As he flips a cardboard sign for cars passing the corner of 11th Avenue and A Street, Brian Whitworth’s enthusiasm belies his daily struggles. He’s so friendly and eager to talk that it’s easy to forget he’s been living on the streets for years.
“[I’ve been] homeless on and off. I get jobs, and I’ll get a place, then I’ll lose the job or the place. One of the two will tumble,” he says.
Born into a large Irish family, Brian was removed from his home as a toddler by Child Protective Services. He was adopted by a family in Rancho Palos Verdes and had a happy childhood until his mother died of cancer when he was a teen. This was closely followed by his father’s heart attack.
“It kinda tore him up. And I went awry, too,” he says. “After my mom died, I started drinking. Pops wasn’t keeping tabs on me.”
Brian joined the Navy, which he says taught him the importance of respecting authority. It’s apparent through his strong eye contact and clear communication that time in the service positively affected him.
“It was a great experience. I was in the Hospital Corps, and I got an honorable discharge from ’em. I learned a lot—how to speak correctly and not disrespect people,” he says. “But since I was peacetime Navy, I don’t get benefits.”
After his discharge, Brian worked at a pizza crust factory in Spokane, Wash., until problems with a girlfriend put him on a bus heading to San Diego eight years ago. Since then, he’s spent time in Hollywood and Modesto, where he worked at a recycling center, but he soon found himself unemployed again.
“I lasted about a year with that job. It was great, and I was in the union. So alcohol really will cut you down quick. As a young man, it’s OK, but as you get older, you can’t call and say ‘I got the brown bottle flu, boss,’” he reflects. “Alcohol’s legal, but it’s one of the hardest [substances] on the body.”
Although he occasionally speaks to his father and his adopted siblings, he hasn’t seen them in years. He says he’d like to get into a treatment program through the Rock Church.
“There are people who really do care,” he says.
He prefers to stay away from homeless centers due to the conflict that tends to occur there.
“If you mix the mentally ill, the drug addicts and the alcoholics all in one area, it’s volatile. People just don’t get along.”