Brittany and Joey

Home is a tent on the sidewalk below the Embassy Suites.

Home is a tent on the sidewalk below the Embassy Suites.

At the point most people would call rock bottom, these two met. And through an act of compassion they became an unlikely but complimentary couple, married nearly four years now.

Both were abused when they were children; both have disabilities to deal with and anger management issues.

Joseph Friend, 35, has seizures and is clinically diagnosed with anti-social behavior. He suffers from Tardive Dyskinesia, which he describes as having restless leg syndrome throughout one's whole body. Defined as a nervous system disorder it manifests in repetitive, involuntary body movements such as grimacing or lip-puckering, difficulty breathing, involuntary movements of the limbs, torso and fingers. He talks fast, but largely because he has a long, complicated story to tell. Certain traumatic events can trigger an episode.

Like when his mother committed suicide. She was staying at St. Vincent de Paul’s women's shelter at the time, and he was 18 years old. He suppressed his emotions and immersed himself in reckless behavior, not caring about his own survival, diving into gang life. He lashed out at prison guards in the California Youth Authority camps in ways the guards had never seen before.

He concealed his emotions in meth and pills. Before his 30th birthday he’d had two heart attacks and one stroke. Joey has a daughter from a previous relationship. He devoted himself to her while also treating his girlfriend’s other two children as his own. Child Protective Services gave him custody of all the children when his girlfriend was arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing bringing drugs into the U.S., including planting drugs on their 10-year-old daughter.

It was at that low point Brittany Friend, now 24, saw him with the three children, trying to find a room for them all at the Trolley Court Motel where she was staying. She offered him the last of her money to help keep the children indoors for a few days while he figured out his situation, even though it would mean staying on the streets herself.
“I was at the lowest point in my life,” he said. “And here was this woman who didn’t know me, and offered me her last dollar so my kids could stay safe. It just went straight to my heart.”

Brittany has a soft spot for children. Probably because she didn’t have much of a childhood. She and her mother never got along, her father nearly killed her by hitting her when she was a toddler. She ended up in CPS and the juvenile court system. The former county supervisor Dave Roberts was her foster father for several years, and she keeps a photo of them in her wallet. She credits him and his husband with showing her that marriage isn’t just between a man and a woman. After she left there, went back to her mother, which didn’t last long. She then secured her own apartment, but ended up being sex trafficked by someone she trusted. She has since escaped that life.

Since he married Brittany, Joey has finally allowed some of his pent up emotions to come out.  Meanwhile, Brittany is learning that some men are actually capable of more than a 15-minute relationship. Joey will cry with happiness at tender moments when watching families play together in the park. He lets the tears flow just as much when talking with a friend about the death of a friend on the street to an overdose. Joey depends on Einstein, a shitzu/pitbull mix puppy, to help with his emotional needs, his anti-social behavior, as well as his epilepsy.

Brittany and Joey thought they were on a path to normalcy, living in a studio apartment until they decided to protest the miserable conditions: cockroaches everywhere, filthy shared bathroom, windows that didn’t seal, by not paying rent. They failed to document the conditions, beyond bringing them to the landlord’s attention, so they were evicted for not paying rent.

Staying on downtown’s west side, they have no issue with the Harbor Police, nor with Shelly Zimmerman, the (former) chief of the San Diego Police Department, who Brittany said treated her like any other person when she spoke to her face to face at an event. But they both feel (current) Mayor Kevin Faulconer is too far removed from the homeless situation. “He’s getting all this money from federal programs, but where is it going? The problem is getting worse and worse,” said Joey. “He’s clueless.”

He also feels the SDPD officers need to be more sensitive to homeless individuals. Because he has mental health issues and he suffers seizures, “they think I’m drunk all the time. They don’t bother to ask if I need help or if we need help,” Joey added.

Joey tries to hold off the pain from a pancreatic tumor, diagnosed a few years ago. Brittany has offered to go back to working the streets to raise money to pay for treatment, a topic that starts the two arguing about jealousy and commitment. But at the end of the day, they vow to never go to sleep angry at each other. “We’re just like any other couple,” Brittany said. “We argue with each other, but know we still love each other.”

Now they are hoping to find a home where they can have a shower and a kitchen, where he can do handyman work like painting and carpentry. He’d like to be a property manager. Joey has been on a section 8 housing list for eight years, Brittany for six years. In the mean time they stay away from East Village and try to maintain a quieter existence on the street where their family for now is other homeless individuals just taking life one day at a time. "I want to be a productive member of society," Brittany said while sweeping the sidewalk at her tarp under the shadow of the Embassy Suites Hotel. "But I can't help my circumstances. We just need someone to give us a break."