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Cast Away: A Story Of Homelessness In The Bay Area

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Written By: J.E. Vigil

Perhaps I ended up homeless due to my own negligence. Maybe it was my parents or the rise in gentrification or  the inflated price of apartments that I couldn’t quite understand. Why was it that a small studio apartment cost nearly $2,000? Frankly, I really didn’t know what the hell a studio was. Was it just a big ass room? Kinda… I just wanted a place to call home… But I ended up homeless.

Why was it that a small studio apartment cost nearly $2,000? Frankly, I really didn’t know what the hell a studio was. Was it just a big ass room? Kinda… I just wanted a place to call home… But I ended up homeless.

I found myself walking the streets of San Francisco after a year or two of house hopping. I’d lived everywhere from Tracy all the way to Crockett, and then ultimately, San Francisco’s Tenderloin. I started this journey on a fragile timeline of indecent events. At 17 my parents kicked me out. I was becoming a religious fanatic and couldn’t stop to consider my actions or how this new life would effect my family. So I had to go. I’d spent the past 2 or 3 years preaching and trying to save a sinners world. Haha oh what I’d explain to a younger me, “quit starving yourself in the forest and go work, save and build something that actually helps people!” I’d say. I ended up in San Francisco because this is where the money was and where I felt God lead me.

I’d sleep there on that stairwell or stare up into the starless sky filled only with fog, and look to try and find God.

SF was like a religious extremists Goliath, but I knew I could conquer it.  I would work staffing gigs as it provided flexibility which eventually led to a FT porter position at Dropbox while it was at China Basin. I served coffee and restocked the beer fridges, made sure their candy bar drawers were full. All the while I’m riding scooters through the facility and excitedly await lunch so I could eat free at their kitchen with their 7 courses to choose from. After work I’d feel the stress of life come back when I would go to Geary, across from Angels Cafe and sneak onto the roof where my bike and 2 bags were hiding. I’d sleep there on that stairwell or stare up into the starless sky filled only with fog, and look to try and find God.

I remember that roof top so vividly. The fear of falling off the railing while imagining jumping from one roof to another. It was like a 7 foot jump with the bottomless pit beneath. I also thought about what would become of me if I just jumped and ended it all. I was in a lot of distress.

While I was up there I’d do a lot of research on how to get housing or be on Zillow window-shopping. Across the street there was a  lot construction going on at a black apartment, the windows were totally clear and the insides were empty. I’d stare inside and imagine decorating and furnishing this new and renovated apartment, the guests I’d like to have over and the wine we’d drink while listening to all the new shit nobody’s heard of. I looked up the address and it was like $1700. Well I was making $14 an hour and could barely afford anything, so needless to say, it didn’t work.

I ended up getting kicked off the rooftop by someone living below. Apparently  The Sugar Hill Gang actually rapped about him one time… or so he told me. After that I ended up sleeping on the street. I forced myself into overdrive and saved all the money I could. My girlfriend at the time who was healthy and normal helped me look for places on Craigslist and eventually found me an affordable room is West Pittsburg. I remember right before I met my soon to be new roommate, that afternoon I had been in Concord frantically going to apartments trying to find anything I could get into. I was almost ready to throw in the towel.

Three months of absolute survival mode and I finally found some relief. No more bathing in Starbucks bathrooms. I’d explain to my religious “friends” I’m not a blatant hypocrite or on drugs because I’m impoverished or going through a patch, that God hasn’t abandoned me. At one point I had to eat a loaf of bread I found on a bench that paired fairly well with the free McDonald’s jam I scored off the one at Embarcadero. I was so hungry, but my hunger was matched by gratitude. I at least had something to eat.

After I met with the prospected room mate and discussed prices I was short $100 for the initial deposit. Bummed, trying to figure it out I was at the gas station when I got a random text from my mother.  After some catching up she offered me the 100 bucks I was short on and that’s how I was able to get off the streets. It took more humility than discipline and more intentional actions rather than just blind faith. A closed mouth doesn’t get fed a friend used to always say.

Well years later and I’ve never been homeless again, though not without sacrifice and struggle as I’m sure everyone in the Bay Area knows. Sometimes I still think of that roof top and the view of the empty apartment I couldn’t obtain. Not with disdain or dissatisfaction but with the general awareness that it could have happened to anyone. To most of us, and that it’s not a negative thing to accept that hand up, when you’re all the way down. In the following years later I worked personally to rehabilitate people, show love and help those who were in my old shoes. I also left religion after these times but never stopped my journey to be a light and help my community. Whatever works, ya know?

As long as we get there.

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1 Comment

  1. Rose
    February 15, 2022 at 11:10 pm — Reply

    Too bad he didn’t stay with believing in God, religion is just a form of praying and there are too many to count. Which one is good, which one is right for you? But you story I believe God had your mother calling you and helping you out. That can be considered a miracle from God. Hope you find your way back to believing again.
    God bless.

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