Posts in Veterans
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.

Read More
Veterans, Seniors, MenPeggy 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.

Read More
Veterans, MenPeggy 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.

Read More
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.

Read More
Veterans, MenPeggy Peattie
Kim and Chris

Kim and Chris met 12 years ago in a recovery house. She was dealing with a meth addiction and he was just out of prison. Together they helped each other deal with divorces and demons while forging dreams of a more carefree future. They came west. Kim had researched the homeless situation in San Diego but was still shocked when she got off the bus four years ago and saw whole blocks of tents. Chris' four years in the Army might possibly help the two of them get into permanent housing through the VASH program. They stay to themselves, listen to music and watch movies on their cell phones. And they haven't followed up on that dream of hitch-hiking up the coast to see Chris' kids in Washington...yet.

Read More
Hayden

Hayden Sumner, 50, joined the Navy at age 19. He saw the good in people and wanted to live a life of service to others. But his mother more closely resembled Ma Barker than June Cleaver. She was wanted by the FBI for credit card fraud. When a fellow sailor discovered Hayden was gay, and told their superior officers, that quickly ended his nearly eight year career in the military. After working two jobs at a time, enduring physical and psychological abuse from a partner for over 12 years, he fled to San Diego where he hid out in a canyon. A VA worker drew him out and set him up with a housing voucher. But he has trouble staying away from the drug scene he wants no part of. He's hyper enough without stimulants, he said. His goal is to bring renewable energy jobs to the homeless so they not only do something constructive for the planet, but regain a sense of pride and self-worth. Now would be a good time to start, he said.

Read More
Men, VeteransPeggy Peattie
Sandra and Gary

Sandra and Gary were sleeping near each other and watched over each other’s stuff on the streets of San Diego for month before they gradually became a couple. Sandra, 44, was born here, and moved with her family to Cancun when she was five. Even with five older brothers and sisters, lots of aunts, uncles and cousins, she had to work two jobs when she was old enough to do so. The work was hard on her because she injured her back at age eight, falling from a playground bar onto the concrete below. She was too young for surgery, they told her, so her back never healed properly. She moved back the the U.S. at age 31 and started working in the fields in Arizona, mostly harvesting broccoli. After three years it proved too difficult, after her husband pushed her backwards, further injuring her back, dislocating two discs. She moved to San Diego to try hotel work again, but only found 12-hour shifts. She sent her two children to live in Cancun while she tried to sort things out. Gary, 55, grew up in Minnesota. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at 18, a combat veteran of Desert Storm who retired after 20 years with an honorable discharge. He isn’t receiving his benefits, however, because it’s difficult to send papers to someone without an address, they tell him. He figures he is due $7,000 in back pay and has been on the list for the VASH housing program for two years, hoping for help soon.

Read More
Alicia

Alicia Lamar, the kind of name a movie star or singer would adopt. Lamar smiles and quietly states “My voice is the voice of angels.” When asked what she likes to sing, she begins muttering about foster care, too many homes, abusive, hitchhiking across country from Boston, a father in the U.S. Navy: Okinawa.
Clutching a lighter in her hand, dropping her pink-and-blue blanket, her deep green eyes watch a growing crowd of Padres fans stack up across the street from the triangle of dirt she inhabits between the library and the Petco parking lot. Now 35, the U.S. Marine veteran of Afghanistan with square shoulders and a thick head of red hair begins to tear up when talking about her home on the East Coast.  She circles a collapsed tent a few times like a cat, then grabs one side, lifting it high to spill its contents on the dirt. After a brief struggle she didn’t expect, Lamar says “It’s heavy for a reason. Forget it.” She pauses then says, “I need a tent.”

Read More
Veterans, WomenPeggy 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.

Read More
Thomas

Thomas Burke, 34, 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. 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.

Read More
Men, VeteransPeggy 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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
Fran

Fran Brown, 49, sits sentry with her service dog Lucky, a cheerful Husky/Akita mix that doesn’t know they are homeless. Born in Oklahoma, raised, beginning at the age of nine, by her full blooded Cherokee grandmother on the reservation, she endured the taunting by American Indian schoolmates who said she wasn’t native enough, and by European American classmates who said she was too native. Her grandmother had rescued her from an abusive home life shared with too many siblings. She thrived in the USMC, an aviation mechanic, for 18 years until sidelined by an accident. Today, she and Lucky just try to get by on San Diego's streets.

Read More
Frenchie

Frenchie Jackson, 56, retired USMC, graduated from Lincoln High, has strong opinions. His father was a great role model, who retired from General Dynamics, his mother was a social worker. He has four siblings, and reveres his youth where kids danced and played football, rather than running in gangs and shooting at eachother. After five years in the U.S. Marines, he did manual labor jobs and laments he didn't have a life plan. He got into drugs and was arrested for sales. He went into a program to clean up. Now his main purpose is staying positive and saving money to buy a fishing boat and Harley-Davidson. He hates homeless who use the street as a public bathroom, opposes swearing in songs on the radio and takes the "don't give someone a fish, teach them how to fish" approach to life.

Read More
Veterans, MenPeggy Peattie
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.

Read More
David

David, 53, born in LA grew up in a patriotic, Christian home, moving around the country. He studied teaching English while wandering the library reading books on chemistry and calculus, which came in handy calculating coordinates for missile strikes while in the US Army. From there he joined an evangelical group converting Taiwanese to Christianity, but soured on their methods. Back in the States he fell into drugs and alcohol but sobered up, fell into a compassionate relationship, but suffered again when she died. Now he plucks out Bowie tunes on the four remaining of a six-string electric guitar.

Read More
Joanne

Joanne, 47, usually has a big smile and a hug for everyone on the street. Adopted as an infant, raised in a military family, serving eight years in the US Navy herself, she was hit by a drunk driver once back in civilian life. Battling medical and PTSD issues seemed far away when I saw her, the morning after she'd been assaulted by another person on the street.

Read More
Veterans, WomenPeggy Peattie
Jeff

Jeff Anderson, 58, a US Navy veteran, drifted across the country for years before arriving in San Diego a month ago, landing on the grass next to the USS Midway Museum. He hopes to start his own business selling information products, so he can remain independent, make his own money, not rely on anyone else. Once he gets his own housing, he wants to get a couple of dogs for company.

Read More
Men, VeteransPeggy Peattie