• Homeless vet trades a moldy carpet for a college education

    by Erika Fiske

    homeless danielDaniel probably hit bottom the night he tried to stay warm by rolling himself into a damp, moldy carpet beneath an underpass in San Francisco. Cold, hungry and homeless, his life seemed to be over. But then, he really never had much of a life— growing up without love, shuffled from place to place. This past Monday a very different Daniel sat in the Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company in Pacific Grove, having a coffee and dessert while discussing his journey from life on the streets to life as a student at Monterey Peninsula College.

    The secret of his success was the love he received from some strangers in San Francisco who found this dirty, hopeless veteran living on the streets and offered him love and a place to live at Grace Healing Home. Later, in Monterey, he was taken in by I-HELP and given a place to sleep. Some caring individuals working with the homeless helped Daniel find a place to live in Pacific Grove and access to military benefits to continue his education.

    Daniel’s story began long ago, in the Utah home of his Mormon parents. “I was born in Logan, Utah, but grew up all over the state. I had a harsh upbringing. My parents didn’t care about me,” he notes. Daniel’s stepmother was abusive and never wanted him, but he was acting out with his grandmother and in a children’s home. Finally, he wound up at a foster home. Meanwhile, his birth mother, a heroin addict, died when Daniel was 13. Despite everything, he managed to graduate from West Jordan High School in Utah.

    Unable to find a job, he became a mortar infantryman in the U.S. Army, getting basic training at Fort Benning and then going on to Fort Campbell and Iraq. When he left the military after his second deployment to Iraq, he moved to California. Daniel soon found the homeless life far more stressful than active duty, because of the constant effort to find food, a place to sleep and safety. On the streets, he never knew when someone might walk up in the middle of the night and try to kill him.

    When he’d run through his money, couldn’t get the church job he hoped for and began living on the streets, he turned to drugs. “I was spending all my money on drugs, specifically crystal meth. I started going crazy, not caring about myself,” he says. “One night some church people came and scooped me off the streets, took me to a house and let me stay for a month. They showered me with a lot of love. It was almost a spiritual experience that night. It was life changing.”

    Although Daniel wound up on the streets again in San Francisco, he had changed. “I didn’t want to use anymore,” he says. “I stopped smoking cigarettes, using drugs and drinking. I think God did it. He changed the way I was thinking. I had no more cravings. It was instantaneous, and I’ve been clean and sober since March 24 of last year.”

    Then Daniel remembered the beautiful Monterey pines and decided to join the homeless community on the Monterey Peninsula. “I came here the end of June last year. I was trying to find someplace where I could succeed,” he notes. Daniel was pleasantly surprised. “This place has more resources than a lot of places I’ve been. Here you’ve got I-Help, and they want you to find a job. It’s nice staying in a church with a lot of people around who really care and show love.”

    Besides I-HELP, there are a number of groups and individuals providing food, clothing, bicycles and other resources at places where the homeless congregate, through the Salvation Army, at A Safe Place for youths and elsewhere around the community.

    “I-HELP was a big help to me. It was a huge step in my success,” he says, adding that it would be helpful if the homeless looking for work could be given bus passes. “We got a lot of clothes and a place to shower, but as far as looking for a job, they make you walk everywhere.”

    One day, someone with I-HELP encouraged Daniel to find out what veteran benefits were available for school under the GI Bill. Others gave him a computer, notebooks and pens. And Daniel found a room to rent. In Daniel’s case, it really did “take a village” to get him on his feet.

    One local couple involved in the Sunday service for the homeless at Window on the Bay talked of getting churches involved in adopting various homeless individuals like Daniel, but the idea was dropped when they learned the response from local churches would probably be about five percent.

    So Daniel is one of the lucky ones. “I started school this past summer semester. My whole first semester I was staying with I-Help in churches and going to school during the day,” he says. Daniel would ride to MPC on a bicycle and had to be back by 4 p.m. to catch the I-HELP bus to a church.

    “This semester I’ve been blessed. I hurt my knee on a skateboard, and friends have been taking me to school,” he notes.

    Daniel smiles easily, but admits he still struggles with depression and loneliness from time to time. “I feel it all the time, because of how things have been most of my life. From 13 on, I was alone.” Still, at just 26 years of age, and after six years in the military and a life on the streets, he now has a 4.0 average at MPC and is working toward a master’s degree in history.

    “The library and personal development classes at MPC were the best classes I’ve ever taken,” he notes. “We learned good habits to help us through school, including critical thinking skills, essay writing and everything we needed to know about college.”

    The veteran is determined to become a teacher. “History is fascinating. I love it, especially U.S. history. The more I find out about my country, the greater my sense of patriotism,” he explains with a smile.

    And Daniel doesn’t mind spending most of his time studying. He’s just happy to have a roof over his head. “I’m a simple person. I go to school, do my best to get my work done on time and have a few friends I go to church with. Since I became ‘not homeless,’ I like to stay inside. It’s nice to be inside,” he says.

    But nicest of all are the people in Daniel’s life today, people who really care. Finally.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 11, 2013

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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