It’s Memorial Day, and several U.S. military veterans are among a handful of people—mostly men—killing time along a linear park that follows a portion of train track south of the intersection of Kettner Boulevard and Broadway in Downtown San Diego. It’s a gorgeous, breezy day, and this group of homeless folks spends it making small talk and, for some, sipping on cans of Bud.
Among them is Manny, a 45-year-old native of Guam who spent four years in the Army right after graduating high school. He enlisted because he wanted to see the world, but other than a stint in Germany, he didn’t see much beyond the borders of military bases in Georgia and South Carolina. He said he saw a lot more of the world while riding the rails across the United States and living the hobo life years after he was honorably discharged. The Army put him in parachute training; he wanted to be a mechanic. He left without a marketable skill.
“It’s mostly infantry I did—no technical things or trade at all,” he said.
Manny, clad in jeans and a brown hoodie and wearing dark sunglasses, says he ended up in San Diego because the climate here is similar to that of his home island. He worked at several jobs after arriving, including one for three years before the company, which manufactured bullet casings, was sold. He says he had to stop working because of his diabetes, which runs throughout his family.
“If I do a job right now, for instance, within, like, maybe four or five hours,” he says, “my legs start swelling and I start getting bad headaches.”
He was married once—he and his family lived in Lemon Grove—but that didn’t work out. He has three adult children who check in on him from time to time. They’ve offered to take him in, but he declines.
Manny’s been on the streets for the past five years, and he’s tired of it. He’d like to find a home in the suburbs somewhere, and he hopes the disability checks for which he’s on a waiting list will help him afford a modest place.“It may be a raunchy place, but at least I’d have a roof over my head,” he says. “The elements are really taking a toll on me.”