Duran: The day that changed my life
First Community Housing's Second Street Studios in San Jose. File photo.

Daylight breaks through the door jam of my “safe spot” where Baby-girl, my canine companion, and I rest each night from our day on the streets. I begin to ready my bicycle and pull-cart on this July mid-month morning with the things we would need for the day: Warm clothes for the evening, food and water for us both as well as a bag of frisbees and treats to occupy some fun time at the local park.

Today I will bring my butane stove, cookware and utensils to cook some chicken and rice while at the park. I unlock and open the metal door slowly to peek out to make sure we are not seen departing our safe haven. As usual, I release Baby-girl and she knows to run around the building to a grassy area next to a parking lot to relieve herself.

I figured this would be the best way to explain to police why I was on this vacant commercial property. I would say that I let her out of the cart to use the bathroom and she ran around back, so I was just trying to catch her to put her back in the cart. That was always my story and it often worked well.

I had the same routine each morning. I would ride for a few miles to a local Lucky’s for a couple of donuts and some instant coffee and then to Starbucks to charge my electronics and get a cup of hot water for my coffee. The staff at Starbucks was always nice and offered me either a string cheese or a “pupacino” for Baby-girl (for those of you not familiar with the “pupacino,” it’s a small paper Starbucks cup with whipped cream). She loved the attention, always.

There were other homeless people that would frequent the area, so over a few years, I got to know who was somewhat trustworthy. I usually trusted Baby-girl’s instincts over mine. She was always spot-on detecting the bad people.

While drinking coffee and playing games on my Fire tablet, I got a call from a man named Anthony from the county’s Office of Supportive Housing. He wanted to meet with me today to talk about housing. I agreed to meet him at a local McDonald’s in a couple of hours. After talking to him, I felt as if I was in a dream. I had to look at my phone and recall the incoming call history to confirm it was actually true.

I remember the bike ride to McDonald’s was effortless and my mind was reeling with disbelief. When I arrived, I positioned myself to see all incoming traffic from an outside eating area. I noticed a white van pulled up with an emblem on the door showing it was an official vehicle. Two men got out and walked toward me and Baby-girl, since we were the only ones outside.

They introduced themselves. Anthony and Paul were their names. They informed me of a new building that was near completion, Second Street Studios, that needed tenants who were at-risk, low-income homeless people. They asked about my homeless history and if I was able to show through either police interaction, community programs or county services how long I had been on the streets.

I felt at ease talking with them and we all shook hands after the meeting. I was still in disbelief and began to cry after they drove off. I sat there crying, happily for about 10 to 15 minutes. Pulling myself together, I put Baby-girl in her cart and started riding off knowing that today my life had changed and Baby-girl would finally have her first home ever, very soon.

I felt happy and hopeful for the first time in over a decade and was overcome with gratitude because my Baby-girl would finally get her first real home that she deserved so much.

I am honored to be given the opportunity to share my experience and journey of being homeless for 12 years and to help shed light on the housing crisis victims of our communities. This is just the first of many columns outlining personal struggles and triumphs of daily life on the streets.

We hope to reach an audience that will help bring the change needed to release other homeless citizens from the hopeless bonds of living day by day on our streets, in our parks and in front of our eyes.

In the meantime, a Happy Thanksgiving to all and a reminder to be kind — even when it is hard.

Ralph Duran is a resident of Second Street Studios and a Marine veteran. He is an active member of Second Street Voices and is part of a group of formerly homeless columnists writing for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column to shine a light on the homeless experience in Silicon Valley.

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