My Story.

Hello. My name is David. I recently moved from San Francisco to Fresno. The question I get asked by exactly everybody is: “Why Fresno?” Please forgive me, there is no simple answer. No short version. It’s a long, long story. But I’ll try to sum things up as best I can.

Today, February 21st, 2016, is my 45th birthday. Exactly five years ago, I suffered through one of the most horrible days. Yes, it was also my fortieth birthday- but that wasn’t the reason. I’m trying to give the briefest version possible…

On January 12, 2011… (I refer to this as “The Day That Changed My Life”) My estranged parents (mother + stepfather) came to my apartment door. With an SF police officer, an SF Animal Care & Control officer, and a psychiatrist from the Mobile Crisis Unit. I didn’t want to answer, didn’t want to talk to them. Hadn’t spoken for maybe three years. I’d suffered extreme psychological and emotional abuse growing up, so I’d spent my entire adult life trying my best to distance myself from them.

So. The cop drilled my lock and broke in. Seriously. I was handcuffed and involuntarily committed to the ADU at SF General Hospital. That’s the mental ward. Clinically, it’s called a 5150. There are only three specific reasons a person can be “5150’ed”:

  1. A harm to oneself.
  2. A harm to others.
  3. Person is gravely impaired.

I was none of these things. My dog was sick from an ear infection. My kitchen faucet had a bushing that somehow loosened, turned itself on, and overflowed my sink one day while I was out walking my dog. I’d lost almost all of my work due to a traumatic injury (I had been assaulted/robbed and dislocated my shoulder). I’d cancelled all nonessential expenses: cell phone, internet, auto insurance & registration.

Hard times, to be sure. But that’s all.

10 days later, on Friday, January 21, 2011… I was released from SFGH. I instantly was homeless. I can only assume my “family” had taken “power of attorney” due to what was defined as my being “mentally incapacitated.” Both of my mother and stepfather are Ivy League graduates, are control freaks, are respected as model citizens, and my stepfather is an influential attorney. They overdrew all my bank accounts. Stole $7200 in cash. Changed the locks to my condo. I lost every single thing I’d ever owned in an instant. *poof*.

Including my dog and most amazing companion, a beautiful Shiba Inu I had gotten from singer Roberta Flack back when I lived in New York.

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Oh, I said “short version.” There truly is no short version. But let’s skip ahead. Overlooking all the details and hardship.I’m certain that each of you reading this already have dozens of question that are being left unanswered. Or you are disbelieving. Oh well, maybe with 60,000 more words. Like, if I ever write a book. lol. (Don’t hold your breath on that one). Anyways, I didn’t get into supportive housing until 2/24/2012. Yes, that’s over one year. Lots of nights sleeping in Golden Gate Park.

Tired. Cold. Angry. Depressed.

I intended to explain my forty-fifth birthday and my devastating experiences that day. Oh. Well, I realize that as horrific and trying as that one day was, it really isn’t important to impart those details here. Every single day is tough for me- still- and the severity or degree of suffering is nearly indescribable every single day anyways.

Let’s skip ahead.

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Now. Five years later.

I’m still trying to get back on my feet. I had finally saved up enough money to move out of “supportive housing.” I put that term in (sarcastic) quotes because it can only be defined as anything BUT supportive. I had spent $493 per month for a 7’5″ x 10’4″ room. Three and a half years. Shared bathrooms. 204 units. Needle depositories on every floor. No kitchen. Security gate and attendant inside the lobby.

Let’s call it what it is. Crack house. Meth house. Whore house. Whatever. Roach infested. Bed bug infested. Rat infested. One tenant captured a rat and kept it as a pet. Another neighbor of mine would feed dozens of pigeons inside their room each day by leaving their window open. Yeah. Seriously.

My SRO room’s cold water faucet was broken. My hot water floor radiator was a constant 87+ degrees in my tiny room. Noise. Crazy. Deaths inside the hotel every month. The stink of death once pervaded my room while a neighbor’s dead body was decomposing inside a room directly across the hallway from my door. Would you believe the room was sealed shut by police and the body not removed for over two weeks?!!! (Neighbors and maintenance staff laid flat glue traps under the door, they’d turn solid black with hundreds of cockroaches each day). Police action in my building several times per day. Fire alarm would go off every few days. Water would be shut off a few days per month. Power once went out 11 times in a 3-day span.

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Okay. Now I’m out.

I traded ALL my future potential for work around the SF and the Bay Area just to leave a horrific living situation I was trapped into. I chose Fresno. The balance of cost-of-living versus quality-of-life. Was it worth it? Hell yes. But it also set me back. A lot. I have very limited opportunity to utilize my work experiences and abilities here in the Central Valley.

I’m in Fresno. I have my own apartment. Own kitchen. Full-size refrigerator. Own bathroom. Bedroom. Living room. Very nearly the same rent ($500/mo). Very, very good start.

Let’s recognize one very important aspect of my move: I get less disability income now. Because I am trying to better my life? Because I moved into improved “independent living” and needed a better, more stable housing arrangement? No. Because I now have a kitchen. So, I get $84 less than I did in San Francisco. $84 less AND now I also pay utilities. It sure seems like everything knocks me backward when all I want is to get back on my own feet.

What’s next?

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I live on welfare. Permanent SSI Disability. For extreme body pain. And supposedly (read: “diagnosed by an ‘expert’ clinician”) mental health issues. My total SSI income is $889/month. TOTAL. Rent, utilities, food, drink, transportation, medicine, laundry, furnishings, job search, clothing, technology, and whatever else.

On SSI, I am not allowed to ever hold more than $2,000 in total assets. That includes possessions + bank accounts + cash/liquid. I moved here to Fresno, paid move-in fees/deposit, movers, and still had a little money to “furnish” my new place. By that I mean pot, pan, rice cooker, microwave, sponges, toilet paper, mattress, hangars, extension cords, curtain rods… I don’t mean bed, table, chairs, or mop. Not yet, anyways.

Problem is… Much of my money I had allocated for furnishings (and to help develop work/job opportunities) is gone. My old, used laptop died and I spent ALL my remaining savings to buy a decent laptop computer replacement. I traded over four years of my life to struggle and save $40 per month, simply waiting for the calendar to turn over and add incrementally. While living in hardship and extreme suffering. All that savings now gone, too.

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Me? My background?

I’ve worked in fashion design for companies like Avirex, Tommy Hilfiger, and others… Like Levi’s, Esprit, Abercrombie & Fitch, Triple Five Soul, Dayton-Hudson (Target), Spiële, and others. I even helped launch Old Navy for Gap.

I produced (and/or styled) over 80 fashion shows: Armani, Dior, YSL, Donna Kara, Bill Blass, Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Chanel, Lanvin, John Barlett, Anne Klein, Gap, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin, Neiman-Marcus, and many others. I’d produced events for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Fashion Week at the former SF Fashion Center. I helped produce a massive fundraiser event for the original SF MOMA designed by Mario Botta.

I’ve been fortunate enough to know and/or work with many prominent people & celebrities. I’ve owned my own businesses, been self-employed. That includes working professionally as a photographer. Clients like Goodby-Silverstein Ad Agency, seamless.com, XYZ at the W Hotel, World News, and I helped launch chictopia.com. I had my own promotional goods business with clients as recognizable as The Museum of Natural History in New York City, Monterey Bay Aquarium, the SF Jewish Film Festival, UCSF, Meals on Wheels, First Night, and SFJazz.

I’ve been fortunate to learn from many prominent photographers from Benjamin Von Wong, TIME Magazine, Gerald Bybee, Marcus Eriksson from Nike, National Geographic, SF Chronicle/Examiner/Call-Bulletin photojournalists like Fred Pardini and Ray “Scotty” Morris, famous Beatnik Larry Keenan and more.

I’ve worked as a pro athlete myself: sponsored by Rollerblade, No Fear, PowerBar, and a regional chain of Rollerblade specialty stores that covered the western United States. Yes, I had talent agency representation. Did some tv and print ads. I’d been covered on virtually every local tv network affiliate in the SF Bay Area and most national networks (except MTV, who cancelled twice on shoots). I’d performed everywhere from the Palace of Legion of Honor seismic retrofit re-opening gala, The SF Symphony’s Black & White Ball (twice), Bay Meadows racetrack, and about 100 other live events.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked on social justice and social advocacy in San Francisco. I’ve met with many influential leaders and nonprofits. Urban Solutions has helped open over 5,000 local small businesses. Glide serves over 1 million free meals per year in their dining room. United Playaz helps underprivileged youth in the SOMA neighborhood and staffs ex-convicts. I’ve met directly with Mayor Ed Lee and former mayor Gavin Newsome, the founder and Executive Director of Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the director of Department of Building Inspection, Department of Human Services. I knew and worked with SF District 6 City Supervisor Jane Kim (and assistant Ivy Lee). Mid-Market Revitalization Fund. SOMA Community Fund. DHS case managers, social workers, Lifeline Program Director. Project Homeless Connect. Community Benefits directors for corporations like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, ZenDesk, Zynga, and others. Major land owners, like the projected $175 million SF development with starchitect Bjark Ingalls. I’d met with multiple agencies related to the proposed Warriors SF Arena. Dandelion Chocolate, Delancey Street Foundation, Hayes Valley Bakeworks, Elmwood Cafe. Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Anthony’s, and many other nonprofits.

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Well. That was a very long-winded diversion from “What’s Next?”

Perhaps at some point I can explain (in detail) the challenges I face in gainful employment. It’s not so much that I couldn’t “get” a job. It’s much, much more complicated. Perhaps a later post. Perhaps a blog post.

Even though I’ve lived in Fresno for a few months, I’m without many basic resources. Everything is a challenge. Things are spread out here. No laptop. Limited cell service. No internet. No tv programming. No car/transportation. Constant body pain I’ve had plantar fasciitis in my left foot for more than 6 straight months. Struggles with Lifeline cellphones, laptop, essential furniture, moving costs. Not knowing a single person in my new city and home. The summer temperatures can exceed 110 degrees.

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Still, I’ve worked extremely hard to connect. I want to learn all about Fresno and the Central Valley. The culture, attitudes, ambitions, principles, the overall mindset. The current state of affairs. The goals for the future.

I’ve already met with over 150 [edit: well over 300] people I’d classify as influential: community/civic leaders, business owners, nonprofit board members/staff, educators, gallery owners/managers, and artists of all sorts.

Partial lists:

-Fresno Ideaworks, Spectrum Photo Gallery/Collective , Fresno Arts Council, CMAC: Community Media Access Collective, Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship & IFS: Innovate Fresno State, Downtown Fresno Partnership: Craig Scharton, Aaron Blair, Randall Morrison, Lupe Perez, and Rocio Andrade, EOC, CDFI, Central Valley Community Foundation, RICV, SCORE, MadeForThem, Urgent Care Wellness Center, Fashion Merchandising faculty at Fresno City College & Fresno State University.

– Bitwise Industries, Root General Store, Peeve’s Pub, Mia Cuppa Cafe, American Vintage Thrift, Raizana Tea, Cornerstone Coffee Company, Fulton Cycleworks, Dragon’s Treasure, Vogue Salon, Digital Image, Kelly Paper, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Grocery Outlet, Allard’s, A Book Barn/HBE Publishing, Authorized Vac & Sew, Stumpf and Co. Real Estate, Gazebo Garden, The Hero Alliance, Gallery Strada & AXA Associates, Liquid Fetish Gallery, Broadway Studios, Studio 74, and Security Bank Building management.

– Marc Blake, Dave Samuels, Emily Redondo, Michael Alvarez, Christian Parley, John Huewe, Donovan Solano, Richard Harrison, Nigel Robertson, Norberto Ramirez, Brandon Spain, Dave’s Not Here, Meet Me At Montauk, Marc Chenault, Nick Parmentier, Cory Ballis, Joe Morel, Robert Schmalle, Jonathan Stanley, Lois Kulikov, Tiamouya O’Guinn, Curlen Phipps, Elias Ibarra.

[edit, as of July 2016] We can add a lot more names, institutions, organizations, and businesses. Fresno Chamber of Commerce, Molucca single-origin chocolate, Rocket Dog, Tree of Life, leading mayoral candidate and current City Supervisor Henry Perea, landlords, realtors, artists, business start-ups, Shift3 Technologies, Jed Soberal, Yoshi Now! thrift store, Bebe O’s thrift store, Yosemite Falls Cafe, Superintendent Jim Yovino of the Fresno County Office of Education, Valley Small Business Development Corp. (VSBDC), Executive Director of Arte Americas, FYP Consulting, payroll specialist Rich Manfredo, criminal defense attorney Martin Taleisnik, Fresno Coin & Jewelry, author on homelessness and former Editor-In-Chief of Community Alliance newspaper Mike Rhodes, Paul Mitchell The School, AC Mart & Deli, Potters Studio, Acme Printing, Paradise Printing, Bertz-Rosa, Brenda Allison, William Roeser, Ashley Fleenor, …

Damn. 2,200 words already. And this is supposed to be “the short version” of my story? Ha ha. Yes, yes it is. Yikes.

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I want a chance to help support Fresno. I want to contribute towards the economic revitalization and development. I’ve already mentioned that earning an income complicates things for me. So, let’s not even worry about that part. I don’t even care about pay/salary/compensation. My welfare benefits would be greatly reduced. I might lose free health care and would need to pay for cell phone service. And 100% of my newly earned income is also fully taxable. I net less than 35¢ per dollar I earn from work. Stupid. Ridiculous. But true.

I broke no laws. I have no mental illness. I’ve no history of violence or criminal record. How is all of this possible? How can the system not just allow this but actually condone all of this? I don’t understand what I ever did wrong.

I struggle and suffer every single day from the most silent of crimes.

So, I choose to not worry about income (and financial security/stability). In short, that cannot happen easily. It would be an unrealistic goal. Instead…

Let me do what I love. What I CHOOSE. Help. In. Any. Way. Possible.

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I believe I have a fairly unique skillset of professional experiences and abilities. I believe I can talk about art with creatives. Or social justice/advocacy with nonprofits. Enterprise with business ventures. Civics & policy with government officials. I also feel unique qualified to discuss with policy makers what really needs to be done to help those in hardship. I’ve lived it. I know. I hope I can bring a voice to those under-served or underprivileged. Those that cannot speak up for themselves.

Maybe start new businesses. Or nonprofits. Or just work with resolve to strengthen our community in other ways? I know this all seems like a pretty boastful claim. Try me. I’ve got an IQ that’s tested over 160 in the past. I’m fairly confident I can keep up. I can learn. I can listen. Research. Network. Whatever it takes. I also still hold ambition…

And hope.

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All these meetings I’ve had. Hardly anything moves beyond a first conversation. Why? What am I not doing properly? I just want to get involved. I want to help. Fresno. Our community. My local community. In whatever ways I can.

Yes, I am in need. But I’m not asking for anything. Not soliciting a job or money or financial compensation of any sort. I am capable. But I cannot do anything alone.

I want to be a part of this exciting Fresno community.

I want to help.

This is my story. This is my plea.

Please, let me help.

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Perhaps together, we can strengthen our economy, our community, our networks.

Bring Social Justice to all.

 

 

Thanks for reading. Please be in touch. Cheers.

 

david@soju.org