“I came out here when my wife died,” he said. “I came to the streets because I have nowhere else to go any more. I’m a veteran. I chose the street because I can’t seem to get my life back together. My wife died and I came to the streets. It’s not a life. I can’t seem to get my s--- together. I’m an alcoholic and a junkie, a heroin addict. I have been shooting dope for 43 years off and on. I’ve been in prison. Mostly alcohol now that’s my problem. I hate this life, but I just can’t seem to get it together. I want to but I just can’t.”
Quesada gets a monthly check from the government, but it doesn’t take long for him to drink it or shoot it in his veins. “I don’t know how to ration my money,” he said. After the check is gone he gets by the rest of the month by holding up a sign on the highway off-ramp, asking motorists for money.
Asked how much he makes, he said, “Not very much. Just enough to drink on, smoke cigarettes, eat on, and that’s about it. This ain’t my life. It sucks. Honestly, it sucks. And I hate it. I’m going through depression right now. I feel like just killing myself now. That’s where I’m headed. I don’t like it, but that’s where my life is at. I’m thinking about going in a program. I’m hating it. This ain’t a life.”
Rezentes has been trying for years to help Quesada and other entrenched homeless people in Antioch get help from government agencies or charitable organizations, but it’s an uphill battle. Asked whether he’s taken advantage of these services, Quesada said, “I did for a minute – VA (Veterans Administration services) for a minute. But I just never followed through. But I think I’m about ready to go there.”
Rezentes asked him why he panhandles. “Because it’s the easiest thing to do out there,” responded Quesada. “But I hate it. It doesn’t mean I like it, Rezentes. I lose my pride. People know me out there. It’s like begging for money. I don’t like it.”
Quesada shares the camp with a few other alcoholic junkies. Elizabeth Streatch has been homeless for either four or 15 years after becoming a victim of domestic violence, losing her payments and giving up, she said. She also panhandles. “I get enough for cigarettes and food,” she said. “I’m depressed. This is my life. I drink, I use heroin.”
She became emotional as she discussed her seven children: “I do it just cause it makes me numb so that I don’t have to feel any more. It’s like a knife through my heart because they took my babies. They took all my kids. I was a foster child. They said I was a piece of s---. I am not a piece of s---. I loved every one of my babies. They said I’m too crazy.”
Asked whether she’s received help from county agencies, she said, “No. They say I’m crazy and don’t want to help me. They want me to go in the program. I don’t want to go in the program. I’ve been in the programs already. I ain’t going to sit there and have somebody tell me I have to read the Bible every day. If I want to read the Bible, I’ll read the Bible.” Asked whether she’d rather be homeless, she said, “Yep.”
Rezentes offered to provide her with a number she can call to receive help. “If we ever get married I want to put her in the program for a while,” said Quesada. But Streatch responded, “I ain’t going to no program. I don’t bother nobody. I mind my business.”
Joining them at the camp is Robert, who said he’s homeless because he used his last $900 to bury his father instead of pay his rent, and was evicted along with his brother. He does the panhandling for both of them because his brother has gotten so sick he can no longer stand at the off-ramp, holding a sign.
“Both of them have cirrhosis of the liver and have no control over their bowels,” said Rezentes. “When I got there today he (Robert’s brother) was standing in a landscaping patch next to the gas station with his pants down. And he says, ‘You’re just going to have to take me to the hospital, because I can’t control anything and I don’t care.’ So he’s gravely disabled. These are the people we are giving money to.”
Robert used to be joined by a woman named Pam who was in a wheelchair, but she recently died. “Everybody is dying, Rezentes,” said Quesada. “Everybody is dying out here. We are all dying.”
Robert said his drink of choice is vodka. A fifth costs $10, which is gone in about an hour. He said he wants to get an apartment with his brother. But Quesada pointed out that he won’t be able to afford first and last month’s rent. And Streatch said he and his brother are too unkempt to get a landlord to rent to them. “You guys don’t take care of things. You don’t use a toilet,” she said.
As Rezentes headed back to his car, Quesada said, “I want to get her off the street, Rezentes.” Rezentes responded, “You’ve got to take care of you, and then you can take care of her.” As Rezentes started to drive away, Streatch said, “God bless you, Rezentes.”
For years it’s been Rezentes’ job as a member of the Police Community Action Team to deal with nuisances such as the homeless, preferably by getting them treatment and off the streets. There have been successes, but only a few. He’s written numerous citations to panhandlers at the highway ramps. But the citations are ignored and unpaid, and the panhandlers head right back out to the ramp.
As a result, Rezentes is launching a campaign urging the public to not give money to panhandlers near the highway ramps because it creates a potentially dangerous traffic situation that could lead to an accident. And because all it does is enable these unhappy, desperate people to continue leading unhappy, desperate lives rather than force them to get the help they need.
“Every cent that they make – if it doesn’t go to the drug of their choice it definitely goes to alcohol,” he said. “They will get their money and run to the liquor store until they pass out. These people, their clothes are literally rotting off of them, stained with feces. That’s just the way they live.
“And they won’t take advantage of any of these services. But they will stand out there with a sign and take your money and then go get a heroin fix or meth or alcohol. That’s where I need the public to know that they should instead give money to these other entities like Salvation Army, Goodwill, Loaves and Fishes, Brown Bag run by Golden Hills Church. Another church on 18th Street allows people to shower there. There’s a lot of outreach going on. These folks don’t need to be on our corners. That’s my goal: to get that message out to the public.”