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Guest editorial: Homeless but hopeful

Posted: April 1st, 2016 | Opinion, Opinion & News | 1 Comment

A man with a plan

By Orlando Barahona

I’m a homeless man, albeit not the stereotypical kind that black and white photographs of talented photographers get exhibitions for. No one would know I have no place to call my own by the way I dress and my demeanor.

As one of many displaced workers, the daily struggle of searching for jobs and fulfilling essential needs has led to raw difficulties, usually overcome through generous career programs, which offer the possibility of printing résumés and re-building a professional image as well as social services agencies. My wardrobe has the unfortunate flaw of a backpack or a messenger bag where I must place my electronic items (to prevent theft in shelters), and all medications, medical and legal files I need are also a weight to bear against a mismatched suit.

The homeless experience has given me a sense of purpose and passion, after living in cramped quarters and looking at great architecture, an inspiring element of San Diego.

Before coming to San Diego I volunteered my time at a shelter in Fort Dodge, Iowa. A private citizen bought a Masonic temple and turned it into a shelter in the middle of the downtown area. The funding came from private sources, which allowed tremendous freedom to impose any terms in the length of the stay at the shelter, the daily chores to be done and the programs implemented.

Things eventually fell apart, however, because the director/owner exhibited an advanced deterioration in his health.

After my last disastrous relationship was over in Iowa, I received an invitation from my middle sister to come to California. Sadly, she did not tell me about her bipolar disorder and we engaged in bitter arguments, which led to my homelessness.

Suicidal ideations began to appear more frequently and I entered the system of hospitals, crisis houses and shelters.

Because I had panic attacks from the challenge of sleeping outdoors, I self-medicated and decided to enter a rehabilitation program. Four months in a residential program based only on Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous principles disappointed me by its lack of intellectual content, of cognitive possibilities. SMART Recovery was my next and better choice, as I am more familiar with dialectical behavior therapy. Knowing me is a lifelong journey.

Why would I choose to stay close to a Downtown area as a homeless man? Because the medical, employment and human services agencies are closer and the lack of a monthly transportation pass made things close to impossible to overcome.

Location, location, location.

The debate over the tiny shelters as a solution leaves me with thin hope. Frankly, every organization helping the homeless invariably has rules, regulations and principles imposed on its recipients of assistance. The local government seems to want the same thing New York City did, which is to raise rents and clear out the homeless so only a certain class of citizens can afford to live in the city.

Because I am also HIV-positive, I don’t have much patience for rhetoric and ego. My time is the only thing that is truly mine.

What would I suggest, knowing there may be a clash of personal outlooks and philosophies with leaders of social change? I took some time to put it together:

I want to raise funds to buy myself a tiny home in the lot for Habitats Tiny Homes that Janet Ashforth owns. Would a nonprofit purchase these homes to turn them into hopefully profitable low-income homes or shelters?

I’d love to have one and finally focus on going back to college and getting a decent job without being forced to worship the deity of choice from the many charitable organizations, or to become another signature in an endless structure that pays social workers their salaries by shuffling cases every day.

My current abode is a shelter established in what used to be a private home, run by a nonprofit. I’m not ungrateful, just tired of feeling hopeless.

There’s one crucial thing missing in this equation, and it can save a few lives by providing employment to people selected to live in the tiny homes, if a leader would reach out to — a business I admire by its fantastic contribution to 21st-century farming — Ecopia Farms.

During an episode of the “California Bountiful” show, I watched this segment with tremendous excitement: youtu.be/M4qSlzrbfY4. In addition, the company’s website features succinct descriptions and sharp visuals ecopiafarms.com/company.

I’m a believer in commerce as a force of change and in fact, Kimco Realty offers a program that waives rent for one year for a brilliant business plan. I became aware of it through the Miracosta Small Business Development Center.

At this very moment I ponder how fragile good plans and passion can become when faced by the strong arm of the law. Elected officials enforce what some citizens want and the common vision of a safe city seems to preclude compassion.

Perhaps reinventing the wheel is not the answer and buying or receiving donations of property and buildings will fit the disenfranchised back into society. I need a smaller, more humble light of hope to hang on to and I never cower from the challenge of a good day’s work. I volunteer to help put together a business plan that would benefit us homeless folks or to build shelters. I’m never scared to sing for my supper.

Recent events involving the San Diego police have made me feel a bit disheartened. I just wish there was a way to heal the differences between the local government and passionate people.

I’ve drafted a plan to put those who can’t find work, back to work. Review it on Tumblr here: homelesssandiego.tumblr.com/start.

—Orlando Barahona is a public relations volunteer for the homeless to Housed Coalition of San Diego. Reach him at orly2010@yahoo.com, or find him on Linked-In.

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