The Eyes, Ears, and Souls of the Homeless in SLO

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A Second Chance For Ronald

Two weeks ago Ronald, a veteran of the Navy, was living on the streets with his canine companion Chance, but life is different now. A day after I published “A Chance For Ronald the wheels of the universe started turning in his favor.

My first interview with Ronald was on this bench.

My friend Magaly kindly offered to drop off a bag of food for Chance. She was going to be passing through San Luis Obispo all the way from my hometown St. Helena, CA. Once we had arranged a meet-up time I went to look for Ronald throughout SLO. I found him at the transit center with a big smile on his face.

Before I could tell him the good news he said, “Your article was beautiful, you made me cry at the Apple store. It changed my life, I’m getting back together with my wife because of you.”

Ronald explained that his wife, who he had separated from six years ago, read the article I published about him and contacted him on Facebook. The same day, an anonymous council member donated money for him to move to Arkansas with his wife. In the span of 24hrs, Ronald had a chance at a new life.

“Your simple interview changed my life,” he said in a comment on the About Page,

“sometimes just having one person who cares can make the difference between alone and hopeless to family and hope for the future i will never thank you enough.”

Chance bundled up at the bar stop. He is now with Ron's friend Dee.

Unable to travel with Chance, he had to leave him behind with a friend. “Leaving Chance was like leaving my child, but I know my friend will give him the same love that I gave him.” The many nights of cuddling up with his dog as they fought the weather made them an inseparable duo.

Last Friday, which happened to be Veterans Day, KSBY did an interview with Ronald as he was about to board the bus to Arkansas. (To see the interview click here.)

He made it all the way to Texas before a conductor at a bus station said that there was some trouble with his boarding pass. Lacking the money to continue on the bus, Ronald decided to hitchhike most of the way. He threw away everything, except his backpack and jacket to make the walk faster. “I wasn’t going to miss one more holiday with my wife.”

Ronald finally made it to Arkansas on another bus. Beth was waiting for him at the stop and they shared their first hug in 6 years. “Everyone on the bus was laughing because she wouldn’t let me go.”

“I was so anxious to see him. I just kept smoking cigarettes, it was cold out,” says Beth.

“I’m not going to forget the mistakes I’ve made in the past. Since things are going well for me, I’m not going to let my guard down. When things are going right you have to be more careful,” says Ronald

Authors Note:

To Ronald and Beth-

I’m so happy you have a roof over your head now. Thank you for your kind words and for speaking with me all the way from Arkansas. May the universe provide you two an abundance of peace, love, and happiness. Here’s to your new life. Happy holidays!

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A Chance For Ronald

Ronald needs a chance; A chance to find a home, get a job, but most importantly, to keep him company.

“They say I rescued Chance, but he actually rescued me,” he says.  Ronald saved his canine friend days before he was going to be put down at the pound. Now, they live on the streets and try to overcome homelessness together. “He’s my first concern. Eight out of ten times he is the one that is sleeping in my sleeping bag, not me.”

Ronald and Chance

Ronald’s story begins way before Chance was even a pup. In 1991, he fell 80 feet off a tinder ship while in the Navy. At the time of the accident, he had two Purple Hearts and one Conduct Under Fire decoration. The impact shattered his top teeth, and damaged his spine leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He had no chance of ever walking again, but ten months later, he began to walk again.

Ronald started his own business detailing trucks in 2008, but when Hurricane Ike came through his town of San Leon, TX, things took a turn for the worse. “You don’t know a hurricane until you are involved in one,” he explains. The entire town was submerged in four feet of water with the passing of the hurricane. Ronald’s business and dreams were ripped out from underneath him. “That drive and initiative I had back then, I can never get it back.”

Disability checks barely helped him make ends meet until he tried to get a job. In the third week of his employment, he was fired for not being able to keep up with the other employees; a consequence to having 15 pins in his back. When the disabilities office found out of his employment, they cut his checks for a year. “I lost my job and my checks in the same month, that devastated me.” (Watch a video of San Leon after Hurricane Ike)
Despite the struggles that he’s been through, Ronald knows better than to give up hope.  His deep faith and belief in God helps him keep a positive outlook on life. “I can’t even fathom how bad it had to be for Job. I’m still breathing, I refuse to look at the negative.”

However, he has his bad days. His short temper sometimes gets the best of him, but the self-discipline he learned from being a third degree Taekwondo black belt helps him harness his emotions.
While some homeless people escape reality through drugs, Ronald refrains from drug-abuse. He swears he has never done a drug in his life.

“What you’re saying when you’re a drug addict is that you are too weak to face reality.”

He only has three addictions in life: coffee, cigarettes, and Pepsi, but when people see his missing teeth, they think he must be a drug addict. Women especially don’t trust him.

“When they pass by, they instantly clutch their purses. They think I’m going to harass them. We are not all like that.”

Ronald tries to beat his isolation by reaching out to people through his signs. “I try to make people laugh or make them think.” This way, he gets a response from people who otherwise ignore him. Behind the sign lies the raw story of a man and his dog roughing it out on the hard concrete. As one of his favorite signs states, he’s “homeless on the outside, human being on the inside.”

Timeline: Homelessness in California

In this timeline, you will find alarming facts about homelessness in California. You will also find the dates of some days dedicated to raising awareness about the homeless issues in the United States. Maneuver through the timeline and click on the pictures to find out more information about issues such as tobacco use, hate crimes, and population estimates. Click the link to see the timeline


Timeline: Homelessness in California

 

Homeless By Choice In SLO

The plaza in front of the mission is a popular hang out spot for homeless.

With two sleeping dogs lying beside them outside of Mission San Luis Obispo, Smokey and Austin look like two regular homeless people; that is except for the clown costume.

Smokey’s make up is a bit smeared from last night’s Halloween festivities, but his smile under the bright red lipstick is his own. Austin wears a sign over his neck that offers free hugs.

“I’d like to think I have the biggest home in the world, you know, it’s my planet,” says Smokey. The reality however, is that both Smokey and Austin live on the streets of San Luis Obispo. Although the struggles of living on the street are well known, they are there by choice.

I’m not homeless, I’m houseless,” says Austin.

The difference being that homeless means you have no home and houseless means you have don’t live in a regular house. For Smokey and Austin, the bridges, alleys, and creeks in SLO are a comfortable abode.

Austin had already given four hugs when I interviewed him.

Growing up in Vallejo, Smokey was constantly being kicked out of his home so many times, that it finally became his choice. Three years ago he traded life in his house for a home on the streets at age 17. Despite the cold nights and social isolation, he enjoys his life living from day to day. “What helps me out is that I love to live.”

Austin has been everywhere from Texas to Washington living on the road with a mentality similar to Smokey’s. For them, living on the streets means not having to conform to society’s demands. Living off of a couple dollars means they’re always on the move; a freedom that a nine to five job can’t provide. “I’m just traveling and going wherever I’m going,” explains Austin.

They became friends when Austin arrived in SLO and found shelter under the same bridge that Smokey slept at. They like to hang out near the mission and have developed a group of friends. The majority of the people they speak to are also young and homeless although not by choice.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a struggle, but the past three years have been the happiest,” says Smokey. The bracelet on his wrist says “hope” in different language, a word that describes his philosophy on life. “You only hear the bad shit on the news, but there is a lot of love on the streets you don’t hear about.” As long as he respects those around him, Smokey feels that he will receive that love ten-fold when it comes back around.

While the busy people of SLO go about their day living by their watch, Smokey and Austin enjoy the least chosen route. Willingly living on the streets makes their days seem fuller, and that’s exactly the kind of life Smokey dreams of:

“I don’t care what time it is. It is either day or night, that is how I live my life.”

Interactive Map of SLO: Where the Homeless Sit

This is an interactive map illustrating where most of my articles have taken place. Readers can click on the icons to find out who I interviewed, and when. Most of the homeless tend to stick around close to Higuera Street, SLO’s busiest street. Whether to ask for money or sit on the bench, the homeless have their personal favorite places to spend their very solitary life; These are just a few of those.

Poll: Do you ever donate money, food, or clothing to the homeless?

Georgie Sleeps On Familiar Streets

The first time I met Georgie he was sharing a bottle of Smirnoff with his friends at Mitchell Park. Now sober and cold, he sits outside of Rite Aid with an unlit cigarette between his fingers. 45 years ago, he graduated from San Luis Obispo High School two blocks away.

Mitchell Park is a popular spot for the homeless to sleep at.

After finding a light from a passerby who asks for marijuana, he lights his cigarette, takes a puff and coughs. Every cough leaves him out of breath for ten seconds, but on the streets, alcohol and cigarettes are a man’s best friends.

“It keeps your mind numbed up to where you don’t have to deal with what is going out here,” he says.

What’s really going on is the low temperature that keeps his bottles cold. The rain is sure to come by tomorrow, but once he lets the liquid warm his blood it’s not as bad. The passing of the years is a reality that is harder to escape. At 63, he has a thin frame, a balding head, and a handful of rotting teeth.

Although he hasn’t done drugs since he was 19, he assures me that drugs are always nearby in San Luis Obispo. “I can probably get you any type of drug you want right now,” he says as he points to the parking lot. However it is food stamps that people kill over.  He’s seen people stabbed, beaten, and hit on the head with a rock over a couple a stamps.

The bench outside of Rite Aid.

Lighting his last cigarette with the burning end of the one he just finished, he crumples up the empty box and tosses it into one of the compartments on his ride: a walker his mother brought him two days ago. “At her age, I should be taking care of her and paying her rent.”

His mother, a 92-year-old woman drives an Oldsmobile down the streets until she sees Georgie or one of his friends that tell her where he is. This week, she brought him a warm blanket, sweater, hat, and the walker. She travels from Morro Bay at least twice a week. “I am so proud of my mom, I love her. She drives, keeps a clean home, and hasn’t lost her mind,” he says.

He also has a twin sister, another set of twin siblings, and a younger brother he calls “Jimbo.” He even has a son in Morro Bay. His other son committed suicide two years ago.

Despite the fact that most of his family lives close by, he’s still on the streets. When asked why, he changes the topic and starts talking about the government. He gets a monthly $549 Social Security check and is considered too wealthy to apply for food stamps. “Last week I slept on the lawn outside the courthouse to protest with everyone,” he says. Georgie is talking about the Occupy SLO movement that is currently camping out in front of the San Luis Obispo County Court.

Georgie is going to sleep along the train tracks tonight. It is a popular place for the homeless in SLO. Before he grabs the handle of his walker he pats me on the back and gives me his advice:

“I hate this life. Go out and be someone, be heard. Make a difference in the world.”