Belinda Darby, 48, is looking forward to her granddaughter's eighth-grade graduation next month. She spends most of her time around Market and 15th streets, so when the day arrives, she'll get cleaned up at the nearby Neil Good Day Center, put on her best clothing and wait for her daughter, who lives in National City, to pick her up. Unlike so many homeless people, Darby still has a strong relationship with her only child and her granddaughter. Her daughter even pays for a cell phone so Darby can stay in touch.
So why doesn't she just live with her?
“She has her own life to lead,” Darby said. “I don't want to interfere with that.”
Born in Decatur, Ill., Darby, her four siblings and her parents moved to Chula Vista in 1968, when she was 8. She graduated from Bonita Vista High School, went to college and eventually got a job in computers, working for IBM in National City. She met her husband and moved to Oram, Utah, where he died suddenly at his desk in 1990, from a massive heart attack. Devastated, Darby took her daughter to live near her sister in Florida, where she stayed until 2002, when her parents became ill. She spent four years taking care of them until, in 2006, her father died.
Four years out of the workforce and heartbroken, Darby had a nervous breakdown. She couldn't work, she couldn't eat, she couldn't sleep. She eventually had to be hospitalized. When she got out of the hospital, she was out of cash and out of ideas. So she took to the streets.
“I'd still rather be indoors, but I've found great people here,” she said.
Indeed, she's got a little crew of her own: Anthony, John and Chavonne all sit with her on milk crates along 15th Street. Before CityBeat showed up, they were chatting and laughing.
“Anthony took care of me,” she said. “He's been out here 15 years. He helped me lay out my cardboard at night and showed me that Albertson's would let us use their bathrooms.”
She's looking for work—any work, she said—but she's found a stable life for herself on the street. “There's an extended family out here.”
And she has a warning for working San Diegans who look down on her: “I was where you were once. Don't think it can't happen to you.”