The faces of homelessness, and their stories behind them.
Mark Krist, the buildings and maintenance technician at First Presbyterian Church, has experience working with the homeless. He said the population of homeless is not completely accommodated for, making it hard to completely eliminate this widespread problem.
Robert, pictured in front of the Jamba Juice on Marsh Street, is a 38-year-old man from Anaheim, California. After spending a good portion of his morning holding up a cheesy sign, he hoped to make some money. Robert wished more than anything in the world that he could see his daughter again, whom he has not seen since 2008.
James, 43, greeted me with a firm handshake and a brilliant smile on Higuera Street. Born in Atascadero, he described himself as not your average homeless person. He wanted to tell the world that he is “not the kind of person who judges what people have materially, but more on who they are.” James said he enjoyed being on the street to appreciate “the little things” and felt loved by the people who are nice to him.
“A cheaper way of dealing with this problem,” said Krist, “is preemptively addressing problems through religious programs.” It is radically more expensive to treat homeless in the emergency room than had it been treated weeks before.
Originally from White Plains, New York, Peter shared his newfound Christianity and sobriety since August of last year. Despite a severe toothache and lack of antibiotics, he was honestly happy. He was frustrated that despite serving time, his life continued to be affected by a decade old decision. Peter still had an “underlying feeling of hope” even though he wanted to give up and not be kind to others out of fear. Ultimately, he knew that two minus two would equal four, and he needed to give in order to get.
Jim, a grandfather from Stockton, California, only has eight more months on the street before he can retire and start receiving pension. He spends his days in downtown San Luis Obispo, and his nights at a homeless shelter on Broad Street. Even though Jim considers it to be paradise here, he still struggles with the hardship of living on the streets. Jim lost his best friend, Trevor, last week after a fatal heart attack.
“After they use up their 30 days of help, they are out of luck,” said Krist. For many people, this is the reality they face.
Because of the extreme east coast weather, 24-year-old Ollie left his home in Ithaca, New York. He has an associate’s degree in early childhood education and was a dishwasher for five years. He left his job and girlfriend to come to California. Although many regret mistakes of their past, Ollie is embracing his new life because “it is not difficult to live on the streets. I have the clothes on my back, my backpack and freedom that I did not have before.” After his 30 days are up at the homeless shelter, he will have to move to a different city. He has only been homeless for two weeks.
Unfortunately, the ugly stereotype is that these individuals choose to be homeless. In reality, “homelessness is an unaddressed tragedy that could be dealt with,” said Krist.
Walter, 55, is an alumnus of California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. He earned his an associate’s degree at Cuesta College and his bachelor’s degree in liberal studies at Cal Poly. He has spent the past seven weeks on the streets and believes that homelessness is a problem that goes unrecognized.
Aaron “Squidward” has been homeless for seven years. Instead of filling out endless job applications, he said he would rather work and be his own boss. In a month and a half, he hopes to start his welding company with the help of his sister. He has a talent for making boxes out of playing cards and said that he constantly “perpetuates positivity”. When asked what he wanted if he could have anything in that moment, he simply said “a smile from you.”
Despite the collective efforts of the community, Krist believes that “it is still a problem. The more people recognize and relate to this, the more people will stop dehumanizing them.”
For someone who was not old at all, Joker had already lived a long life. Because his mother was also homeless, living on the streets was all that he knew. Even though he would not change anything different about his life because it is “exactly the way it should be right now,” he wishes that people would treat him with compassion and not look down on him like a rat.
After working with the homeless for the past year, Krist said, “homeless people are some of the most grounded and compassionate people that I have ever met.”
Greg, a nature lover from Venice Beach, California, prefers being in the woods to on the streets. He said he has always enjoyed life even though he has seen the best and worst parts of cities. Greg spent a long time discussing his views on life and his dislike for the destructiveness of technology. Greg was “born and raised to be humble” and seemed at peace with his life.