- Interview with a local San Luis Obispo street performer
- Insight from a representative of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce
- Information on a new installation downtown to discourage panhandling
I met Dr. John at the intersection of Marsh and Morro Street, where he was plucking away at his guitar and serenading the people who passed by. Before he agreed to sit down for an interview, he requested money from me.
“I charge for my time,” said Dr. John.
Well Rounded Perspective
Dr. John “the citizen” is a 69-year-old native of Bakersfield, California, who claimed his namesake from his bachelor’s degree in political science and three associate’s degrees in journalism, telecommunications and political science.
He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1968 and considers himself to be a very religious person and follower of A Course in Miracles, a self-study curriculum that aims to assist readers in achieving spiritual transformation. Dr. John claims his life was saved through religion because he learned that “the holy spirit takes things away gradually and slowly like rust gathering on a bike.”
Knowledge and Experience
Right off the bat, he rattled off fact after fact about homelessness, showing his passion and thoughts about this community issue.
- The average person is three paychecks away from homelessness.
- 60% of homeless people had everything. First they lost their jobs, developed a health problem, struggled becoming employed again because of the health problem, lost their home, lost their car and ended up on the streets.
- Most of the homeless population in town is Caucasian.
- Homelessness is not discriminatory towards anyone.
- People think homelessness is a disease.
- Every homeless person wants a job, but some people are still homeless even with a job.
A Daily Routine
After Dr. John retired, it became hard to support himself or even find another job. It was then that he decided to pick up his guitar and become self-employed. He started street performing in the San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach areas and has been homeless since August of 2013, where he spends his days filling the streets of downtown with his music.
A typical day in the life of Dr. John involves getting up early enough to start performing at 9 a.m. sharp. He typically stays out on the streets until 5 p.m., trying to make money just like anyone else working an eight-hour job.
“It is hard on me,” said Dr. John, “the times are really hard. I make 23 dollars on an average day, and 7 dollars in the rain. When it rains, it is hard. Getting tips from people sometimes just does not happen because people are not giving like they used to.”
He paused and fumbled around for a cigarette.
“But I continue to play music because I can make people happy and make money. Sometimes I do not make any money, and that is ok too because at least they are happy,” said Dr. John.
Shining A Light
He talked briefly about his time on the streets, highlighting some of the issues he faces that are common misconceptions people have of homelessness.
“When people tell me to get a real job,” said Dr. John, “I shout back, ‘I have one, what about you?’”
He said that in addition to being treated poorly by the majority of society, people are not aware about the vicious cycle of homelessness. The longer someone is unemployed, the longer someone’s skillset has to deteriorate. So in order to become employed again, it is necessary to go back to school, a luxury that most homeless people do not have. On top of struggling to get back on his feet, Dr. John was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012. He went into remission after heavy chemotherapy.
Persistence Pays Off
Dr. John always plays his guitar and gives performances at the same place in downtown. He has spent so much time on his bench on Marsh Street that he has been immortalized on Google Maps.
“I am a rock star. Someone labeled me as a creative genius because I see things differently. I think that people have to be flexible and able to constantly adapt. It is invigorating, this lifestyle, because it keeps you on your toes,” said Dr. John.
Before he dies, Dr. John said he wants to have all his songs recorded and complete his three films.
While Dr. John relies on generous donations to help his chronic homelessness, the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce is using their own approach to tackle this community issue.
Charlene Rosales, the Director of Governmental Affairs, shared some knowledge on what the Chamber of Commerce and various community members are doing for homelessness in the San Luis Obispo County.
“The Good Neighbor Policy works to improve homelessness in San Luis Obispo. This is an agreement on how neighborhoods can be helpful to make homelessness healthier. It improves communication with all services related to homelessness,” said Rosales.
In addition to this program, there are going to be new installations of “parking meter” machines that will serve as a direct giving program. The downtown association, the city of San Luis Obispo and the local United Way devised this idea as a way of alleviating homelessness.
The idea is that instead of giving spare change to the homeless on the streets, the change will be funneled into these specially designated machines and given to homeless service providers.
“This program could be beneficial for those with drug and alcohol problems. At the same time, people are less inclined to give to a machine than a person,” architectural engineering junior Michael N. said.
This program will debut in early spring of this year and outreach is expected to show up on campus soon.