Anthony White (far left): "I stayed at the parking lot at Lowe's because their wi-fi covered the parking lot."
Florida native Anthony White II taught marksmanship to new recruits in bootcamp. Like many Camp Pendleton Marines, White had a post-Corps life plan when his four years of service was over in 2015.
“When I got out I had a place to stay and a job lined up with my friend who was starting up a security business,” says White, 28. “Come to find out, my friend had to move back to Colorado. Before I knew it, I was spending nights in my truck.”
White: "My buddy was living in his car in the Walmart in Murrieta."
A gym membership allowed him to shower daily. He had a job selling cameras but he said his fellow employees never knew he didn’t have an address. “I wore a button-up and a tie every day to work. But I didn’t want to admit I had go to my truck to sleep at night. I was ashamed. I was raising my son on my own but I had to send him back to live with his mom. I felt like I was a failure.”
White says he spent his homeless months “…all over Oceanside. A lot of times I stayed behind a building tucked in a corner at the industrial park off of Oceanside Boulevard. I’d try and get out by 6 or 7 in the morning. I stayed at the parking lot at Lowe's because their wi-fi covered the parking lot. I was going to [Palomar College] and I could use my laptop.
“I had a couple of times when the police would come up and knock on the window and say they had a complaint about me. I told them I had just gotten out of the Marines, that I was just down on my luck, and that I wasn’t using drugs or alcohol. They were decent enough, but I was surprised they never said ‘here are some resources that can help you’ before they told me I had to move on. What was most terrifying was getting woken up in the middle of night by people rummaging in the bed of my truck. I had to get up and go outside and say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ It was scary."
Things eventually worked out for White. He remarried and regained custody of his now ten-year-old son. “We’re now one big happy family.” White is going to Palomar where he is a vice president in the student government. But he suspects many Marines who experience homelessness don't rebound.
He gets emotional when he remembers another ex-Marine who went homeless the year before he did.
“A buddy of mine, we called him Brown Cow, was really excited that he was getting out [of the Corps] so he could spend time with his daughter. But shortly after he got out he dropped off the map. When I did get in contact with him he was living in his car in the Walmart in Murrieta. I sent him some money. But then I didn’t hear from him for a couple weeks. When I finally did hear from him he told me he that he hadn’t seen his daughter and he wasn’t doing so good. A couple weeks later I heard he killed himself.”
White says it' s bleak for too many vets. “I see [Pendleton] veterans who are homeless every day. I would guess that half of the people asking for food are ex-veterans. I live in Vista now and I give out hot meals to people near where I live all the time just to show them that someone cares.”
It was hard at first for White to talk publicly about his own eight months in the barrel. But he’s talking now. And he isn’t bitching about what the V.A. or the U.S.M.C. did or did not do for him and his fellow vets when they left the Corps.
“I saw in the Palomar newspaper an article about how the Palomar food bank was celebrating its 40-year anniversary. I thought the food bank is great, but I thought we aren’t doing enough for students facing homelessness. The writer of the article said one of her ideas was to let students sleep in their cars overnight. I hadn’t thought of that.”
White spoke January 30 to a city of Oceanside-sponsored ad hoc homeless committee about an idea he's pushing. He'll ask the Palomar student government February 22 to vote to ask the Palomar College governing board to establish an area of the Palomar College parking lot that could be used for homeless students to park/sleep overnight.
“There already is a community college in Cypress that does this. There is a group called Dreams For Change that does this in San Diego in a church parking lot. I have been in contact with both of them about doing this at Palomar.” White says the idea is that since Palomar already has overnight security, why couldn't those guards oversee a section of the parking lot that would be devoted to homeless students who spend the night?
“We would need health and other counselors to be there to check people and talk with people. Their goal would not just get them a safe place to stay for the night but help them to tap into resources that can pull them out of homelessness.” He estimates that the annual cost of counselors and portable toilets would be $47,000 which could be paid for by grants. “There is a now a state law that says that community college showers must not be used just by athletic departments but must be shared by the entire student body.”
White says a proposed law may help. “State Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) just introduced assembly bill 302 that would mandate all California community colleges open up their parking lots to their homeless students.”
On the other hand: “I know there might be a lack of willingness to do this because of risks. People aren’t comfortable taking risks and are quicker to say no. We have to find every way we can to get people to say yes.”