Joe Gomez is 46, looks 36 and won't live to see 56. He was told four months ago that he has three to five years left, partially a result of being HIV-positive but mostly due to a rapidly deteriorating liver ravaged by years of drinking. "My doctor compared it to a stream," Joe says. "Once you go past a certain point, like going over a waterfall, there's no going back."
He says this matter-of-factly as he lies on a blanket in the grass across from the San Diego Zoo. A beer bottle concealed inside a brown paper bag rests against his chest. An open book, The Power of Simple Prayer by Joyce Meyer, sits face-down in front of him.
"I didn't think it'd affect me that much, but it does bother me," Joe says of his prognosis. "The alcohol helps. There's no reason not to drink at this point."
Joe came to San Diego from Dallas when he was 18 to meet his birth mother for the first time. He finished high school at Monte Vista in Spring Valley before joining the Air Force and becoming a military policeman.
"Law enforcement," he chuckles gently. "I know, it's weird."
Joe spent "two years and two months" in the Air Force before being honorably discharged after "I started having trouble with this," he says, motioning toward the paper bag.
His mother lives in Hemet, but the two no longer keep in touch. The only family member Joe has regular contact with is a younger sister living in Joshua Tree. He plans to attend her wedding in September.
Joe's been homeless for 10 to 15 years. His disability check gives him enough money to live on, but not enough for an apartment.
"I've tried," he says, "but it doesn't make much sense to spend all my money on a place with nothing in it. It would just all go to rent and nothing else."
Joe keeps to himself mostly and spends his days in city libraries when he isn't using his bus pass to travel to the various churches and charities around town.
"It's pretty easy being homeless in San Diego as long as the weather's good," he says. "You can always find a place to get food and clothes, and I go to the VA for my medical."
He is soft-spoken but cheerful as the sun begins to droop in the sky. He isn't resigned to his fate. But he's made peace with it.
"This is pretty much what my life is going to be," Joe says. "It isn't much of a life but I'm making it one."