• Gay and homeless: Support is scarce

    by Erika Fiske

    Sage came into the Cedar Street Times recently after reading one of a series of stories on the homeless in this area. He wanted readers to know his own struggles not only with homelessness and unemployment, but also with the lack of acceptance of gay men among the homeless themselves. Sage is gay.

    People who meet him on the street think he’s just a regular guy out for a bike ride, a handsome fellow with a good job, a car and maybe a dog waiting for him at home. He’s always well groomed, wearing neat, clean clothes in browns and tans, to go with his brown hair. Sage is a good actor.

    The day he managed to get a locker in Monterey, he traveled out to Pebble Beach to retrieve his belongings. Just past the Pacific Grove entrance to the luxurious community, he followed a winding trail back into the trees and brush, where deer frequently search for tender leaves. Finally his campsite came into view, a tent, sleeping bags and other items that made this wild place in the midst of incredible wealth his home. After packing his belongings, he traveled back to Monterey and deposited everything in a locker.

    Sage was now a member of the Monterey homeless. The 42-year-old was born in southern California, but lived in the northern part of the state most of his life. He was a natural history major and worked as a library staffer, a vet assistant, a dog walker and a volunteer with an animal rescue group, among other things. Sage’s life fell apart when a relationship with another man ended. Unable to pay for the apartment anymore, he soon wound up on the streets.

    For the past few years, Sage has just been trying to survive, like so many others living in alleys and on hillsides around this area. But unlike those who’ve resigned themselves to homelessness, Sage puts in hours every day trying to find work by surfing the net on library computers. “I’m looking for any kind of labor or office work, even temporary,” he said. “But there aren’t any more temp jobs.”

    Sage hasn’t enjoyed this life on the streets. “If I’d known then what I know now, about how my life would go, I’d have jumped off a bridge,” he said. “I can barely afford showers at the Coast Guard pier and doing my laundry. There aren’t a whole lot of resources for the homeless.”

    But it’s the loneliness that’s most devastating to Sage. “I’m alone all the time,” he said, adding that when others who are homeless realize he’s gay, they avoid him. “I even heard one man say ‘Faggot’ recently.”

    Seated on a curb in the parking area at Window on the Bay, with his bicycle beside him, Sage seemed to wince as he spoke the derogatory term. “I can’t even use services others get because of being gay,” he said. It doesn’t take long for church workers to discover his homosexuality. Then the preaching begins, and Sage is made to feel unwelcome.

    “I try not to give up,” he said. Unlike many of the homeless, Sage is not an alcoholic. He doesn’t use drugs, he’s polite and he speaks well. He’s a gentle man, loves nature and animals and is grateful to be in the city of Monterey. “It was taking me a half hour to bike to town from out in Pebble Beach,” he explained. And then there was the problem of being wet and cold.

    “I try to stay positive. I just want to get a job and a place to live,” he said. Sage would especially like a job working with animals or a nonprofit, something that matters.

    But it’s too late for his beloved cat. While camping out, coyotes got her. Sage still misses the animal, continuing to carry a portion of her fur with him wherever he goes. She was a long-haired tortoise shell named Sweet Pea, and she loved dogs. Perhaps she thought the coyotes were dogs. Sage can hardly wait to have pets again, along with a home.

    Until then, he likes to hunt for herbs when he isn’t looking for work. “I’m a self-taught herbalist. I find things like sorrel, nettle and wild mint,” he said. “I’m a nature guy, not a Macy’s guy. I always liked kayaking, hiking and biking.” In the past, as a treat, Sage would spend a few nights at the Veteran’s Memorial Park campground for a walk-in fee of $6 a night, where he could enjoy a hot shower. During the day, he also hiked around Fort Ord to study the abundant plant life there. And all of this gave him time to think about how he used to look at people on the street, asking for money.

    “It’s opened my eyes. I used to look down on these people. I used to think, ‘I work, why don’t you?’ But now I realize this can happen to anybody,” he said. “You can lose one paycheck and that’s it, you’re on the street.”

    “There are a lot of creative and good people among the homeless,” he added.

    Living on the streets has helped Sage realize what’s important in life. “Now I just want to live simply, and have a dog, a cat and a garden,” he said. “Today I can’t even go out and socialize, because people would want to know where I live and work.”

    Having to give up all his belongings was especially hard for Sage, because with them went memories of another time in his life. “All that I owned had to fit into one large suitcase, and even that became too much,” he said, covering his eyes for a moment.

    His suitcase, his relationships, his jobs and the life he knew are all gone. But Sage is still here. A different Sage, perhaps. A little wiser and kinder Sage—perhaps.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 13, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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