Lisa and Fred's Story

Lisa: We grew up in San Jose and I came to Gilroy in 2011/2012. My dad came to live with me six months ago after my younger brother, who he was living with, decided to move to Washington with his family because it is cheaper there. My dad didn’t want to go with him because he was born and raised in California, so we took my dad in. He’s here because he can’t afford to live on his own.

Fred: I love my daughter and my grandchildren. It’s a lot of fun hanging around with my grandchildren and I feel real comfortable here. I just love my daughter. What would I do without her ? She loves helping people who are homeless, and she’s doing the same thing for me, as I’m on my own here. I’m also very proud of her for what she’s doing. What I notice is, younger people don’t seem to care that much about us, about people my age. When I was a kid we kids used to have a lot of respect for the older people. I’m older now and I feel lonely. Kids don’t respect us like they used to. Kids should tell their grandfather, grandmother, mom and dad that they love them and how important they are.

I’m very lucky that I get social security, but I hear a lot of things about it getting stopped in the future. A lot of people don’t get enough on social security, and I’m lucky that I have my daughter, because I couldn’t afford to live out here.

I think we ought to be more compassionate and I’m just so lucky, because it’s hard out there. And when you get the aid it’s hard to find a job too, especially when you’re older, because the employers want the younger people working.

It’s hard out there unless you have children who take care of you, as you took care of them. Then you’re in luck. I’m lucky to have my daughter and children, who help me out a lot. It’s hard if you don’t have the money and I understand that. Right now an average person pays about $1200/month in rent and if all you’re getting is social security, it’s not enough to cover the rent.

Lisa: I see the people who come in and I ask what they get and they say $300 a month. That’s not enough even to cover food. These people paid into the system their whole lives and what are they getting out of it ? Nothing. It breaks my heart, as the most I can tell people is that they can go to a shelter.

I say to those people that are close to their parents - “can you imagine if you weren’t there and your parents were one of those homeless people out there living in the creek in the dirt at 75 years old. That could be one of your parents one of your family members.” Its just heart- breaking.

As a caseworker, I would like to see more compassion for the homeless. I’ve noticed when I’ve taken the time to tell their stories there’s a lot of people that don’t like the homeless - they say, “Oh they’re a bunch of druggies, who are in and out of jail.” Some people just have this one opinion. But I know first-hand 30 people that are homeless now because they’ve been laid off. They are just like the rest of us, but they don’t have any family support in the area. Sometimes they were only children, or their husband passed away. They don’t use drugs and they’re not in and out of jail. They are not like these people think they are. You can’t dump them all into one group.

Getting these people’s stories out into the public domain is important. A lot of people that used to bad-mouth the homeless now come in and volunteer. A lot of them have given money or time. And I’m not saying you need to give money, since even just four hours a week as a volunteer is a help.

I feel like getting the real story out to change people’s hearts. I used to think: “Oh, ignore those people, they’re never going to change their mind”, but they do. As I said, a lot of people that became volunteers used to denigrate the homeless, but knowing their story makes a difference.

It’s hard for women, it’s heartbreaking. I have women that come in who have sold themselves. Some still are selling themselves. That’s what they do, to get a room for a few nights, to get out of the cold with their kids. They worry every night when they hear someone nosing around their tent, coming to get in there with them, to touch them or rape them. A lot of them have to become close to a couple men and give the men what they want in exchange for protection.

When I heard of this stuff initially, I didn’t really think too much about it or think of it as a reality, until women came in to the Center and I heard their stories, and saw their suffering. Some of them lose their children and not just because they’re homeless. They get caught up in drugs and rape, caught up in the system. I can see how they can lose their children. But some of them don’t lose their children. They give up their children willingly. It kills them, it destroys them, but they would rather their children grow up not living in a tent, not being homeless, like they are. Some of the women are older, in wheel chairs, and they are wheeling themselves through the dirt back to their tent. Can you imagine how difficult that would be?

I would like to see more housing built. I don’t understand, if I bought a big piece of land, why I can’t do what I want with it – build lots of tiny homes or a huge women’s shelter or just somewhere safe, where the homeless can stay every night throughout the year, not just in winter, where they don’t have to get up at five in the morning. I think we just need more compassion and more places where people can stay and get onto their feet. And the homeless need people to help them individually. Once people have been homeless for a while, it’s easy for them to fall into bad habits. A lot of the drinking and drugs happens after they become homeless, and when I think about it, if I were out there without a home, I realize how easy it would be take something to get my mind off the problems for a few hours. You can have the drugs for free, for the first few times. That would be so easy, just to make the pain and hurt and loneliness go away. Once you try it once or twice, you’re hooked. I can see how people do that.

The main things I think the homeless need are life-skills and parenting classes and mental health support. But it is so hard to get mental health professionals to help the homeless, even if they have insurance. Many homeless come from families where drink or drugs tore their families apart. Some could also use job training and those that have lost their homes through the fires need help with figuring out their insurance claims.

Fred: I bought a beautiful house in Nevada. One night I woke up, opened my eyes and saw smoke coming in through the door. It was like a miracle, because I always close the door but that night I left my door open. The wood-stove was on fire and I couldn’t put it out, so I grabbed the kids and went out in the snow. We lost the whole place. We lost everything and I ended up going to the hospital for smoke inhalation and one of the kids that was staying with me ended up getting his feet burnt. I lost everything and everything was gone. Then I was by myself and homeless and living in the car when it’s cold and snowing and I didn’t have any place to go. Imagine that, homeless in the snow. It still bothers me, and once in a while I still have nightmares that I’m gonna die inside that house. We came close to dying. If we had been there for a little longer, the smoke would have got us. To me it is a miracle that I woke up.

But I’ve got my daughter and my other kids. Now I’m older, I’m thankful to God that I have my kids that are watching out for me. I’m okay now because of my daughter, but it was very stressful. I lost everything, even the car eventually, everything but the Bible. Everything in the house burned to the ground, except my Bible, it never burned.

Since I became homeless I’ve cared a lot about homeless people. I like helping people myself because I know what it’s like. I got my compassion from my dad when I was little. That’s the thing. Teach your children compassion. I’m very pleased that my parents made a good job of bringing me and my brothers and sisters up. That’s something that’s always stuck with me. If you see somebody out there and they need some help, try to help them out as much as you can, especially older people. As you get older, it’s real sad. You feel like nobody really cares for you. I’m seventy three and I’m going to be eighty pretty soon. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to keep going, but the only thing I want is love and all of us to love each other and help one another.