Thomas Burke, 34, was sound asleep on the grass at Embarcadero Park by the bay, resting his head on a small plastic Goodwill bag. His ankle was wrapped in a bandage from the abuse of walking in shoes the wrong size without socks.
Asked if he wanted help, he said yes to everything offered: water, housing, voucher for a new i.d. card, willing to do an intake survey, willingness to go into a program, bus ticket home.
Burke was born in Hawaii, into a military family. He loved sports and played football, hoping to make it into onto an NFL team someday. He had two older brothers, but one is now a sister. “She looks good too. Like someone I would want to meet, if I was a stranger.” His parents divorced when he was nine, and his father moved to Oregon where he lives now, working at various construction jobs. His mother stayed on, then moved to San Diego’s East County.
A U.S. Army veteran, he saw combat during Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2006. He left with an honorable discharge, but feels the effects. He said he’s been diagnosed by a psychiatrist with bipolar disorder, ADHD and depression.
He has a temper, he admits, and loud arguments led to a divorce, which didn’t help him being grounded at all. He said his drug of choice is alcohol, and it’s not doing his liver any good. And as for his medications, he hasn’t been taking them for the last month because he lost his i.d., or else it was stolen, and he can’t retrieve medications without it.
He has a certificate of advanced training in nursing, but also works with computer software. His PTSD makes it hard to concentrate, so he hasn’t been able to keep a job since 2007. He had begun working at commission jobs until his truck broke down and he couldn’t afford to fix it. At that point he couldn’t get to work, even if he could land a job.
He went to live with his father in Oregon, assisting at construction jobs. He enjoyed the hiking and skiing and other outdoor activities there. Life was fairly balanced at that point. He decided to venture to San Diego where his mother and siblings are living, but the lost connection to work left him untethered and he started drinking. Burke said he’s been through several programs to help him get sober. For the last five years he has been living amongst San Diego’s homeless downtown. His only income is food stamps, about $194 each month.