Fresno homeless man moves off street into new digs

Posted by George Hostetter on December 16, 2013 

It's odd how things happen. Take, for example, Sal Quintero and his passion for local sports history from the 1950s and 1960s.

That passion is how I met a man named Jim.

Quintero, of course, is the City Council member representing southeast Fresno. We're both in our mid-60s. He went to San Joaquin Memorial High School, I went to Lindsay High. He was an excellent prep basketball player. I was an excellent cheerleader from the bench.

Sal in his spare time likes to explore yard sales and estate sales. He is a hawkeye for anything dealing with Fresno-area sports from his youth. He knows I, too, have a fondness for history from that era.

Sal sometimes calls me into his City Hall office to show his latest purchases. There was the time he had two Reedley College yearbooks from the late 1960s. He knows I'm a big fan of JR Boone, the Tigers' football coach in those years. Sal let me take the yearbooks back to the newsroom for a week.

Sal after a recent council meeting had in his hand a hodge-podge of sports relics from long ago. There were high school football programs, a Fresno Bee from 1969, a black-and-white photo of champion high school wrestlers and a few other items.

"Take 'em for a while," Sal said.

I did. I kept them in my newsroom wall locker.

The council had a relatively brief meeting on Dec. 5. I was back in the newsroom by 11 a.m. I wrote my story, then had lunch. It was early afternoon by that time, so I decided to walk back to City Hall and see what was happening. I figured I'd also return Sal's items.

I dropped off a letter at the main post office, then took G Street to Divisadero and over to H Street. The old Fresno Guide building on H is now gone (I worked there in 1980 in The Guide's final incarnation -- The Fresno County Reporter).

I meandered toward City Hall. Darius Assemi is moving fast on Crichton Place at San Joaquin and L streets -- those two dozen or so townhouses have their foundations in place and frames are going up. That corner will look a million times better with new townhouses than with those two old houses that used to be there. Nobody wanted to invest in them. Makes me wonder why the local preservationists tried so hard to stop this neighborhood-enhancing project.

I got to the northeast corner of N and Tuolumne streets (site of the old YMCA complex) when I saw something odd.

A man of considerable age was crossing Tuolumne on foot, heading north toward me. He was pushing a four-wheel collapsible cart, the kind people sometimes take on a city bus when they go shopping. The man's cart was full. Stuff was tied to the handle.

The man pushed the cart up the curb-cut for the disabled and stopped by me. Without saying a word, he left the cart on the corner and retraced his steps. He headed south across Tuolumne, then turned left (east) and walked toward O Street.

I looked at the cart a few feet from me -- "What's he doing?"

Then I looked at the man on the other side of the street. There was a second cart about halfway to O. The man pushed it to the crosswalk, then headed north toward the first cart.

He had two full carts. He was going somewhere. But the carts were too big and unwieldy to push at the same time. He was stuck making his way in a one-man relay. He had to walk a total of 150 yards just to move 50 yards closer to his destination.

I couldn't resist.

"Where are you going?"

"Over by Catholic Charities."

"Want some help?"

"Yes."

I grabbed the handle of one of the carts (an umbrella was tied to the handle) and off we went -- N to Stanislaus, Stanislaus to Fulton, Fulton to our goal.

I was walking with Jim.

Jim is 73 years old. He said he is a 1958 graduate of Washington Union High School in Easton. He had been married. He has three children. He knew he has grandchildren, but didn't know how many. He said he'd worked in "parts" for much of his adult life -- stocking shelves in drug stores and auto parts stores.

Jim had been on the streets for 20 years. He said he slept for several years in the doorway of the Fresno Water Tower on Fresno Street.

Jim was in a hurry. He said he'd recently signed up for Social Security. He'd paid rent and a deposit on an apartment in the complex on the south side of Catholic Charities. He was to meet the landlord to get his key.

"I'm supposed to be there already," Jim said as we turned west on Stanislaus. We had a long way to go.

Jim didn't say why he'd been on the streets for two decades. I didn't ask. But he didn't seem like a misfit. He clearly had been abused by the elements. Yet, he had a firm voice, and spoke with modesty and clarity. The carts were packed with care. He was dressed decently. He had a strong walk -- I hustled to keep up with him.

Jim seemed to have a spirit that, despite his trials, remained intact.

Finally, we crossed Divisadero on Fulton and neared journey's end. We made a left (west in this crazy-quilt section of central Fresno) on Voorman Avenue. The apartment complex, Jim's new home, was on our right.

Jim stopped. I stopped. There was no landlord to be seen.

I knew what Jim was thinking: "We're late. I'll have to wait until tomorrow. Another night on the streets."

I was thinking: "Where's Jim going to bunk down tonight? Wherever it is, I'm going to have to push this cart to that spot. Hope it's close."

Then we heard a voice.

"James? Is that you Jim?"

A man was getting out of a nearby car. It was Ivan, the landlord.

"I didn't think you were coming," Ivan said. "I was getting ready to leave."

Jim and I followed Ivan into the apartment. It was small and unfurnished. But it was clean as a whistle and looked comforting -- living room, kitchen/dining area, one bedroom, bathroom.

Jim, Ivan and I toured the place. We were chattering away like it was a penthouse.

I got ready to go. First, though, Jim looked at both of us. He smiled.

"I've been out there for 20 years," he said, jerking his head toward the street. "This is like heaven to me."

I had a good story for Sal.

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