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by Ron Cruger
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"My name is Joe"
2007 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
My Name is Joe. Iím homeless. I live on the streets. Iíve been doing it for
My father was an engineer on trains. My mother was a pretty
woman. I had 2 brothers and a sister. We lived in Fresno, California.
One day, when I was 8-years old, our mother got me, my brothers and my sister together in the living room and told us that dad was
gone and wouldnít be coming back She explained that dad had moved to New Mexico to live with another woman. She told us that our lives
would change and we might not be able to live in the house much longer.
She was right. In 2 years my two brothers and my sister had left us and had gotten jobs as fruit pickers. Eventually, the three of
them separated. One brother to Denver, one to Portland. My sister got married at 18 and moved across the country to Newark, New Jersey.
Mom and I got post cards from them the first couple of years and then nothing. We never heard from my brothers and sister again Ė
Mom got a job as a waitress in Sacramento, but her back couldnít
take the standing, so she went to a cleaning shop and got a job as a seamstress. She could sit and sew. Thatís when she started drinking.
After a year or so mom quit the job in the cleaning store. She went to work with some other ladies downtown. I didnít know it then,
but now I do Ė my mom became a prostitute.
By now I was 17 years old and
I got a job on the railroad sweeping out railroad cars. I did this for 2 years. Then, I got tired of it. I got on an eastbound train
and went off in Chicago.
I worked all kinds of jobs in Chicago. I stayed
there for a couple of years. Thatís when I started drinking.
winter in Chicago was very cold. I lived in a small hotel, but they didnít turn the heat up very much. I drank a lot. I was drinking
more than I was working. I ran out of money so I borrowed some from a guy I knew and bought a train ticket back to California. It
was warmer there. Iíve always felt bad that I never paid the guy back.
I wound up in San Diego.
I had jobs as a dishwasher, a waiter in a small cafť,
a bartender and I even worked on a garbage truck. I never stopped drinking. Thatís why I lost most of my jobs.
I stayed in San Diego, mostly because it was warm. The years passed. I started hanging out in downtown San Diego. One day I started
panhandling. I got over thirty dollars that day so I quit my job as a dishwasher. For a while I lived in a fairly nice transient hotel.
There were days that I didnít leave my room. I would smoke and drink and sleep. One day the manager of the hotel knocked on my door
and told me to leave. I hadnít paid my rent for two months. I argued but he was much bigger than me. He gathered all my stuff and
threw it out on the street in front of the hotel. I had no place to go. I panhandled all of that day, but only got three dollars.
I bought a bottle of cheap wine with the three dollars and fell asleep in an alley near city hall.
It wasnít too bad. I got cold, but the wine warmed my insides.
day I panhandled some more. I got enough money to go to the Salvation Army store and I bought a sleeping bag and two blankets. That
night I found a place near the Civic Auditorium where 8 or 9 other people slept on the sidewalk near the front of some businesses.
We would all wait until the plays at the Auditorium ended and the people went home. Then we would put our flattened cardboard boxes
on the ground to keep us from the cold cement. On top of the cardboard we would get in our sleeping bags and zip them up as far as
we could get them to keep the warmth inside. I put one blanket under me and one over. No matter what I did I got cold at night. My
bones ached. I had a bad toothache and I knew something was wrong inside me because I had this dull pain in my lower area. The pain
was always there.
Sometimes I would think of the house with mom and dad
and my brothers and sister and how warm it would be at night. The older I got the more I thought of those days and nights when we
had a home and family.
I would always be the first person up in the morning.
I liked to watch the sun come up over the tall buildings. By the time the sun was shining in the sky everyone would pack up their
bags, blankets and whatever they owned. Each of us took off in a different direction. By this time, most of us had already had a couple
of swigs from our bottles.
I had my favorite 5 places that I spent most
of the day. My best place, where I would panhandle and get the most money was off to the side of a fancy restaurant where a lot of
businessmen had breakfast and coffee. Maybe they felt sorry for me, because I would do pretty well there. Sometimes by the middle
of the morning I had enough to buy a cheap bottle of wine. Iíd buy my bottle and then I would go to the alleys in back of restaurants
and look for the good food they would throw out. Each of us had our own spots, but sometimes one of the others would try to take over
anotherís place and there would be fights. I hated that. I didnít like fighting. I would just leave and look for another spot.
None of us liked going around dirty. We all wanted to be clean, but sometimes itís hard to take a shower. Most of us would walk down
to the beach areas, where they have free showers for the swimmers. It was tough in the winter because all they had was cold water
coming out of the showers.
We would wait for the warm days, because we
couldnít take all of our clothes off. We had to shower with pants and shirts on and then walk around in the sunlight to get dry. We
canít even shave, sometimes for a couple of weeks. The ladies on the streets have a more difficult time than us men. Sometimes men
downtown get drunk real bad and want to rape them. I feel sorry for the ladies.
Simple things that most regular people take for granted are very difficult for us sometimes. We donít have our own bathrooms, so we
have to use the bathrooms in stores and shops or go to the public bathrooms at the beaches, but those, most of the times, are dirty
and disgusting. We get headaches, colds, toothaches and pneumonia. We donít get to a doctor unless weíre on the streets with a something
very serious. If we canít get up in the morning Ďcause weíre sick or hurting the police sometimes will take us to jail and then theyíll
have a doctor look at us. Most of the time, if we have a few cents, weíll buy a small bottle of aspirin to help relieve our pain.
Iím 39 years old now. I drink too much. Most of my teeth are either missing or decayed. The pains in my belly are getting worse. My
eyes are getting real bad.
To tell you the truth I know Iím not going
to live a long time. None of us will.
I donít like to think about it,
but I know my life has been a failure. Iím sick and an alcoholic. Iíve taken the easy way out most of my life. I donít know why.
I donít think Iíll ever again live in a house or eat at a table or be able to take a bath or wear clean clothes. I wonít ever be able
to walk into a kitchen and open the refrigerator and get something to eat. Iíll never sleep in a soft, clean bed. Iíll never take
a warm shower in a warm house. Iíll never be able to walk inside a nice restaurant and eat dinner. Iíll never buy roses for a girlfriend.
Iíll never share my life with a wife or a son or a daughter. People will look at me as a useless street person Ė a bum. Just a dirty
man Ė and maybe theyíre right.
My life took a turn many years ago.
I donít blame my father, or my mother. I donít blame anyone. I chose my life and itís too late now to change it. I only wish that
this pain in my belly would stop. It gets worse every day.
keep drinking and one day theyíll find me in my sleeping bag. The cops will come and then a truck will come and theyíll take my body
to some cemetery and bury me.
Nobody will be there to say anything about
me. I would have lived and died and did nothing more important than watch the sun rise in the morning and see it disappear later.
I held on. I made it through the cold nights and lonely days on the cold streets.
I donít have but one dream. I wish we could have one more nice dinner at the old house. Just mom, dad, my brothers and my sister and
me. Thatís all.
. . .
At any one time there are 740,000 homeless people in the United
States. Itís difficult to categorize the homeless. 200,000 of the homeless are veterans.
Most homeless are in a state of persistent deprivation and constant threat of harm. A quarter lack needed medical care. The majority
are victims of violent crimes.
Poverty is the most proximate cause of
20%-30% of homeless surveyed went without food for
part of the previous month.
Single men constitute 60% of the homeless.
The United States is not only the wealthiest country on earth, but Americans enjoy a standard of living that has never been known
before in the history of the world.
ďA nation is known by the
manner in which it treats its least fortunate citizens.Ē