Montana

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.

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MenPeggy Peattie
North Park Marc

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.

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Peggy Peattie
Tiffany

Tiffany wants her child back. After a life in and out of foster care herself, she doesn’t want the baby that was taken from her six months ago to grow up with the same experiences she endured. A ward of the state till she was age 22, Tiffany struggled with her own relationship with her mother, was elated to find her biological brother finally a few years ago, and deals with mental health issues, addiction and homelessness, she feels are a result of insecurities and trust issues throughout her youth. After having six other children, three of whom died either in childbirth or soon after, she is committed to creating a stable situation for herself, get an education, and find a way to build a day center for homeless youth. Her street family takes good care of her, though she doesn’t feel she needs protection as much as she needs to find a way to have police and representatives from Child Protective Services believe in her. Rather than getting assistance towards the different life she says she wants to develop, she feels stigmatized, so no one believes she is capable of change. She is determined not to believe them but to trust her heart.

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Peggy Peattie
Honey

Honey (Lakeesha), 39, and dalmatian puppy Jalila share a tent in the park. They have saved each other’s life, at least once. Honey moved into the park at a low point when she and her husband split up and her part time job faded away when the business owner sold out to another company. She sat on a bench across from the park in a desperate state. She realized the park had a calming effect, so she gathered her belongings and set up camp. The recent heavy rains wreaked havoc with her tent, sending it spinning in different direction, soaking all her belongings. As a single woman in the park, she is vulnerable. She has had many things stolen from her, including a nice bicycle. She’s been sexually assaulted more than once. But she can’t get the police to follow up on the charges, even though she has evidence and sees the perpetrator in the park often. She says she has seen her rapist joking around with police. It was'n’t until she presented evidence they would even take her report. But she has Jalila, a gift, which turned into a life long friendship after Honey saved Jalila from the people who were abusing her, and Jalila tugged Honey away from a freeway bridge, during a moment of despair when she contemplated jumping. Nowadays, the two are inseparable.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Two Hawks

Two Hawks grew up on the reservation in Deadwood, South Dakota, the oldest of five. He spoke his native Lakota language until forced to learn English as a young teenager. At age 17 he was drafted, became a U.S. Marine trained in special forces and was sent to Vietnam where he was involved in many intense, high profile battles. He returned with two bullets still in his body, a broken spirit and having lost two of his younger brothers to the war. “War will screw you up. I still have nights where I don’t sleep,” he said. He eventually got married and the couple settled in Imperial Beach where he worked construction, a job he loved, and rode with motorcycle gangs. The neighborhood kids helped him restore his 1949 Buick. All that changed when his wife of 30 years died 10 years ago. Two Hawks lost his job and his house when he started drinking to deal with the loss of his wife. Now, the 78-year-old veteran’s family consists of his fellow park dwellers, and the ocasional cat, rooster or rabbit that wanders into their camp, who becomes a pet. “We’ve got a family here,” he said. When the weather gets particularly bad, the group pools money together for a motel room for the night, but otherwise they prefer the outdoors.

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Veterans, Seniors, MenPeggy Peattie
Mary and Toby

Mary and Toby migrated to San Diego after some trouble in the Orange County riverbeds where they were living. Mary was sexually assaulted and Toby was shot. And someone killed their cat. Toby has mental health issues and she has trouble keeping him on his medications because they have trouble paying for his prescriptions; so he lapses in to psychotic episodes than can be abusive to either her or other people around them. Mary wants to speak up about the way she feels the city and county officials are ignoring the needs of homeless individuals with mental health needs. She’s ready to go before the San Diego City Council and County Board of Supervisors to make her concerns known. She has Facebook friends that listen to her stories and offer emotional support but there’s no immediate assistance from that; so she’s ready to become a more active advocate.

“The cops have no compassion for the mentally ill. They see us as varmints, the scum of the earth. How are we supposed to trust mentally ill people? they say to us,” she said. “It’s getting to the point I’m losing my mind. Homeless women are the most vulnerable people out here. I’m holding all of this in and I’m about to crack. I don’t want my husband put away, I know what he needs.”

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Families, WomenPeggy Peattie
Sheri

Sheri has a degree in geriatrics from USC. She grew up in California in a big family and was happily married for nearly 30 years to a man she calls the “love of my life.” Over the years the couple had nine children, all of whom she said are successful people, either in careers or studying in college. She made one mistake. That mistake changed everything. She ended up being lured into a relationship with someone she met online; who convinced her she was in love with him and to leaver her husband and move in with the stranger. She did, and quickly learned this man was violent and crazy. She was afraid to leave because she had nowhere to go. In almost no time she was beaten so badly she ended up in a coma for seven weeks. After that she needed to relearn to do everything; to walk, to talk, etc. Sheri ended up on the streets of San Diego, terrified. Fortunately she met someone else, and the two are planning to get married. She is also ten weeks pregnant. She is determined to not let the streets beat her spirit, however. She is starting a job this week, she said. “I’m not going to let the streets take control of me,” she said.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Angel

Angel is a regular feature in Hillcrest, selling her paintings and drawings, smiling bright enough to light up the holiday lights adorning the trees along Fifth Avenue. Born in Illinois, raising five children while her husband worked designing heart monitors in northern Ohio. After 30 years of marriage and the kids almost through college, her husband got a job working for Hughes Aircraft and the couple moved to Los Angeles. They bought a home with a pool and three-car garage. Ten days later he died of a heart attack. Angel sunk into a depression, selling the house, paying off her kids’ college fees and jumped a southbound bus. She’s been on and off the street for the past ten years, living one day at a time, struggling against violence and theft, but always trying to stay positive.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Xmas Eve Celebration

Once again, the family of Bob McElroy, president and CEO of the Alpha Project for the Homeless, brought Christmas cheer to the hundreds of people living in the downtown homeless tent shelter by spending Christmas Eve serving dinner to the tent residents. The very youngest members of the extended family scooped handfuls of candy onto residents’ plates and were treated to a peak at the three puppies that were born the day before to one of the tent resident’s small dog. Adult members scooped ham, potatoes and vegetables onto residents’ plates while Santa strolled around taking selfies with everyone. As always, the First Family of compassion brought the greatest gifts of all to those most in need: the gift of their time.

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Men, Seniors, WomenPeggy Peattie
Jeanine and Bunny

Jeanine has a kind word and a sandwich for any hungry stranger who knocks on her camper shell door…. at a reasonable hour. A transplant from Ohio, where she started life in an orphanage, and was then delivered to her father when he was released from prison, Jeanine is a strong-willed woman who has no shame recounting all the stages of her life leading from Ohio to a truck in San Diego. Jeanine was turned over to her father at age 13. She quickly learned he was a sexual predatory and ran away, leaving her brothers to suffer that abuse. She stayed with an aunt, but was kidnapped into prostitution; escaped that, but was re-introduced into prostitution by a boyfriend. “I got stories!” she said, recounting the episodes of her life. She spent some quality time with a foster family that helped her develop a strong character. She broke both feet jumping out of a window. After hitchhiking her way to Atlanta, she escaped another abusive boyfriend by earning enough money selling ice cream, to buy a one-way ticket on Greyhound to Hollywood. Two years later she was cleaning hotel rooms and working the night shift at a downtown restaurant in San Diego.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Richard Garcia

Richard Garcia, 53, broke his leg 15 months ago stepping through a hole in the street. Because of that he lost his job, couldn’t pay rent on the room he was living in and ended up living in a friend’s car. A construction worker with licenses for truck and forklift driving as well as carpentry skills, he checks online with agencies throughout the week looking for openings. He often has high school students stop and ask him about homelessness, an opportunity for which he is grateful, he said. He tells them he sees young people on the street strung out on drugs who have no future, and that he lost two jobs before he realized he had to quit doing drugs himself if he wanted to amount to anything. Garcia is grateful for the smallest donation people give, whether food or money, he said. He keeps his clothes and body clean and gets his haircut at the college barber so if he gets that call to work he’s ready.

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MenPeggy Peattie
Korky

Korky describes herself as a proud Hispanic. She graduated early from San Diego High School while lettering in four sports. She started her education in nursing at City College then went right to work interning at the Balboa Medical Center. The timing of her move to working at UCSD emergency room coincided with the infamous patient who showed up with an arrow through his head. Her memories of childhood are not very sweet. Her mother liked to party with navy boys, she said, so she and her brother would huddle in the corner, staying out of the way. She was sexually abused at one of those parties at age 6 1/2. She and her brother often went without eating when their mother was drinking heavily, and they were beaten often, she said. In 2005, when she discovered her husband was having an affair, she spent some time in Mexico to get distance. Back in San Diego, on the street, she was assaulted while sleeping in her truck. She fought back and stabbed her attacker, and spent time in prison for it. Back out, she knows the friends she made in prison have her back, watching out for her on the outside.

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Women, SeniorsPeggy Peattie
Dex and Karma

Dex grew up in Queens, New York in a big family. He attended college in Virginia, though it got tough to pay his tuition after his father stole his student loan check. The fight that ensued got Dex noticed by local police. Thus began a long relationship with law enforcement that most recently manifested in his being assaulted while in a Pensacola, Florida jail, allegedly by a policeman. He had to undergo brain surgery and several months of rehab before he could walk and talk again. Now on the streets of San Diego after a job offer to do computer animation fell through, he is looking for work either playing in a band or building websites. Meanwhile he has a good attitude on life, and Karma keeps strangers at a distance. He has spent much of his 35 years on the road, either hitchhiking or hopping trains. After the traumatic head injury, he said he feels like he’s 80. He learned to paint, and thinks he might be able to make a living painting and selling his artwork. He just needs enough money to buy art supplies first.

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MenPeggy Peattie
Marvin C.

Marvin, 54, is a glass half-full soul who grew up in a Christian home in a Baltimore neighborhood. His mother was a nurse, his father a forklift driver: “a working class family,” as he described it. When one of his aunts moved to California, he got permission to move out and live with her and his cousins, graduating high school in L.A. Following in his mother’s footsteps he earned a degree as a medical assistant and found work in a nursing home there. Somewhere along the way be god mixed up with substance abuse. He realized he has an addictive personality and it has to be all or nothing. Marvin has been in and out of programs to deal with alcohol, preferring programs that have roots in Christian messaging. He maintains his sunny disposition, despite having his toes amputated last Christmas due to diabetes. He now gets around on the street in a wheelchair. He hopes to work as a bell ringer for the holidays this year so he can earn money before moving to Long Beach and moving in to another rescue mission program.

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MenPeggy Peattie
Bruce

Bruce, 63, grew up in rural Michigan. He didn’t get along with his mother’s second husband, Jim, who treated him and his siblings like they were burdens, not children. He left home at age 13, ended up working for UNCEF, following natural disasters around the globe. In the 1960s he ran messages back and forth among noted figures like Abbie Hoffman in the anti-war movement. He also spent some time “as a commodity,” he said. In his second attempt at college, he turned out to be a wiz kid, tackling psychology and behavioral health, specifically suicide. He’d seen many people in his life: a sister, friends, ex-partners, commit suicide so it was something close to his heart. He was on the Dean’s List, doing fine, until everything fell collapsed at once. He was hospitalized for suicidal depression. He ended up on the streets. “For four years I was just lost.” Painful spinal stenosis landed him in a wheelchair. Fortunately Bruce connected with an organization that services senior homeless individuals. He was the first person moved into the new Palace Apartments, through Telecare Agewise, just this month. He advises other homeless, especially the new people on the street, to find an ally; that it’s too easy to anesthetize one’s condition with drugs, alcohol and acting out.

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Men, SeniorsPeggy Peattie
Matthew

Matthew thrived in the U.S. Army. He was a leader in everything he did. The regimen and order, the camaraderie and teamwork, all suited him and gave him the confidence and respect he never had growing up in the projects in Minneapolis. Given to the state at age 13, he was moved between boys’ homes and foster care until the age of 20. Working the hustle, stealing and selling drugs, he ended up in the penitentiary, which is where the military found him and recruited him. Matthew feels that was the best thing that happened to him. But he allowed himself to get cocky, didn’t realize he was an alcoholic and that the freedom to work hard and play hard was his downfall. Going AWOL on alcohol and cocaine, he was too embarrassed to return, knowing his colleagues would be disappointed in him. He’s spent the rest of his life regretting it, trying to find that same environment of mutual respect, of purpose, of order. Now drug and alcohol free, he’s also trying to mend relationships and find a new sense of purpose. He’d like to figure out a concrete way to help get fellow homeless veterans off the street.

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Veterans, MenPeggy Peattie
Sylvia

Sylvia grew up in Imperial Valley with her family of agricultural workers, rising in the dark to line up for buses and already coring lettuce or harvesting watermelons before dawn. She later worked packaging dates and other similar jobs before going to cosmetology school and looking to ply her career in San Diego. She met her husband at a telemarketing job, and the two had two sons, both with ADHD issues. Eventually, as her husband earned less and drank more, and her chores handling the home and children grew overwhelming, she sold jewelry and other possessions to pay rent. Sylvia ended up living in a tent in a city park, until Alpha Project outreach workers convinced her to come in from the cold literally and occupy a bed in the bridge tent. Her boys are grown, she has her medications for depression and vertigo under control and she just wants a “little square where I fit, and where the cops won’t bother me. That and patience.”

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Women, SeniorsPeggy Peattie
Arthur Lute

Arthur Lute is a veteran of the U.S. Marines, the Army and the Navy. He's endured conflict on countless notable battlefields. He re-entered civilian life, married to his high school sweetheart, landscaping, then pursuing a medical field. It was working as an EMT when the flashbacks started to come. Caring for gunshot wounds or head traumas brought it all back. His marriage crumbled. He was depressed over not seeing his daughter. In and out of homelessness and substance abuse, he became the poster child for what PTSD can do to a trained killer. A particularly bad episode forced him into treatment and the care of his mother in San Diego. He went back out onto the streets where he felt he could care better for himself than at his mother’s or at a shelter. He met his current wife Elizabeth there, who was also homeless. When the couple had their boys, they vowed never to sleep on concrete again. Though their small apartment in Imperial Beach is partially subsidized through a VASH program voucher, his military pension is never enough to supply food and clothing through the whole month. With his military involvement proudly tacked to the walls, Lute sees caring for his family as his new battlefield; it’s a war where he is determined to come out on top.

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Sirprina King

Sirprina is proud of her three grown children. As a single mother working long hours cleaning homes and office buildings to make sure they all went to school and were well-fed, she feels a big part of her life was successful. All those years at physical labor resulted in two hip surgeries and avascular necrosis. Sleeping on a sidewalk doesn’t make it any easier. Sirprina never knew her own father, and her mother died when she was 10. Much of her present mental anxiety comes from being attacked while sitting in a wheelchair awaiting tendon surgery. “It was a mental hospital,” she explains. “Suddenly this white guy with tattoos attacks me. I don’t know why. I was just sitting there. He was crazy.” She wants to get into housing and have a mental health case worker so she can get to NA and AA meetings. Her faith in God and the goodness of most human beings keeps her positive until that happens. She hopes people don’t judge her for being homeless. “You have to forgive,” she said softly. “There’s a lot of ill people on the street.”

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Sean Patrick Reilly

Sean Patrick Reilly grew up in coal country in the hills of Appalachia where his immigrant grandfather landed, fleeing the potato famine in Ireland. He and his friends would party in the hills where residual fires smoldered near the mines. As soon as he finished high school he fled the overbearing nature of his parents, moving to San Diego, doing odd jobs and ultimately joining the Navy where he hoped to learn to be a welder. That changed however when he went AWOL one too many times, and he found himself doing odd jobs again. Sean ended up a carney with a traveling circus, running the machine gun game for 12 years. Tiring of the travel and long days, bouncing between promises and disappointments, he ended up homeless in San Diego again, drinking a little too much. Camped outside San Diego High School, he and several hundred fellow homeless veterans hope to find services like clothing, clearing up outstanding tickets and getting on a list for housing.

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Veterans, MenPeggy Peattie