Homelessness: Real Life Stories

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How Je’net Kreitner Got Off the Streets
Once a stage actress and professional singer, she came back from homelessness to create Grandma’s House of Hope, a nonprofit that provides shelter and meals.

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

We were at a convention in Anaheim, and my abusive boyfriend left me and my 6-year-old son (from a first marriage) in a motel on Katella, with $20 in cash and two suitcases.

I moved into my old, blue, rusted, beat-up Honda Civic. I tried to find neighborhoods to sleep in, not too nice but not too scary. I arranged for my son to stay with his paternal grandma during the week, and he came to stay with me on weekends. On weekdays, I lived in my car. All week I’d do whatever I could to raise money to get a nicer motel for the weekend. I tried to make my son believe I wasn’t desperate.

I was sitting on the grass outside my motel when a Teamster walked past, on his way home from his job at the Convention Center. … He looked me in the eye and said: “You don’t belong out here.” He told me, “I live in a converted garage, but you and your son can have my bedroom, and I’ll live in the living room. I swear I’ll be a gentleman.” Four years later, we got married.

The most important thing a homeless person needs to bring to the table is a willingness to step out in faith and begin to believe in themselves again. In my case, it was a single individual who offered me some help without expecting anything in return, which was unique. If we can model unconditional love to those in greatest need, without needing or expecting a thank you, we have planted a seed toward building the trust necessary for healing.


How John Weber Got Off The Streets
The former methamphetamine user is now clean, working, and living in a Santa Ana apartment.

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

After I lost my job in a mass layoff, I started couch surfing at friends’ houses. But I ran out of money, and I ran out of friends. I stayed on the streets, mainly just in parks. I slept in a little castle in a park off 17th Street in Santa Ana. There were kids partying, and I would hide in the castle, praying they wouldn’t find me. I had everything I owned in two suitcases and a backpack. It was painful getting around.

I don’t know if it was the other homeless people or if it was the police who were the worst scare on the streets. There was also the fear of being found dead. Another guy found dead behind a tree. I would literally die a John Doe.

If you’re going to get off the streets, you need someone who’s going to reach down to help you up. I went to the Health Care Agency’s 17th Street clinic because I’m HIV-positive—I was literally sleeping on the grass outside the building—and they helped me find Emmanuel house in Santa Ana. Emmanuel house gave me a place where I could get my bearings. Getting clean is not a quick process. Ninety days is not enough time. Six months is not enough time. They fed my spirit. They gave me back everything that had been torn away. They fed me, literally and physically and spiritually for 16 months, and I was able to get clean and get employment.


Life on the Streets
For some it’s ‘fun,’ for others a ‘freakin’ hassle’

Photograph by Nicholas Iverson

 Reese, 51, Laguna Beach

Why are you homeless?
“I was institutionalized and when I got out I didn’t have a place to go.“

Has anyone tried to get you off the streets?
“There’s all kinds of resources. They’re everywhere. But you gotta reach out and accept it in order to do that. It’s an individual’s fault, basically. Resources everywhere, you know?”

 

Photograph by Nicholas Iverson

Levi, 45, Santa Ana

How did you end up here?
“Family split up. I was living with my sister. We all split up, sold the house. I just wound up in the street.”

What do you need?
“Help us find jobs. I mean, it’s hard to get a job. If they were to help people, it should be the people who are on the streets first, cuz we’re down and out right now. That’s the main thing. That’s the key. Jobs.”

Photograph by Nicholas Iverson

Big Red, 45, at the Santa Ana River

How could you be helped?
“I think if they helped us fix our tents, bigger tarps… We’re OK. I actually like it down here. I ain’t gonna lie. I have fun.”

What was your most recent job?
“I was in roller derby. I had a five-year contract, and then I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After the team honored my contract, I had to leave.”

Photograph by Nicholas Iverson

Casper, 22, At the Santa Ana River

What’s your day like?
“It is a freakin’ hassle headache struggle and a half. I’m telling you every day is a monster. … It’s a struggle but I know if I can get out of this, I’m gonna be so proud of myself.  Oh man, it can be very, very, very hard. Every day, something goes wrong.”

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