Posts in Women
Honey

Honey (Lakeesha), 39, and dalmatian puppy Jalila share a tent in the park. They have saved each other’s life, at least once. Honey moved into the park at a low point when she and her husband split up and her part time job faded away when the business owner sold out to another company. She sat on a bench across from the park in a desperate state. She realized the park had a calming effect, so she gathered her belongings and set up camp. The recent heavy rains wreaked havoc with her tent, sending it spinning in different direction, soaking all her belongings. As a single woman in the park, she is vulnerable. She has had many things stolen from her, including a nice bicycle. She’s been sexually assaulted more than once. But she can’t get the police to follow up on the charges, even though she has evidence and sees the perpetrator in the park often. She says she has seen her rapist joking around with police. It was'n’t until she presented evidence they would even take her report. But she has Jalila, a gift, which turned into a life long friendship after Honey saved Jalila from the people who were abusing her, and Jalila tugged Honey away from a freeway bridge, during a moment of despair when she contemplated jumping. Nowadays, the two are inseparable.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Mary and Toby

Mary and Toby migrated to San Diego after some trouble in the Orange County riverbeds where they were living. Mary was sexually assaulted and Toby was shot. And someone killed their cat. Toby has mental health issues and she has trouble keeping him on his medications because they have trouble paying for his prescriptions; so he lapses in to psychotic episodes than can be abusive to either her or other people around them. Mary wants to speak up about the way she feels the city and county officials are ignoring the needs of homeless individuals with mental health needs. She’s ready to go before the San Diego City Council and County Board of Supervisors to make her concerns known. She has Facebook friends that listen to her stories and offer emotional support but there’s no immediate assistance from that; so she’s ready to become a more active advocate.

“The cops have no compassion for the mentally ill. They see us as varmints, the scum of the earth. How are we supposed to trust mentally ill people? they say to us,” she said. “It’s getting to the point I’m losing my mind. Homeless women are the most vulnerable people out here. I’m holding all of this in and I’m about to crack. I don’t want my husband put away, I know what he needs.”

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Families, WomenPeggy Peattie
Sheri

Sheri has a degree in geriatrics from USC. She grew up in California in a big family and was happily married for nearly 30 years to a man she calls the “love of my life.” Over the years the couple had nine children, all of whom she said are successful people, either in careers or studying in college. She made one mistake. That mistake changed everything. She ended up being lured into a relationship with someone she met online; who convinced her she was in love with him and to leaver her husband and move in with the stranger. She did, and quickly learned this man was violent and crazy. She was afraid to leave because she had nowhere to go. In almost no time she was beaten so badly she ended up in a coma for seven weeks. After that she needed to relearn to do everything; to walk, to talk, etc. Sheri ended up on the streets of San Diego, terrified. Fortunately she met someone else, and the two are planning to get married. She is also ten weeks pregnant. She is determined to not let the streets beat her spirit, however. She is starting a job this week, she said. “I’m not going to let the streets take control of me,” she said.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Angel

Angel is a regular feature in Hillcrest, selling her paintings and drawings, smiling bright enough to light up the holiday lights adorning the trees along Fifth Avenue. Born in Illinois, raising five children while her husband worked designing heart monitors in northern Ohio. After 30 years of marriage and the kids almost through college, her husband got a job working for Hughes Aircraft and the couple moved to Los Angeles. They bought a home with a pool and three-car garage. Ten days later he died of a heart attack. Angel sunk into a depression, selling the house, paying off her kids’ college fees and jumped a southbound bus. She’s been on and off the street for the past ten years, living one day at a time, struggling against violence and theft, but always trying to stay positive.

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WomenPeggy 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
Jeanine and Bunny

Jeanine has a kind word and a sandwich for any hungry stranger who knocks on her camper shell door…. at a reasonable hour. A transplant from Ohio, where she started life in an orphanage, and was then delivered to her father when he was released from prison, Jeanine is a strong-willed woman who has no shame recounting all the stages of her life leading from Ohio to a truck in San Diego. Jeanine was turned over to her father at age 13. She quickly learned he was a sexual predatory and ran away, leaving her brothers to suffer that abuse. She stayed with an aunt, but was kidnapped into prostitution; escaped that, but was re-introduced into prostitution by a boyfriend. “I got stories!” she said, recounting the episodes of her life. She spent some quality time with a foster family that helped her develop a strong character. She broke both feet jumping out of a window. After hitchhiking her way to Atlanta, she escaped another abusive boyfriend by earning enough money selling ice cream, to buy a one-way ticket on Greyhound to Hollywood. Two years later she was cleaning hotel rooms and working the night shift at a downtown restaurant in San Diego.

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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
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
Sirprina King

Sirprina is proud of her three grown children. As a single mother working long hours cleaning homes and office buildings to make sure they all went to school and were well-fed, she feels a big part of her life was successful. All those years at physical labor resulted in two hip surgeries and avascular necrosis. Sleeping on a sidewalk doesn’t make it any easier. Sirprina never knew her own father, and her mother died when she was 10. Much of her present mental anxiety comes from being attacked while sitting in a wheelchair awaiting tendon surgery. “It was a mental hospital,” she explains. “Suddenly this white guy with tattoos attacks me. I don’t know why. I was just sitting there. He was crazy.” She wants to get into housing and have a mental health case worker so she can get to NA and AA meetings. Her faith in God and the goodness of most human beings keeps her positive until that happens. She hopes people don’t judge her for being homeless. “You have to forgive,” she said softly. “There’s a lot of ill people on the street.”

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Teresa Valenzuela

Teresa Valenzuela, 53, came close to dying 19 times. A home life of neglect and abuse in her early years left her without guidance or coping skills. She dropped out in ninth grade and couch-surfed while getting high. An arrest saved her from PCP addiction. Paroled to San Diego, she learned carpentry, her lover moved in with her and all seemed great until excessive drinking unraveled her relationship. That’s when she shot herself. Teresa got sober, earned two degrees and helped other alcoholics with their recovery. But when she tried to get off her pain meds, it all came tumbling down. Ten years “in Hell” ended with Teresa at rock bottom on the streets in a wheelchair, near dead from endocarditis. Recovering at her mother’s home she realized she was headed down that roller coaster again and came back to San Diego to recover once more. This time, she found housing, got her teeth fixed, a job, self-esteem and sober friends. She has advice for people suffering addiction: “I don’t care how far down the scale you are, even if you’re homeless, there’s always help out there that’s available for you.”

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Emmy McLarty

Emmy McLarty, 54, a cheerful redhead who builds websites for a living, went through most of the life-changing events that analysts say can lead to great depression, in the same year. First the father-in-law suffering from Parkinson’s she’d cared for for seven years died. Three months later she and her husband were both laid off their jobs. And when they decided to sell their house and move, her mother died of lung cancer. Her brothers didn’t include her in much of the end-of-life decisions, which broke her heart. She wandered the country for years before returning to San Diego, where she went through alcohol rehab, and suffered a stroke while living in an SRO downtown, which nearly killed her. And yet to talk with this smiling redhead, you would never imagine she lives in one of the downtown tent shelters.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
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
Brittany

Brittany has a degree in Early Childhood Education, a proud mother of a bright two-year-old, a boyfriend with skills in welding and tile work. She's cheerful and energetic. She's also addicted to heroin and meth. She battles with the two strong forces in her life: a desire to be a good mother to the son who loves to go with her on day trips to the beach or for ice cream, versus the desire to be with her boyfriend, who has trouble kicking the habit. While they have both been in and out of rehab programs, they are currently out. They know the street is no place for a family with small children and are grateful Brittany's mother has watch over their son for now. "This is coming to an end," she said of her life on the streets.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Lynette Gresham

Lynette Gresham wishes people didn't treat the homeless like they don't exist. Sitting on a bed at the winter shelter run my the Alpha Project for the Homeless, searching for a nebulizer to help with her COPD, she said she wishes more people would try and understand the path to homelessness. Her own experience of child abuse, being in and out of foster care and being pregnant as a teenager set the stage for what followed: living on the streets, falling into a cycle of drugs and prostitution and severe enough health issues to eventually force her to seek shelter and assistance.  "I want to do something meaningful before I leave," she said.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
April Sundance

April Sundance, 30, started life as a boy in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union. In a classic tale of betrayal, mafia bosses and strong personalities in the family, Sundance fled Ukraine like her father had done, only she fled to the U.S. where she hoped to fulfill dreams of becoming a transgender person, learning about the drug culture and becoming a Hollywood movie producer. On the rainy streets of San Diego at the beginning of a new year, she is two-thirds of the way there. Having relapsed into using meth for the first time in four months, she is freshly released from a mental health facility, and has an appointment with a crisis house, in her effort to stay sober this time. "I want to be a producer. I need to be in Hollywood. First I need to sober up," she said.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Cat (Etta)

Cat's real name is Etta, for Etta James. She is one of 13 children, all of whom spent their youth in foster care. She lived in 15 different homes in her first 15 years of life. After that she decided to find her own family on the street. She has an out loud personality, which makes it easy for her to attract friends, but also to stand out to law enforcement. That turned out to be a bad thing when someone recognized her skateboard from a residential burglary. She served one and a half years of a four year sentence and has two more years of parole. So she tries to stay out of trouble, calls her two daughters, age five and seven, living with their fathers, and contemplates how to change her situation. Not ready to go indoors, she feels she needs to earn that privilege herself, not through some program. She's working on a plan.

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WomenPeggy Peattie
Christine Wade

Christine Wade, 31, is raising six children ranging in age from two to 14 years old. Soon it will be seven, when her next child is born in January. Breaking free of the cycle of addiction that her own mother suffered, Wade has worked hard to free herself from the world of adoption and foster care, physical and substance abuse that surrounded her as a child in Arkansas. Working as a real estate agent, then a health care worker, she was the mother in a normal but large family until she learned her husband was running a side job of prostitution and drugs at the apartment complex where he was a security guard. Now Wade is in temporary shelter for the winter, but hopes to find a safe haven for her children and the step-children she considers her own.

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Families, WomenPeggy Peattie
Kelly and Jacob

Kelly and Jacob share a peanut butter sandwich and a bottle of juice all morning, trying to find some shade. While Jacob might be ready to run into his terrible twos, Kelly has too much on her mind to feel carefree. Only 31, Jacob is her fourth child, and she's trying to create a stable living situation for him, off the streets and out of the Rescue Mission where she contracted lice and the two of them have to be out each morning at 5:30 a.m. with all their belongings. She is also worried about the breast cancer surgery she is undergoing this week, and if they'll get it all. Then there's the ovarian cancer. And the chemo treatment, and the energy it takes to chase after a two-year-old. But she's got a new attitude, she said, "I've learned my life's lesson not to get with the wrong people any more."

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Families, WomenPeggy Peattie
Margarita

Margarita, 42, grew up in San Diego, went to Patrick Henry High. She started working early, at age 12, and married the general manager at a House of Pancakes where she was waitressing at age 22. They had two children. The drug culture in high school stayed with her, and she began using heroin somewhere in between children. When she was in the first of two rehab programs, she was appaulled by the sexual predators that were involved in running the program. When she got out she found some of her six sisters had turned her husband and kids against her, so she fell back into drug use. When she emerged from the second program, her father told her to move back in with him, but there were too many people there, she said, all of them wanting to tell her how to live her life. So she hit the streets. At age 42, she roams the streets with no visible possessions, save the trolley tickets folded up in a jacket pocket.

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WomenPeggy Peattie