I’m Orlando Barahona and this is the first account of my experiences as a homeless man in San Diego. One aim in writing this editorial is to raise a sharp awareness of a homelessness crisis I have experienced that cannot be ignored any longer: men, women and entire families are on the streets or in sub-par dwellings; the other is to dispel the myth that anyone who enters adverse situations cannot recover.
Once upon a time in a shelter far, far away… I haven’t been chronically homeless since the beginning of my life journey. As far back as 1998 I had a career as a graphic and web designer that felt like a holiday in Valhalla, using my artistic and technical skills for clients with a lovely budget. That career’s success was enjoyed thoroughly in mind and spirit. Unfortunately, two of my largest accounts ceased to exist, taking with them seventy percent of my income.
I finished a terrible relationship in Iowa back in 2014 and I called my middle sister, who lived in Vista at the time and she invited me to California to rebuild my life. Sadly, personal and psychological problems sprouted in our relationship and that threw me into destitution when I was asked to leave her home.
Cut to 2014 and envision a frightful scene at a main street in San Diego one afternoon during the beginning of the winter season, where I considered a brutal end to my suffering via oncoming death by motorcar traffic.
How humane is San Diego in the generosity of those people who save lives every day? During a crisis, the mental healthcare system works for intelligent shipwrecked souls, with a sophisticated range of recovery programs suggested or transferred into through a qualified social worker.
After a lengthy period of recovery in a dual diagnosis program (substance abuse and mental challenges such as Major Depressive Disorder), active volunteering and job-searching, I achieved a better state of mind and a stable living situation, which has brought me to you today.
To this day I’ve been in three recovery programs, all with a time limit. However, the next step remains out of reach. Where are the jobs to start a new life and rejoin society? Are addictions and crimes brought on by the desperate need for safety all there is left of society?
Is this still the country where the airplane and myriad inventions were successfully invented? As early as January, 2016 brave citizens formed the Homeless to Housed Coalition ( I am a Public Relations Volunteer) and have proposed a solution in building a village of tiny shelters, which has not reached fruition.
The platoon of so many government officials, supervisors and advocates makes me wonder if I am in an industry of managed poverty. After all, there is always the minuscule suspicion in my mind that forming a new nonprofit might be influenced by a desire to collect a salary from others’ misfortune via grants and donations.
Recent despicable actions by local government officials tell a story of corruption, of commercial interests clamoring for a tourist’s escapist vision of what San Diego should look like. Is it humane to kick any homeless person when they are down by spending money on blatantly aggressive modifications to an infrastructure meant to make lives more efficient? The infamous rock “garden” under a bridge on Imperial Avenue in Downtown San Diego is an example of how aggressive the local government can be in its effort to make the city more tourist-friendly. The same money should be spent on building a colony of shelters, a designated place as a real alternative to the sad panorama that is Downtown San Diego.
It only takes one catastrophic event in anyone’s life to become homeless. Not all homeless people are criminals, addicts or mentally ill. Professionals and students, ex-homeowners and the elderly, orphans and veterans deserve to be treated as you would any brother or sister.
At the moment, I’m looking for a job; I’m volunteering at select nonprofits and thankfully, writing and submitting opinion editorials to bring awareness to a humanitarian crisis that engulfs people from every walk of life. Any abandoned lot will do to build a safe place, even for me. It’s my intention to write about some of the issues and events concerning San Diego’s homeless population in the coming months. I hope I can add some valuable insight to the conversation. The next article will be dedicated to exploring plausible solutions to the old problem of homelessness in San Diego. Stay tuned!
Photo: “Alone” by Derek Mindler/Flickr Creative Commons