They told me I could not live

Story Highlights

  • Interview with Steve Majors
  • Input from a long time San Luis Obispo resident
  • Perspective from a downtown employee and student

With the arrival of the first rain of the year, I was skeptical to meet anyone because of the nasty weather. However, just as I was about to scout out Mitchell Park, I walked by a parking structure and met Steve Majors.

Early Exposure
The first things I noticed about Majors were his kind eyes and genuine voice. Originally from El Paso, Texas, the 52-year-old man struggled with discrimination his entire life. Majors was born in a Hispanic neighborhood, where he remembered being called a “Conejo Loco” and taunted because of his skin color. For many years, Majors was one of the only non-Hispanic kids in his class, regularly dealing with the struggles of racism.

“No matter who you are, I will treat you with honor and respect, because that was how I was raised.” – Majors.

Unfair Discrimination
Eventually, Majors got a job at Denny’s. He worked there for several years, where he was able to build his reputation as the best cook in the area stretching from King City to Santa Maria. Unfortunately, Majors suffered a severe foot infection from poor circulation to his legs. He lost half of his right leg and half of his left foot due to the diabetes related injury, rendering him unable to work. Denny’s ended up firing him.

Steve Majors has spent the past five years panhandling downtown to make ends meet for his family. Despite his disability, carpal tunnel, slipped discs and diabetes, Majors says he does not mind being on the streets.

Steve Majors has spent the past five years panhandling downtown to make ends meet for his family. Despite his disability, carpal tunnel, slipped discs and diabetes, Majors says he does not mind being on the streets.

Many people pass by and pretend he does not exist, while others have called the cops because they felt harassed. He has even been accused of thievery due to his panhandling.

During the interview, Steve acquired two dollars in quarters and a gift card to Food 4 Less. He tucked it into his shirt pocket and said: “There you go, there’s dinner tonight.”

During the interview, Steve acquired two dollars in quarters and a gift card to Food 4 Less. He tucked it into his shirt pocket and said: “There you go, there’s dinner tonight.”

Majors shared his frustration, grasping my hand and asking me if I had ever been discriminated against for something that I could not control. Of course, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I realized that Steve wore his homelessness like race or gender. His homelessness was only skin deep, and did not define him as a person because beyond the old clothing and calloused hands, there lay a person with hopes and dreams of something beyond the streets.

“One time while I was on the street, someone told me to kill myself. I thought we were all God’s children. If we are all born the same way, why treat someone differently because of the little things?” – Majors.

A Local’s Perspective
Leon Keonan shared similar sentiments when I asked him about homelessness in San Luis Obispo. Keonan has worked at the Historical Center for the past twelve years and been a resident of the area since 1971. “I absolutely do not think they pick their lifestyle. I can not judge anyone for their actions because each case is different,” said Keonan.

At age 80, Leon Keonen still works part time at the San Luis Obispo Historical Center. He used to be a teacher at the local high school for many years before retiring. He says that homeless people regularly seek shelter in the museum.

At age 80, Leon Keonen still works part time at the San Luis Obispo Historical Center. He used to be a teacher at the local high school for many years before retiring. He says that homeless people regularly come into the museum.

According to Keonen, the number of homeless has increased in the past years, making it a prominent public issue.

Movements began within the community, such as programs targeted to helping the homeless. Two homeless shelters were built in response to community efforts, the Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Shelter.

Keonen said the prominence of homeless here is due to the mild weather, similar to other cities up and down the coast of California. Throughout his years in San Luis Obispo, he noticed a counter culture among the homeless that was sometimes oriented through drugs and other substances. They used to live in groups around Mission Plaza, spending their nights near the creek bed before being forced to follow discriminatory laws.

These include:

  • No sleeping in parks
  • No smoking in certain areas
  • Discouragement of loitering on the streets
  • Expensive tickets they cannot afford

Despite stereotypes, homeless individuals are more often than not dealing with untreated mental illness rather than substance abuse.

Worlds apart
According to the Cheyenne Liu, a biochemistry student at Cal Poly and barista at Barnes and Noble, the three separate bubbles in San Luis Obispo include the long-term residents, people on campus, and the homeless. “For me, the only way to traverse those areas is through working here,” said Liu.

Cheyenne Liu recognizes homeless people at Barnes and Noble when she works at night. After working there as a barista, Liu said she had “a heightened awareness of homelessness.”

Cheyenne Liu recognizes homeless people during her shift at Barnes and Noble. After working there as a barista, Liu said she had “a heightened awareness of homelessness.”

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