In Your Backyard

A monthly column elevating the voices of formerly homeless residents or those with lived experience.

Featuring:

Cecilia Martin

Michael Eckhart

Ralph Duran

Dorie Larson

From left to right: Ralph Duran, Dorie Larson, Michael Eckhart and Cecilia Martin. Photo by Frank Ponciano.

Meet the columnists

 

Cecilia Martin

Cecilia Martin grew up not knowing her place in life, or what her purpose was. Not even the direction she should go. She says she has struggled her entire life with just about every decision she’s had to make, including becoming an alcoholic as a child and continuing down the road of addiction for decades. Cecilia has faced many dangerous and unsafe situations that ultimately led to homelessness.

Today, thanks to people who have believed in her and her own motivation, Cecilia lives in an affordable one-bedroom apartment she can call home. She has also been given an opportunity to advocate for the homeless still out on the street.

Her hope, desire, and dream has always been to help others experiencing what she went through.

 

Michael Eckhart

Michael Anthony Eckhart was born and raised in San Jose by his mother Nele Bujuklian and stepfather Jon Bujiklian. He has an older brother and three younger stepbrothers. He also has two sons at 28 and 18 years of age.

He graduated from Andrew Hill High School in 1983 and went on to spend a number of years serving in the United States Navy.

Upon leaving the military in 1992, he settled in Seattle, Washington, returning to California eight years later.

Back in California, Michael worked in corporate America before losing his career abruptly which led to homelessness. Michael spent ten years on the streets of Santa Clara County along with his partner Jackie Germain, who he has been with for sixteen years.

Together, Michael and Jackie are pushing and fighting for the rights of all who remain homeless. His mission is to educate people on the fact that homelessness does not translate in any language to giving up basic human rights or a place in society.

 

Ralph Duran

Born in Northern Colorado in the late 1950s, Ralph Duran grew up on his grandfather’s ranch which provided livestock to rodeos in Colorado and neighboring states. Along with caring for these critters, Ralph was very involved with his grandpa Kaetenay’s other passion: his big game trophy hunting and tracking business.

Grandpa Kaetenay was a Native American Indian who served in WWII as a “Wind Talker” and retired Sergeant Major, USMC. Ralph followed his grandfather’s footsteps when he joined the Marines to serve as a location scout after the Vietnam War.

Ralph’s journey into homelessness began in 2007 when he found himself sleeping in his truck parked in Walmart parking lots for two years until it became illegal to do so. Ralph then started living in an RV near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta until he returned to the Bay Area and lost his RV due to mechanical issues. Ending up on the streets and broke, Ralph was introduced to the Office of Supportive Housing, which made it possible for Ralph and his dog, Baby-girl, to obtain housing. Now, at home, Ralph has a desire to help those still out there, to give them hope and to help shed light on the housing crisis devastating our communities.

Ralph began writing about his experiences in his early years and continues to do so, even now at 60 years old. It’s been his lifelong passion to share his adventures with his writings and a dream realized to be featured in this column.

 

Dorie Larson

An early victim of the great recession, Dorie lost her home in 2007 when she was hit by predatory brokers offering reverse loans to desperate people looking to hold on to what they had.

The next 2,938 days and nights, Dorie found herself in the streets trying to survive in the ugliest of experiences — just like you would see on TV: rape, robbery, crimes, violence, suicide, illness, filth, addiction and much more. This was a horror movie that wouldn’t end.

Dorie is now housed and determined to never go back. She is excited to write this column to change hearts and minds on what homelessness is and who the homeless are.

 

Duran: The day that changed my life

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...

Ponciano: Introducing ‘In Your Backyard’

As I approach a year of experience as the community liaison at Second Street Studios, the city’s first permanent supportive housing project in downtown San Jose, I have been equal parts amazed by the knowledge and creativity our residents display and confounded at the subtle ways in which our elected officials and decision makers continue...

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