CARLSBAD — Warface, Bird Lady and Deaf Don are just a few of the people living life on the streets of Carlsbad.
And while the nicknames are colorful, their stories are of hard times, scraping by, alcohol and drug abuse, criminal exploits and trying to find a way off the streets.
All it takes is one traumatic event to flip life upside down. Just ask Trienny Batiste, a 54-year-old man suffering from cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, who’s been homeless “off and on” since 2006.
On a sunny, but brisk afternoon on April 17, Batiste told his story.
He and his wife owned a home with two daughters, before tragedy struck. Batiste’s wife suddenly died from a heart attack, and without medical insurance due to her disability, the bills, mortgage and other financial responsibilities were too much to overcome. The bills totaled more than $500,000, he said.
Batiste lost his home and was relegated to the streets.
His daughters, though, were out of the house and now are thriving. One is a graduate student at Georgia Tech, the other in school in Germany. Batiste, though, said he had no other information about his daughters.
And although he has been on the streets for more than a decade, Batiste said he has found part-time work repairing laptops in Oceanside and is applying for Section 8 housing.
“All it takes is one major event,” he said of becoming homeless. “I like doing things on my own. The satisfaction of doing things by myself, getting a hand up, not a hand out.”
James Neal, 48, known as “Warface,” said he’s been on the streets since January after moving from Texas and being swindled out of his $6,500 savings by his mother. A former Marine, who served from 1988-1996, and aerospace engineer, Neal spends his time with his girlfriend, Laurie, and their dog, Jacob, on the streets.
His nickname comes from telling Jacob to show people his war face. It doesn’t always work, but the dog is a companion for the two and makes life a bit easier.
Neal, though, has friends and family in stable situations including his father, a former Amarillo, Texas, sheriff, and a former member of his Marine unit working as a SWAT officer in Phoenix. But reconciling with his father isn’t in the cards, he said, as the relationship is in tatters.
Additionally, he says when his mother took his money, Neal was in line to begin a teaching position in Istanbul, Turkey. Just another blow and the event leading to his life on the streets.
But getting off the streets, he said, is a priority and he is hoping a significant tax return this year will do the trick to find transitional or permanent housing. Neal said he also remains in contact with friends from his day as an aerospace engineer and is hoping those connections will land him a job with a company in Oceanside or in Rancho Bernardo.
“At first it was very devastating,” he said of becoming homeless. “We are looking at places here (Carlsbad) and in Oceanside. But we want to stay around here because we feel protected (by Carlsbad police). ”
Connecting with the city, police
Other homeless people, though, are addicted to drugs and alcohol, commit crimes, suffer from mental illness or want to live the homeless lifestyle. And despite the colorful personalities and nicknames, some individuals turn to theft to fuel their addictions.
It’s a tough life, said Sgt. Bryan Hargett of the Carlsbad Homeless Outreach Team. His unit, which includes Carlsbad Police officers Ron DeMent and Andre Ramirez, was created about eight months ago as part of the city’s Homeless Response Plan, which was adopted by the City Council on Oct. 17, 2017.
Hargett’s team patrols the city, building relationships and enforcing the rules and laws. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the homeless population.
Instead of traditional or heavy-handed tactics, the new mantra is creating trust and support to help those in need. One goal for the Homeless Outreach Team is to connect the homeless with resources from Interfaith Services, the McAllister Institute, Community Resource Center and Solutions for Change, to name a few front-line nonprofits, to start the process of finding housing.
For instance, Batiste needs an identification card, so Hargett and his team will help Batiste get the required paperwork so he can apply for housing.
“There are a lot of people who have grown accustomed like this,” Batiste said. “You can access the city’s services better. If you don’t have all your paperwork, then that’s a problem for you. Everything hinges on that ID.”
Another challenge is hygiene. Neal, who said he is searching for work, and Laurie said finding a place to shower is difficult. A church in town provides access to showers twice a month, but it’s not enough maintain cleanliness and a proper appearance for any potential job interview. Shelter is also another challenge, where if curfew is missed, then the homeless cannot enter a facility, Laurie said.
Still, the newfound relationship between the police and homeless has changed for the better.
“In all the different towns I’ve been in, you guys rate No. 1,” Neal told Hargett. “These guys have the outreach team and really try to hook you up with McAllister and Interfaith. These guys come out and instead of arresting us and throwing us in jail all the time, they give us resources.”
Kevin Jones, 47, has been on the streets for one year, he said, although Carlsbad police suspect it may be longer. Jones said he owns a small home in Mexico, but is staying in the city since his grandmother is dying, but can’t live with his mother.
Having spent time in Oakland, though, Jones said he was fearful of police and their actions toward the homeless.
“These officers have gotten me over my PTSD of the police,” Jones said of Carlsbad police. “Their door says integrity and respect, and that’s what they give you instead of the business.”
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.