Shirley and Bill Sinclair

Shirley Sinclair, 68 and husband Bill Sinclair, 57, met in Las Vegas where she was hiding out in a shelter and he was the security guard. They’ve been married 15 years. They arrived in San Diego’s East Village only three months ago, thinking rents might be cheaper and social security advocates would be more helpful than they are in Nevada.

Originally from Texas, Shirley had an uneventful childhood, working odd jobs in high school to help pay for college. She graduated from Texas A&M with two degrees: one in entomology and another in English. While looking for work in her field, she did office management. Then she met a man who wined and dined her. But things changed after they were married. He stayed out late and became violent when he got home. They moved to Las Vegas, where he habitually lost money in the casinos. His wealthy parents always bailed him out. He’d get arrested sometimes when his abuse of her got loud and the police were called. Shirley managed to escape the marriage and sought shelter with Catholic Charities.

“I’d rather sleep on the streets with Bill any day than have a husband who comes home and beats me after gambling away all our money,” Shirley said.

Bill grew up in Boston, in a foster home since the age of five. He saw the Vietnam war on t.v. and dreamed of joining the Navy. “I wanted to serve my country,” he said. “sure it was a sense of adventure, but I had a real patriotic streak.”

His foster family preferred to see him work rather than play. He mowed yards, did demolition, worked in a factory assembly line hoisting industrial spools of yarn onto racks so other workers could pull the yarn down and thread softballs. As soon as he was old enough he walked into a recruiting office and took the oath. The recruiter followed him home and met his foster parents, who said it was a nice thought but they had other plans for him. The recruiter politely explained that Bill was now U.S. government property and they didn’t have a say in the matter.

Bill served four years on an ammo ship off the coast of Iran during the famed hostage crisis of the 1980s. “Anything exploding within 500 miles and our ship would blow sky high we had so much ammunition on board,” he explained. “They kept us in the middle of the fleet so nothing could get at us.” He loved traveling to places like Hong Kong, the Philippines and Africa. Once he left the military he worked for various security firms until he ended up in Las Vegas.

Soon after the Sinclairs landed in San Diego, Bill got sick. He couldn’t get the two of them into housing together, so they stayed on the street rather than be split up. He ended up with pneumonia, and in a coma. Doctors took a look at his liver, which is shot. His stomach is distended, he needs a transplant. He’s lost 100 pounds in the past six months. He stopped drinking. He’s worried. He’s tired. And he’s frustrated that addicts get housing, but people who just need help with a deposit and first month’s rent can’t get assistance in San Diego.

As dusk falls, Shirley brushes her hair and uses the bit of red lipstick she has left, while Bill sets up their tent, which is just tall enough for Shirley and her wheelchair. The lemon cake and hot dogs that someone just donated to the homeless sit barely touched. Bill is conscientious about his diabetes, not wanting to trigger an insulin reaction. They quietly watch their neighbors settle in and hope tomorrow will be better.