Bringing it home...
San Diego’s streets are full of people one paycheck away from a good home, escaping an abusive relationship or the demons of PTSD. When we stop and talk with people, we meet families, brothers, mothers, seniors, veterans, teenagers, sisters, all looking for a home. Some find community and protection in each other, some choose to stay in isolated corners. This site is about our shared humanity; a documentary project in words and visuals by award-winning photojournalist Peggy Peattie, who has been telling the stories of America's homeless for more than 30 years.
Kim Chow, 62, was the oldest of six siblings. Her mother didn’t want her and Kim was sent to live with an uncle in California, where she joined a brood of eight girl cousins and a protective grandmother with fiery red hair. Chow ended up on the streets of San Diego in 1979 and made the strip bars and party scene her home, developing a penchant for fashionable clothes that she sustained by turning tricks. She had fashionable friends as well, who brought her to auto races and kept her in name brand high heels. She has seen both good and bad on the streets, she said, and one of her favorite memories is convincing two sisters to give up street life and go back home. She said the family still occasionally visits, bringing her flowers. She has also been assaulted and nearly killed, and deals constantly with theft and untrustworthy people. That’s the hardest for her to deal with, she said. People often come up with a reputation for you, before even speaking with you. She takes heart medicine, and sleeps on a thin blanket on the sidewalk, taking life one day at a time.
Rene is a "people person." She thrived as a caregiver, and doted on her two daughters. She says hello to everyone who walks by her spot on a sidewalk in North Park, around the corner from her favorite liquor store. When she has extra cash she shares it with her fellow street dwellers. Raised in Pacific Beach, a graduate of Mesa College, she hasn't moved far from her origins, but her life now is a far cry from what she describes as a "spoiled rotten" childhood of privilege. A series of traumas caused her emotional dive into vodka. But she is cutting back these days, she says, and craves getting back to being in stable housing so she can start working again.
In the meantime, she has to deal with what she says is degrading treatment of the homeless. It’s difficult to find a decent place to use the bathroom or take a shower. She has stood begging at the door of a restaurant, desperately needing a bathroom, but was turned away because she didn’t have a quarter. “The debate is this,” she said, “how am I going to find a job when I’m wearing these clothes and there is no place to shower?”
Montana, 32, rode the rails and hitch-hiked his way to San Diego through snow-capped mountains in boxcars and sitting atop piles of rebar, to be near his two sons. He touts his survival skills background, his MMA and Brazilian Ju Jitsu training, and his independent nature, as a foundation for his comfort living in a park or otherwise unsheltered. He saw his boys nearly every day, taking them to the park to play soccer, the beach — mostly what they could do together that didn’t cost anything — and all was going well, mostly. Then he got stung by a bee one day, as he and the boys were on their way to the park. Dizzy from the encounter, due to his bee allergy, he had the boys lead him back to their house, where he slept it off on the couch. His ex, however, was not pleased, and told him he couldn’t see the kids any more. This was a crushing blow, since the kids were his singular focus, his reason to be here in San Diego. Meanwhile, he shares his largely cheerful nature with passersby where he leans against the side wall of the Sprouts store in University Heights. A sign proclaiming he is “traveling on faith” sits beside him, leaning against his pack. Though he never specifically asks for anything, people leave him food, water, money, coupons, etc. He has toyed with the idea of returning to Montana, taking the bus this time, or moving further north in California, while holding out hope he will get a reprieve and be able to hang out with his sons again.
North Park Marc, 49, is a complex being. Soft-hearted, and eager to be kind, he chides his park dwelling colleagues when they swear in the company of women and children, he is also active in his church doing clean ups, working as security, leading youth groups on tours of homeless encampments and whatever his pastor has “voluntold” him to do. He has a short fuse, however, when it comes to tweakers using or selling narcotics in the park, and refusing to seek help and services. At the same time, he prefers living outside to ever being part of a program with rules in exchange for a roof over his head. Once active with a skinhead group that attacked gay men in Hillcrest, he now counts several gay men and women among his friends. He loves his country but hates the people running it. A six-year veteran of the US Marines, Marc maintains a military0style workout routine for keeping fit. He knows the life cycle of all the birds of prey in the eucalyptus trees in his park. He’s excited about his current walk with the Christian faith, which gives him a sense of purpose and family, since he has no contact with any of his seven siblings or other blood relations. His church involvement presents a good substitute for the cycle of drugs and prison that once ruled his days.