Tony's Story

“Tony is 53 years old and is divorced. His career involved supporting wheelchair-users in their homes. He was trained in Texas by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and subsequently also worked for Hope and Visiting Angels. Unfortunately when a client dies or no longer needs assistance, or is away in rehab, you lose your job. You end up with no money and no place to live.

I left Texas with sponsorship and a ranking in the top ten tennis players. I came here, began living in my truck whilst training for tennis tournaments, and felt completely at home. I never considered myself homeless. I am designed to live on the road. I’ve never been able to afford hotels when I’ve gone to tennis tournaments, because only the great players make a lot of money : the mediocre ones like me, we struggle, just to play for the love of the sport.

Then I got a little bit behind on the registration of my vehicle. The local police gave me six months to sort it out, before they had to tow it. However after three months, they changed their minds and decided to tow it away immediately, because it had black mold. I was very angry. This was in January. I then found himself living in the bushes behind Burger King ! I tell you, living in the bushes with only one blanket and no tent in the dead of winter is no fun ! Then I found out about the Compassion Center and the programs they have there.

I have a lot of experience of home healthcare but now I am gaining experience in other fields through volunteering at the Center – initially 18 hours, two days a week. In return they pay my camping fees and transportation to and from work. This has increased to six days, as they are understaffed.

The Compassion Center offers a program to help people to get off the streets and out of the creek, and into a place to live, while they are waiting for housing. These programs are run on a one to one basis with the support of a trained counsellor. They set goals to enable us to move on in our lives. The camping program is now closed for the winter, but just because the camping program ended and I’m back on the streets doesn’t mean I didn’t get anywhere.

They also teach job skills, preparing us for the second step of the program: in my case, to get a part time job so that I can buy a vehicle. The first step is to get my license back which will cost me 28 dollars and I’m doing it on Monday. I’m now hired at the weekends at Landmark which is a stadium job. I accomplished exactly the job position that I wanted and I got that job yesterday after a long interview process. I feel great about that and I look forward to working the college football games and the parking lot or wherever they want me. I will try to keep that job as long as possible and hopefully it will turn into helping at music and other events.

My housing voucher is pending as well. Once they see what 30% of my average income is, hopefully that 30% is enough to get my housing voucher and I want to thank everybody that’s involved in that whole process. The housing process is always underway and depends on how far you are progressing in your step by step program that was set up by the case manager in the first place. The future vision is that everybody is safely housed between the hours of 11pm and 6am.

I have recently been assigned to the team of people involved in an education action program in the creek. This team will be cleaning up the creeks three days a week and teaching people about the environmental impact of garbage on water resources. For their own safety people need to be persuaded to move away from the creek, especially in winter when the water is flowing. It’s all part of a very rewarding life experience and learning process for me.

Home means to me, Gilroy, California. I grew up here. Gilroy is where my heart is, so after a rough time in Texas I came home to Gilroy. Even if I move away to take jobs in other places, Gilroy will always be home to me.

During sweeps everyone homeless has to take tents down and hide them for 72 hours. We cannot put our tents up at any time during that period or we will lose our stuff. Not just our garbage, but our entire life, everything. When they do a sweep, usually in my tent I just have a tent and a pillow and my tennis bag, which includes clothes and a tennis racket. The bulk of the stuff I own, which is primarily clothes, is in storage nearby. They say on these red tags that within 90 days you can recover anything that isn’t garbage and they give you a phone number. But in 7 years of being involved with the Compassion Center, never ever has anybody called that number and recovered their property, because they say that they determine what is garbage and they put it straight in a garbage truck and start compacting the garbage right there, when they take it. Sometimes they give you about 5 mniutes to grab what you can and get out of there. Then the process starts again. They put you on the list, you get a tent and a blanket. Meanwhile the housing program is going step by step, but the sweep will set you back, because you might have to save up and buy a tent if the Compassion Center doesn't have one, as well as whatever else you have lost. It’s also really cold, because that’s 72 hours that we can’t have our tents up. It’s illegal to sit on a bench, or be in the hair salon or laundromat. It’s basically illegal to be outside between hours 11pm and 6am.

It’s particularly dangerous for women on the streets. If someone tries to assault or harass them, they’re labelled homeless or mentally ill, and they are not taken seriously. A woman with kids fares even worse because she’s having to take care of the kids and still has to watch out for people that are criminals. Between midnight and 6am people who I know on the strets have a different look on their face, a different personality, a face that says I’m hurting, I’m cold, I’m tired, I feel hunted. They’re in some sort of distressed state. I’ve heard of wild animals, or wild hog tearing into a tent, but not for some time.

This life for us homeless is not what our grandfathers and ancestors really thought the future was going to be in this area. This wasn’t their wish and I think we need to keep forging forward with the project of trying to work with each of the homeless to get them out of their situation as soon as possible.

Without the Compassion Center I wouldn’t have learned the job skills and I wouldn’t have gotten through that whole job interview process. I had people helping me the whole time. Who they are and who we are, and who the donors are, we do not know. They are often anonymous.”