Knocking Down Stigmas and Stereotypes

In the blink of an eye, Daniel found himself disabled and living on the streets​

By Marianna Moles

As the car struck Daniel and he was thrown off his bike, he had no idea just how different his life would be moving forward. He lost more in mere seconds than most people lose in a lifetime. “Luckily I had savings, but I couldn’t work, move. It took me out. It hurt me emotionally to be physically held back. I lost my job, home. I lost a lot,” said Daniel, who, due to the accident, also lost nearly all movement on the dominant left side of his body.

Daniel turns to look out the window of his third story studio apartment, which he obtained with the help of nonprofit PATH San Jose, and a Section 8 voucher through the Housing Authority. The sun streams through the shades as the sounds of cars rush on the street below. He’s dressed in a denim button-up shirt and jeans, and wears a black do-rag around his head. His hands sit folded, leaning on his cane -- a new addition to his attire. He points to his wrist to show off the slick watch he bought on the street for just $2. He was homeless for about 10 months.

Prior to the accident, Daniel considered himself to be fairly athletic. Now he has a difficult time simply walking down stairs. “It was kind of scary [being homeless]. I had a major limp, so I had to be kind of tactical. I had to apply for SSI. I thought I was way cooler than that. It was rather humiliating,” he said.

According to the County’s 2017 Homeless Census and Survey, 31 percent of people surveyed said that a physical disability affected their housing stability or employment status. In an instant, Daniel became one of those people.  He loved his previous job, but due to his injury it’s no longer an option.

One of the greatest misconceptions about people who are homeless is that they are lazy and don’t want to work. As Daniel can attest, it’s quite the contrary. In 2013, the County asked homeless individuals what might have prevented their homelessness, and 42 percent said employment assistance. Finding a new job that he could do with his injury may have prevented Daniel from ending up on the streets in the first place.

While in the hospital, Daniel found himself making the difficult decision to not have surgery because he didn’t have anywhere to stay. He would be recovering from surgery on the streets, and he didn’t think that was a smart idea.  “I’m still in denial about my injury. I’m still not used to this yet. I have pain pills in my pocket that I don’t take as much as I should because I’d be drugged to a point where it’s not….” he trails off. The sacrifice is to be in pain.

Until he could find a permanent place to live, he stayed out of the cold temporarily by securing beds in emergency shelters. While there are shelters available, including the ones Daniel stayed at, like LifeMove’s Montgomery Street Inn, an emergency and transitional housing for single men, and Little Orchard, a cold weather shelter run by HomeFirst, sometimes getting to those shelters is not doable, or securing a bed is not guaranteed. People are forced to make tough decisions as a matter of surviving, and may resort to sleeping elsewhere if a shelter bed is out of reach, such as on Hotel 22, the bus route that runs 24-hours from Palo Alto to San Jose. “Hotel 22 means getting out of the cold, which um, I don’t know if I’m taking it to a higher level, but it was life and death. Surviving,” said Daniel.

While survival mode is a way of life on the streets, the other piece of the battle is knowing where to go for help. “It’s assumed that homeless people know how to get help – they don’t always. Let’s not assume that everyone is on the same page,” said Daniel. “I was going to MLK Library to work on Craig’s List to find apartments. I’m not really computer literate. I’m B.C. – before computers,” he chuckled.

A librarian approached him and told him about other resources that could help, such as PATH, and that he could get started with them immediately. He followed her upstairs and filled out a bit of information, and not long after he had a place to call his own paid for with a housing voucher.

Before his accident, Daniel had been living in the same apartment for 10 years, so not only did he lose a roof over his head, he lost a sense of belonging.  “I had neighbors at the last place. Community. People would line their lawn chairs in front of my place to watch the fireworks. Everyone had their own backyard.”  He’s slowly finding the sense of community at his new place, and made quite a few friends while living in the streets, but it’s been an adjustment. “People don’t want to be homeless. It happens to anybody. A lot of people think homeless don’t want a home,” said Daniel. “They want to put homeless people in one category…I would shake that, I would shake that. He’s doing what he has at that moment to get what he needs in that moment.” As he’s said over and over, it’s about surviving.

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