d think the homeless would stick together. They don’t do that. They gang up on people and shit. That’s why I got to carry this thing [points to large stick]. I don’t want to hurt anybody. They tried to attack me last night, and that stick saved me from getting’ my ass kicked, probably robbed. Nothin’ pretty out here; it’s nothin’ nice. They find out you got anything, they want it. Greed. That’s why the churches don’t give ’em money and stuff. They’re just gonna spend it on booze and drugs. If it weren’t for them, they’d give you a buck or two for coffee.

Q How do you make your living?

A That’s personal [laughs]. By donations from society. And I share what I get.

Downtown, Gaslamp

Stoney — Age 25 today

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Since I was 13.

Q Did they kick you out of the mall?

A Yeah, ’cause I picked a cigarette butt out of an ashtray. It was a half-smoked cigarette. They kicked me out for two days — on my birthday too. I come here every day. I don’t cause no trouble. You know what I mean? I buy stuff. I’m just tryin’ to have a good birthday. I should be getting a place today, an apartment or a hotel room, for a month. I’m tired of stayin’ on the streets. I wanna, like, get a place, work. I got an application in here at Hot-Dog-on-a-Stick.

Q Is there any way they can reach you if you get the job?

A I got a cell phone they can reach me at. I really don’t dress like I’m on the streets. I try to make myself presentable. And I help all the new kids from around the United States who come here. I help them survive.

Q What do you do for a living?

A Smoke weed, hang out, pick up chicks, skateboard, be helpful.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A Get a place, get a job, settle down, do a little traveling. I’d like to go to the East Coast. Seen the whole West Coast. I want to see the whole United States before I pass away.

Q How did you become homeless?

A I just don’t like being at home. I don’t like the rules. I just like to hang out with my friends. The whole house thing and family vibe didn’t work for me. It felt awkward. I felt out of place, like a total stranger. My friends are more like a family.

Q Any closing comments?

A I think the cops should look at us kids as a positive thing, not a negative thing. We are not all here just to cause trouble; we’re all just tryin’ to survive. We don’t have to be an adult to make our own decisions.

Downtown, Fourth and E

Toto — Age 19

Q How long have you been homeless?

A At least one year.

Q How did it start?

A Actually what started it this time was that I had the perfect life going on in Brook, Iowa, and some dude told me he could get an ounce for 60 bucks in Colorado. So I’m, like, out here ’cause, like, back there an ounce goes for $180. We got to Lincoln, Nebraska, which is, like, three hours away. And I said, “Well, why don’t we just move up there and live?” I just decided to drop everything I had. I ended up leavin’ the house with what clothes I happened to have on and a change of clothes I had in my car.

The car I had was a Fiat X/19. It was actually a sports car. I just all of a sudden needed a change of scenery.

Q Do you have any plans for the future?

A Actually, I think I’m going to end up following what my grandma called my pipe dream. That’s to grab a boat and start headin’ toward the Panama Canal. I studied it in school. I actually stayed in school longer than anybody else.

Q Where will you go after you get through the canal?

A Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, and on up to Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, and into France again. Got to go to Amsterdam, go to Scotland. My last stop’s Ireland.

Q What will you do after that?

A Study up on my Druidic abilities.

Q Druidic?

A Yeah, as in “Druid.” In the Christian dictionary, it’s an Irish priest. But in all actuality back before Christianity first popped up, it was just Celtic religion — soothsayers, shaman, however you wanted to call it. Druid was just the type in Europe.

Q Where would you practice this?

A I’d go to the schools that they actually have up there that teach old Celtic Druidism. They also teach it in the U.S. There’s two colleges for it.

Q Do you have any closing comments?

A What keeps me going is knowing that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything. That’s how I’ve been living, and that’s what my parents said. I found out that everything my parents taught me was true.

Downtown, outside the Coast Hotel

Joe — Age 39

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Twenty-four hours.

Q What caused you to become homeless?

A I was in a program for only 30 days that restricted my stay for 30 days. Now I have to find something other than an approved program here. This hotel is hooked up with some type of homeless relief shelter, but you can only stay for 30 days and, hopefully, find work in that time.

Q Do you have any plans for employment?

A Yeah, they said they would keep my messages for a week. That’s what the manager said. And I’m goin’ down there at noon to the day center. I can get mail and messages indefinitely there.

Q What other services do they offer?

A You can’t stay there at night. It opens at eight and closes at five.

Q Can you stay there during the day?

A Yeah, you can hang out. They have games, books; they have a library, phone use. And in the meantime they’re accepting mail for you and messages.

Q What were you doing before you were homeless?

A I just migrated here from back East. I was in San Diego about ten years ago and I liked it. I came back out on a spur-of-the-moment kind of a thing.

Q Do you have any closing statements?

A I’ve been on the news before — on News 8 — over a lawsuit I filed against the county. The segment was on frivolous lawsuits.

Q Did you win?

A Well, I didn’t get any money from the county, but I wasn’t trying to at the time. I was trying to make an effort to stop the practice of what was occurring in jail at the time. They were selling snacks and candies in the jails that did not have the nutrition facts printed on them that are required on the outside. It’s the law that that information has to be on there. And they were selling stuff that was not up to par for the federal standards for sales.

When I filed the civil action, shortly later they changed the labels, less than two weeks later. Everything went up a nickel in price too. I would have been very unpopular in jail after that for sure. A lot of small companies were taking advantage of being able to sell the stuff in jails without having to be up to par with the regulations and sales laws. It cost them a lot of money to rebag the stuff like it is in the rest of the United States. There was a three-year lag time from the enactment of the nutrition-labeling laws and when the prisons caught up.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A I have a check coming in four days. I just need to get through till then. The problem is that St. Vincent de Paul won’t review your case factors until 4:00 p.m. on the day that you become homeless. And that’s only three or four hours before sunset. They should change that.

La Jolla

Roy — Age 43

Q How long have you been homeless?

A Well, it’s been since July the 4th this time around. There have been other times that I was homeless, once for four years. I lived in a huge Ford station wagon with the windows painted black. It looked like a cheapo hearse.

Q How did you become homeless?

A I had a business that was failing to support me, and I could not bring myself to let it go. I had to sell everything I own — microwave, childhood toys, guitars, all of my CDs, 99 percent of everything I owned — just to keep it going. I finally walked away. I could not stand the pressure. Digging my food out of a Dumpster or getting lunch and a sermon is so much better than working like a dog to pay my taxes and bills and worrying about getting audited.

Q How do you make a living now?

A I don’t really need money. I have been studying the plants around here, and a lot of them are edible. There is so much good food thrown away every day too, good stuff. I am out here because I want to be. In a respect, this life is a protest. It is immoral to charge someone for the right to live and breathe.

Some shithead with a horse went up to the top of a hill in the 1700s and said that all you could see from that hill was his. He then backed up his claim by shooting anyone who did not agree. Soon you could not ride your horse from one place to another without being harassed or shot. Then he gives the land to his son and his son to his son and so on. So if you want to live, you must pay him to live on his land. And since cattle and crops require land, you also have to pay him for food too. And to buy the food and pay the rent you have to work for him or someone like him.

Just drive across the U.S. and tell me that there is not enough land for us all to have free food and housing. It is so out of hand, and for what? — a two-week vacation and a car that doesn’t run well. Slavery is not gone; just ask the minimum-wage earner who sleeps on a couch that he pays $300 per month for because he cannot afford a studio apartment. What’s even grosser is the fact that even a room in a house is too expensive for a minimum-wage earner. Bullshit. My time is as valuable as a doctor’s. I expect to get the same pay. So what if I did not go to school? Give me a break. An hour of my life is gone! That is all there is to it. Give us all the same pay per hour. Work is optional. Food is free; land is free. The fact that someone took it and now holds it ransom for the blood of our time and sweat does not change the fact that it was not theirs to begin with. Resist? Ha! With what? The cost of one court battle is equal to the expendable income of 500 minimum-wage earners for five years.

There is a cover charge for justice. And the cover charge for true freedom and any real change is blood, lots of it. That’s how we started this country. Now our Constitution means very little, and nothing important is put to popular vote. It is so wrong to have these politicians doing anything outside of taking care of internal affairs. Government equals to govern, keep the peace, not run our lives and make laws for the rich to stay rich or send millions of dollars overseas to places we cannot even pronounce. Nope. It is outside of their power, but they vote it into being their power. Now, isn’t that a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t we vote on what their power is?

The guy making laws cannot be the same guy who decides what laws he can make and what powers he has. No, no, no. Give me a break. If a business does this, like Microsoft or whoever the fuck, they get nailed in court for price-fixing — monopolies, antitrust suits. Shit. If you apply these laws to the government, it would be an endless lawsuit, and we would need to fence off California to hold all of the prisoners. Fuck! The poor cannot afford the lobbyists to push their little concerns, like quality of life, into law. No. It’s too late and we are too tired after a hard day’s work to protest [laughs].

Well, I just wanna go have a beer. Yeah, maybe I am not part of the solution, so that makes me part of the problem, but, hey — blah-blah-blah. Who would listen anyway? Got a cigarette?

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