Who are the homeless of San Diego? Yearly reports from several agencies reveal tragic glimpses of the humans everyone labels home-less. Homelessness has existed since the beginning of History, so I used to be just as jaded and callous as other people who always assumed the lot would always consist of the stereotypes: criminal offenders, the mentally ill, the infirm, addicts and other varieties of outcasts.
A more visual statistic began to rise in the U.S. from the Crash of 2008: families. What about single people? Not all of my peers suffer from co-occurring disorders, but the staggering numbers of unsheltered and sub-employed working single men and women now share that statistic with a rising group of students…or perhaps they just weren’t so visible, until the media began its crusade against the social evils of sub-par shelters and a lack of affordable housing.
The alarming numbers shown in the 2017 Point In Time Count of San Diego County offer a better view of who the homeless of San Diego are by the parameters from HUD and the in-depth questionnaires given by volunteers.
What do they (we) want?
I have observed how a tremendous stigma is still attached to the status of home-less. Do we all look alike? Case in point: me. From a career in Web Design, Graphic Design and Advertising to becoming one more number in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), life, bad habits, a mental health diagnosis and a propensity for entering troublesome relationships have given me a wicked turn. Now my favorite quotation by Mae West is “I’ve been things and seen places.” It’s not unusual for people who learn of my housing predicament to become apprehensive. It isn’t something I divulge for a first impression, but superficial attitudes and opinions about this situation trigger my bad temper.
Some people live paycheck-to-paycheck and others direct deposit-to-direct deposit, but the danger of becoming destitute within one payment cycle is real. Stress caused by unsatisfactory employment and often sub-employment affects the psyche in ways that surface in attitudes, which I tend to see as general dysphoria in a daily lack of smiles or genuine concern about others’ safety and well-being.
More than shelters and beyond charity, it would be terrific to celebrate and participate in a surge of jobs, affordable housing and an open mind to tackle not only homelessness, but other persistent society ills. Progress, not prejudice.
However, not everyone one the streets wishes to be “saved” or “helped.” Making good use of my experiences in a few housing and recovery programs in San Diego, and inspired by the Homeless City Guide I will provide with striking paradox and stealthy humor my current view of select homeless peers and flags for you.
A guide to a few urban symbols to look out for in San Diego
Because of the California Lifeline program, many grateful individuals and families now have the opportunity to share vital information and in most ways rate the services offered by the County via calls and text messages. However, it is important to observe and understand certain behaviors, visual stereotypes and slang spoken on the streets, which you might listen to when you eavesdrop (often involuntarily) into conversations on cellular phones, on buses, the trolley and select spots in town where the homeless congregate and talk.
Author Faith Popcorn coined the term “clanning,” part of The 17 Trends listed in her Trendbank at the Brainreserve website, defined as “Belonging to a group that represents common feelings, causes or ideals; validating one’s own belief system.” Trends rise from obvious visual references and sometimes obscure lingo. A few urban terms I’ve picked up along my journey are:
The formula for Methamphetamine. Tweaker is a pejorative term for an addict to Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as “Tina”. Tweaking occurs at the end of the binge when nothing the abuser does will take away the feeling of emptiness and dysphoria and consumption of alcohol greatly increases the risk of harm to law enforcement officers and the addict as well. Tweakers become unpredictable and borderline psychotic at this stage of the drug use.
Tweakers can also be Dirtbags. Not all volunteers at events or nonprofits come across them, but many tweakers are shameless enough to stand in line to receive donations of goods and services twice or more times, to in turn sell the items and buy more drugs. There’s an almost ruthless quality in the addicts I’ve come across, a troublesome characteristic of their personality.
- A bad person, e.g. , the neighborhood sociopath. I had the unfortunate acquaintance of an ex-soldier who was dishonorably discharged for accusations of rape of women in the Middle East. He was undergoing rehabilitation from drugs and became acquainted with a female addict in the same drug treatment program, but once they left the program, he found a job and on pay day, he took off leaving his woman to pay the rent owed in their sober living space.
A large number of thieves and career offenders circulate in town, especially in the denser tourist districts. Unfortunately, the majority of employers don’t take chances in hiring ex-offenders and parolees. My suggestion for a long-term solution? A creative job and a home in a colony where like-minded colleagues can co-exist.
- Not the chronically homeless person, but someone who skillfully jumps from ER to crisis house to drug rehab to drug recovery program and transitional housing program for a cycle of years. Fantastic acting abilities and a sense of entitlement are pervasive qualities in this individual.
One of the best ways to become aware of your surroundings is to study some of the body markings and clothing styles of gang members. The San Diego County Office of Education offers a comprehensive guide. From body markings to apparel, much can be said about gangs, but they embrace outcasts of society and the effrontery is a calling card.
The book “The Labyrinth of Solitude” by Octavio Paz offers an incisive revelation I can apply to all gangs: members are drawn toward self-destruction, persecution, and ultimately, redemption. In this way they are more noticeable, thus calling out for acceptance.
My quest is for knowledge, as I am a seeker of truth. My mother is a retired journalist and she will be thrilled to know I’m writing, inspired by her achievements. Using my affinity for synthesis after the study of symbols in the city, I venture to explore one thought: the attitudes of the homeless and miscreants might be pointing to an evolution of Society.
What are we expressing through so many visual, physical and auditory patterns? With so much technology available, how can we still be so lonely? Are we close to finding a better system than Capitalism? It isn’t for lack of trying! One of my interests is in tweaking (no pun intended) a system of Digital Labor Vouchers. However, I will tackle one urban project at a time. Stress is possibly the cause of so many wretched circumstances in life, punctuated by symptoms of discontent.
A burning wish continues to be a successful engagement of investors in a solution to homelessness in our city. It isn’t that I don’t have a sense of belonging in San Diego, but I’d like to make my mark and do something worthwhile with my time and skills. I’ll keep you posted!
Point in Count source: Regional Taskforce on the Homeless
Graphics by V-69 Digital Marketing
Fonts by Dafont.com
(Top) U.K. Charity The Pavement’s homeless city guide was designed by Emily Read and Chen Hsu. It is displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) as part of the interactive exhibition Talk to Me. A brilliant match of semiotics and art, it offers communication among the homeless of the U.K. and provided the inspiration for this editorial.