Posts in Seniors
Kim Chow

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.

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Women, SeniorsPeggy 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
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
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
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
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
Uriah Pryce

Uriah Pryce, 73, came to the U.S. in the 1970s to work as a commercial fisherman, following the industry from Florida to Alaska and places in between. He worked hard in the seasonal rotation and often was denied his full pay because he was discriminated against and had no legal recourse. He was afraid to lose his job. Pryce eventually had health problems that sidelined him. He had to get a pacemaker. Continued efforts to get a check from social security fo decades of work have been stymied, despite recruiting lawyers, because he doesn’t have his naturalization paperwork. Rather than try to move in with one of his children (one in Kansas, one in Alaska and two in Jamaica), he is resigned to spending his days around Balboa Park, sleeping in a parking lot downtown. Fellow homeless individuals help him out with money when they have extra. “As long as I get food, a place to sleep, I don’t need anything else,” he said.

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Wheels of Change

Now that Temporary Bridge Shelters are in place, housing hundreds of homeless individuals, Alpha Project for the Homeless is partnering with non-profits who want to help get residents back on their feet and into society. Wheels of Change donated a van and tools to help create a clean up task force of volunteers who get paid for their half day of work. "It builds self-esteem and puts cash in our pockets," said one resident. "This is money that I've earned myself. I'm out here on my own. I don't have any other income. I don't get general relief, social security or disability. It helps with things I need like paying for my substitute teaching credential, which is $71. I'm half way there, raise the roof!"

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Men, Women, SeniorsPeggy Peattie
Sam and Clyde

Sam, 58, and Clyde, 6, are out in the early morning light for a walk and a cigarette. Sam has slept on every street downtown, patch of grass in Mission Bay and soft strip of sand in the San Diego riverbed. Clyde is her comfort, her service animal, and he dutifully, well mostly, (he is a cat after all), walks at the end of a leash as they cruise the area around Petco Park. Injuring her back caring for her father when he was dying of pancreatic cancer, she moves slowly, sipping her 7/11 coffee. Having lost her three children and most of her possessions to a meth addiction, she knows better than to judge people. "Everybody's situation is different. 99% of us are from dysfunctional families: drunk on Saturday night, in church on Sunday."

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Seniors, WomenPeggy Peattie
Richard and Laura

Richard had a carefree childhood with five siblings in rural Arkansas, running through the woods, hunting frogs, fishing and building tree houses. A series of less-than-lucrative jobs landed him in San Diego, where he ended up homeless. After 15 years on the street, a bad fall and dizziness revealed congestive heart failure. Against the premonitions of doctors, who put him on oxygen and prescribed hospice care, Richard has defied their negative outlook by falling in love. And at the beginning of 2018, Richard and Laura made it official that they would spend the rest of their lives together by getting married in a small ceremony on the rooftop garden at Alpha Square downtown. They hope to move into some kind of real housing situation eventually.

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Seniors, Men, FamiliesPeggy Peattie
Richard Mathis

Richard Mathis, 61, grew up playing in the woods of Little Rock, Arkansas with four sisters and a brother, hunting frogs, building tree houses, chasing rabbits and generally exploring the outdoors. A truck driving job brought him to the west coast but the recession forced his company to cut the workforce, including Mathis. He tried to make it on his own, rather than head back to Arkansas, but housing prices forced him into homelessness. He lived in and out of shelters for 15 years, getting his meals there and his mail at Neil Good Day Center, until one day in February this year when he fell ill. Tests revealed he has congestive heart failure. Alpha Project for the Homeless found him housing for what might be his last six months. For now he has a great attitude and a comfortable home he shares with his fiance and their dog.

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Seniors, MenPeggy Peattie
Jeff

Ten weeks after Jeff Burrell was born in rural NE Ohio his Welsh-Apache mother handed him over to his French-Canadian father and left. His father, a womanizer, used Jeff as “punching bag,” for everything that went wrong mentally, physically or financially. To escape, he joined the Coast Guard, which put him on an ice breaker in the coldest regions of the planet for over three years. He spent time in Florida driving a forklift, in Missouri at a poultry processing plant and back home in Ohio before arriving in San Diego. Looking for quick cash he fell in with smugglers, moving people north and cars south across the border. That earned him two stints each in federal and state prisons. Now, on the proper medications for bipolar disorder, he's a calmer kinder person, with a service dog that he says shares his Napoleon complex. All he wants now is a roof and four walls to call home.

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Pastor Mike

Mike Little knew he was going to join the seminary by the time he was in high school, carrying a Bible around the hallways. His bronchitis kept him from joining the Air Force, which disappointed him and his career Marine father and his mother: a roller queen with the Bay City Bombers in Chicago. He fell in with a street ministry on the South Side, which lasted till one of the ministers was busted molesting a young girl. He traveled the country preaching,  until a bad car accident sidelined him. Though his relationships have been extreme, one partner committed suicide, another was heavily addicted to crystal, and he is homeless now, his mission is to find funding for his dream: a ranch in Julian where homeless can live and learn skills like carpentry, landscaping and metal work, while having a safe place to live.

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Men, SeniorsPeggy Peattie
Anthony

Anthony Robinson was a promising young chef back home in Charleston, South Carolina. At age 22, he was working at two different restaurants as sous chef. With energy to spare, he thought "why not?" when some undercover cops approached him with an offer to help with a drug ring, and make some money doing it. Unfortunately they were dirty cops, illegally operating a drug ring. So Anthony had to choose between jail and moving out of state in the plea bargain. Leaving behind his nine-year-old daughter and her mother, he went as far as he could, ending up at the Port of San Diego, where he quickly found work at NASSCO laying cable. Falling ill one day, his supervisor sent him to see a doctor. Anthony was told he was sick, yes, but he also had three herniated discs, and no one would dare operate on him, with one being so close to his neck. So, at 33, he filed for disability, and hasn't been able to work since. Not a drinker or drug user, he has developed a reputation for being trustworthy among the homeless community. Everyone loves Anthony.

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Men, SeniorsPeggy Peattie
Don

Don Kohnhorst, 61, plays air guitar in church. If he had a real guitar he might make some money, he said, playing for tourists over in Balboa Park. He inherited his father's singing voice, though he never was able to follow in his father's footsteps playing country music in bars. His father looked like a tall blond Johnny Cash, and no one messed with him. He and Don's mother drank too much. Don more resembles Willie Nelson, and prefers weed. He keeps to himself, on the streets of Banker's Hill, and hopes to get into a senior affordable housing complex some day soon. One of the fortunate people on the street, he's never been to jail, has a good relationship with local police, and he doesn't have any health issues, though he's afraid the current government will take away Medicare, so he'd like to see a dentist before that happens.

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Men, SeniorsPeggy Peattie
Tim

Tim followed in the footsteps of generations in his family before him by joining the U.S. Navy, escaping the farms and factories of rural Iowa. He spent five years loving the experience traveling from a construction detail on Diego Garcia Island to Guam then Japan and Greece, where he swears he lived in a previous life. Once he finished his military service he returned to the factories, fixing his assembly line belt to make "invisible pieces" so he'd get paid more than the dismal minimum wage of $3.35/hour. Once he was caught, he couldn't find work in Iowa so he moved to San Diego in 1994, where he's lived an unassuming existence in the shadows of abandoned buildings and freeway bridges, sipping 7-11 coffee and smoking pot. Tim makes a point to catch the free organ concerts in Balboa Park, especially when organist Carol Williams is performing a tribute to David Bowie or Jim Morrison.

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Shirley and Bill Sinclair

Shirley Sinclair, 68 and husband Bill Sinclair, 57, met in Las Vegas where she was hiding out from an abusive relationship 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. Bill, from Boston, raised in an unfriendly foster home, happily joined the Navy as soon as he was 18, deployed to Iran during the hostage crisis, and throughout the Pacific region. Now he needs a liver transplant and has diabetes. He's lost 100 pounds. The two can't find a home they can afford where they can stay together, so they stay on the street. They're frustrated by San Diego's transit system, and how far it is to the Veteran's Administration.

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Randy

Randy Ferris, 62, joined the USMC at age 17. His military family moved around so much he had trouble focusing in school so he decided to learn about life by living it. Stationed off the coast of Vietnam for most of his years of service, and returned home to a less than warm welcome. He had anger issues and nearly killed someone. After 15 years in prison he chose living in a van in San Diego over returning to Rhode Island. After being pulled over, and having marijuana found in his car, he served a second stint in prison, and learned to curb both his attitude and his smoking. He hasn't driven for 14 years, but would love to be able to get some paperwork squared away with the military so he can get a check and some health care. He currently lives off the $195 from an EBT card, sharing with other veterans in his camp.

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Duck

Don "Duck" Wills, 64, remembers important dates. Like the Christmas Day his mother told him she wished he'd never been born. Or the day when he was 10 that his father committed suicide. He remembers every Friday when his stepfather beat him with the buckle end of a belt until his 13th birthday when he stood up to the man and threatened to kill him. He remembers joining the Air Force and trying to commit suicide. He left Texas on January 1, 2001 and came to San Diego. He has lived on and off the streets here ever since.

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Tom

Tom, 63, has a degree in physics. Life was good, raising a family in small town Michigan, working for a company that installs fire sprinklers, designing their systems. Then his marriage broke up, and the people he worked for discovered he had Jewish ancestry. He moved to St. Louis, and his new employers at a similar business were associates of his old company, so he felt he was being pressured out. He traveled the country in his car, with his dog, doing odd jobs, landing in San Diego to live with his son, a machinist in the US Navy, until the son moved. He feels he's escaped death enough times he keeps looking over his shoulder and never sleeps in the same place two nights in a row. Lately, he feels God is telling him to find a safe home indoors finally.

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