Homeless in the South Bay: In their own words

Casio is part of a large homeless community in Redondo Beach. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Casio is part of a large homeless community in Redondo Beach. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Casio ‘Joshua’

Joshua, a 27-year-old from New York, likes to be called Casio. He was given the name by friends when left his home-state of New York at 17. He is an upbeat man with a wide chipped-tooth smile that flashes frequently. Casio wears a plaid shirt and a hat and carries a small backpack.

“Sometimes when I’m walking down the street and somebody calls me Joshua I don’t even react,” said Casio.

Casio lives in a park by the Redondo Beach harbor. Every day he watches the sunset and likes his beach-front view. He is clean-cut and hangs out with a group of kids he met after walking from L.A. to Redondo Beach. He sleeps in stairwells and uses three blankets to keep warm, one on the bottom and two on the top. When he first left home he traveled with his sister, who was in the U.S. Navy, and took care of his nephew. Later, he traveled to Japan, Hawaii and even Australia. He later lived with his uncle for 8 years. They did construction work together and ended up buying, selling and refurbishing medical equipment.

“After awhile,” he explained, “I started to go to college to pursue marine biology and got caught up into sociology too. I thought I was crazy for doing both, but I don’t know, something was beckoning me to it.”

Eventually he started not seeing eye-to-eye with his uncle.

“I got EBT (welfare) so we could have more food in the house and he would just cook all the food. I’m a person that loves to eat, so you don’t take that,” said Casio.

He moved from the San Diego area to L.A with a girlfriend. They lived as part of homeless community in a canyon near Azuza. When the relationship ended, he took a bus to downtown L.A. He didn’t want to stay there because it smelled all the time and he couldn’t get anybody to give him money.

“I ‘spange,’” he said. “It’s asking people for money….Normally they say no. Most people use credit cards so they’re like ‘No, I don’t have any change or nothing.’ This one lady, I actually had a job. I helped this lady move over on the other side by Vons all the way to over here (South Redondo) and got $100 for that.”

He couldn’t “spange” enough money for a bus ticket to Redondo Beach, so he decided to walk. It took him 10 hours to get to the ocean.

“I was originally going to take a while and go (walk) all the way to Ocean Beach where I knew some people — I can be pretty determined,” said Casio. “I came here and started meeting people. People are just nice and it’s so calming over here.”

He has a plan for the future. He has two friends he wants to room with, and they are going to move to Ocean Beach. “We’re going to have a crib together and get a job and everything,” he said.

For Casio, his time of homelessness isn’t about not having a home; it’s about taking a reality check.

“Right now is just about surviving the best I can,” said Casio.

Redondo Beach has a network of soup kitchens and he has a meal planned out for almost everyday at one of the local churches. Monday, Wednesday and Friday he goes to St James for lunch. On Sunday he goes to St. John’s Lutheran for lunch.

“Nobody should go hungry because all the churches give you all of these lunches,” said Casio. “They pretty much have something everyday, but they’re pretty far-and-wide. You have to get bus money or you better start walking early.”

During the day he can usually be found hanging out in the library reading books or talking to his friends on the internet.

“It’s liberating just to be doing your own thing. Yeah, I still want to go to school. I want to have a house of my own, pay my bills and everything. Right now it’s just who I’m choosing to do it with,” said Casio. “Now’s just a time in-between.”

In the afternoon he comes down to the park to hang out with friends.

“Sometimes high school kids just like to come over and hang out,” said Casio. “I’m not going to push [them] away. I remember when I was young I used to hang out with the wrong crowd. I just tell [them] to do the right thing, period. Right now you need your high school diploma more and more.”

He only carries a small amount of things around town with him. The rest he keeps stashed where nobody can find it. His stashed backpack has four pairs of jeans, five shirts, some underwear and hygienic stuff like toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Because of his insomnia he doesn’t often get a good night’s sleep. Even when he finds a warm stairway, he still can’t keep his eyes shut.

“I remember when I would go to work with my uncle and we would lift 200-pound items and I would come home dead tired,” Casio recalled. “As soon as it was nighttime, I’m up. You know, I’m like going out to find something to get into.”

He likes not having a household because he has time to focus on himself and the things he wants and needs to do. He doesn’t like being homeless because nobody wants to hang out with him besides his new crew in Redondo Beach, and he can’t eat what he wants or watch TV or play video games when he wants.

“I can’t just sit and watch a movie,” he said. “On a cloudy day like this I’d usually just go under the covers and watch a movie. I can’t do that out here.”

The biggest thing he’s learned on his journey has been to never regret anything.

“Keep dreaming,” Casio added, “because there needs to be dreams and people need to have them. If you have a job and you’re not having fun, it’s just going to be a job. That’s all there’s going to be. It’s been proven that people who are way wealthier have more worries. Even if I do become wealthy my house isn’t going to be big because the way that I was taking my life before and now is way different.”

– Chelsea Sektnan

Fred and Neil

Fred and Neil can often be found sitting on the benches at Redondo Beach’s Veterans Park sipping a bottle of vodka mixed with Gatorade. They start early and drink just to get through the day. Fred, a Mexican-American, wears black pants and a black sweater and carries a small backpack around with him. He used to sleep in a corner of the Elks Lounge behind a fence, but his spot was discovered by another homeless man, and now he moves from place-to-place. Neil, who didn’t want to be personally interviewed, wouldn’t say where he goes, but he hangs out with Fred often. Neil wears trousers and a sweater with a collared shirt – staying clean is important to both men. Fred was recently arrested at a park because of a past warrant and an open-container of vodka.

“I grew up just like any other kid,” said 43-year-old Fred (name withheld). “My mom was an alcoholic. I didn’t do that well in school. I left and started working in construction and was making really good money. Then the economy went down and BAM, you know.”

Fred’s troubles started when he started losing money because he wasn’t getting any construction jobs. His girlfriend at the time left him and took their daughter up north, where they still live. That was six years ago.

“You know, that was tough, that was a hard thing,” said Fred. “I grew up here in the South Bay. I ended up living in Carson and my mom wasn’t really good – she was always working at bars and stuff. My dad, I didn’t really know him at all. I didn’t even go to my dad’s funeral five years ago.

“He was a postman and wasn’t that nice. One time my mom found I was smoking weed and they kicked me out of the house and brought me to my father that I didn’t even know,” said Fred. “She dropped me off on his f’ing front door and says, ‘You’re out,’ and dropped me off. I was like, ‘Really? You’re dropping me off?’ She said her boyfriend wanted me out. So I was like, ‘You’re picking him over me?’ I was 18 years old. I went to my father’s doorstep and waited for her to leave, then I left. I went to my sister’s house and she happened to not be there. Then I went to my other sister and called her and she was like, ‘You can’t come over here,’ and I was literally on the f’ing streets. The reason I’m telling you that is that it affected me big time. I felt my mom picked her boyfriend over me. I would have worked through it. I would have been like, ‘We’re going to work through this and I’m going to keep you because you’re my child.’ Why would you do that to your kids?”

Fred didn’t remain homeless at that time. He worked construction successfully for 20 years.

“At the time construction was booming, and the money started pouring in,” said Fred. “I was like, damn, I’m making some cash. This is good. I was doing really well and I ended up hiring people. I had like 10 people working for me and it was going good, but then the economy just fell out.”

Construction was the only thing he knew how to do. He couldn’t find another job. “I mean if you put me on a computer, I can’t do it,” he said. “If you put a nail and hammer in my hand – I can do anything. I love building shit, but to this day I wish I knew more about computers and stuff like that because that’s where everything’s going.”

“Look at where everything’s going now. Nobody’s buying houses, everybody’s losing their homes… The world’s moving in a different direction, for better or for worse. That’s why I wanted Mitt Romney, because I think he’s a better businessman and he wants to start people working. People need to get back on their feet by working.”

Neil said that he thinks Fred is wrong.

“If you’re not putting people to work getting a decent livable wage, that’s a problem,” Neil explained. “If you’re not on a livable wage, you’re working to be poor or homeless. You can’t get the necessities to live, like rent, electricity or basic stuff.”

“Obama’s giving all that shit for free,” Fred countered. “That’s why everybody wants him in office. And if you do that, who’s paying for it? The people who are working — the taxpayers.”

Neil added: “What good is it if you go back to work — you want to buy a home — you want to make a livable wage you can survive on. We don’t have livable wages here. I mean, be honest, the average person is not rich. The person is working 9 to 5 everyday. It takes two or three people to make it happen, the husband has to work, the wife has to work, the kids have to work and even the dog. I’m talking about now — 20 years ago it was different. It’s real man. This thing is very, very, very real, and you come out here to see the homeless and you know.”

Neil and Frank conferred together about when to leave to catch the bus to get a meal. While deciding, Fred pulled a vodka bottle out of his backpack and filled the slightly pink Gatorade bottle halfway.

“It’s hard to get caught up once you fall behind,” said Fred. “The GR [food stamps] makes you jump through hoops, and half the time it’s not worth it. I can understand that a little bit too though. You can’t give everybody free stuff.”

“The average person wants to earn a decent wage,” said Neil, interrupting Fred. “This thing is huge; it’s bigger than me and you.” Neil thinks that every citizen of America shouldn’t be without shelter, food or clothing, “which we don’t have.”

“I’m homeless and I built homes,” said Fred. “I’m a hard worker, I framed a house. I feel proud about that shit because you know a lot of stuff I did out there nobody can do.”

Both Fred and Neil eat meals at different churches and missions, but some days they don’t eat at all.

“For me, straight up truth, the reason I don’t eat sometimes is because I drink so much alcohol,” Fred said. “The more I drink, the more I don’t eat. I can’t even believe I’m telling you that, but you want an honest report — there it is. For me I drink a lot and then I hit the wall. I’m like dead to the world.

Both sleep wherever they can find a place. Sometimes they sleep on the beach; other times they sleep under a bridge or somewhere that protects them from the wind.

“I get a blanket and cover up and listen to the ocean and waves all night,” said Neil.

“I slept in an elevator last night,” added Fred.

“Of course it’s cold, it’s very cold. It’s lonely, it’s cold, it’s all the emotions a person will feel,” said Neil.

“When you find a cubby hole somewhere you’re in heaven because it’s warm,” said Fred. “But 90 percent of the time you’re freezing.”

Fred hasn’t seen his daughter in a long time, and he doesn’t want her to know what he’s going through now.

“You keep thinking you’re going to get another job, but shit just doesn’t happen,” said Fred.

“That’s all it takes is one break, man, and you’re back on your feet,” Neil noted. “People tend to think most homeless people are out here because they’re mental and really are affected by some real stuff. Some people are out here because a job was lost or some small things….Nobody wants to see a homeless person, but for me it’s bigger than that person. It affects society as a whole for it to happen. It’s capitalism at its best – therefore somebody has to be in our situation.

Fred thinks it could have been different for him if his home life would have been better. “If you have a kid, be happy and take care of him.”

“What I want to say to people is if you have the means to help somebody, help them,” said Neil. “It’s simple and not hard. Don’t look at a person and judge them because you don’t know their situation. Anybody can go through this… It happened to me, but I’m grateful and thankful I’ve been able to explain it to people. I’m grateful because when I do bounce back I’ll be a totally different person.”

– Chelsea Sektnan

Please visit easyreadernews.com to see the entire series of stories.


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