As he flips a cardboard sign for cars passing the corner of 11th Avenue and A Street, Brian Whitworths enthusiasm belies his daily struggles. Hes so friendly and eager to talk that its easy to forget hes been living on the streets for years.
[Ive been] homeless on and off. I get jobs, and Ill get a place, then Ill lose the job or the place. One of the two will tumble, he says.
Born into a large Irish family, Brian was removed from his home as a toddler by Child Protective Services. He was adopted by a family in Rancho Palos Verdes and had a happy childhood until his mother died of cancer when he was a teen. This was closely followed by his fathers heart attack.
It kinda tore him up. And I went awry, too, he says. After my mom died, I started drinking. Pops wasnt keeping tabs on me.
Brian joined the Navy, which he says taught him the importance of respecting authority. Its apparent through his strong eye contact and clear communication that time in the service positively affected him.
It was a great experience. I was in the Hospital Corps, and I got an honorable discharge from em. I learned a lothow to speak correctly and not disrespect people, he says. But since I was peacetime Navy, I dont get benefits.
After his discharge, Brian worked at a pizza crust factory in Spokane, Wash., until problems with a girlfriend put him on a bus heading to San Diego eight years ago. Since then, hes spent time in Hollywood and Modesto, where he worked at a recycling center, but he soon found himself unemployed again.
I lasted about a year with that job. It was great, and I was in the union. So alcohol really will cut you down quick. As a young man, its OK, but as you get older, you cant call and say I got the brown bottle flu, boss, he reflects. Alcohols legal, but its one of the hardest [substances] on the body.
Although he occasionally speaks to his father and his adopted siblings, he hasnt seen them in years. He says hed like to get into a treatment program through the Rock Church.
There are people who really do care, he says.
He prefers to stay away from homeless centers due to the conflict that tends to occur there.
If you mix the mentally ill, the drug addicts and the alcoholics all in one area, its volatile. People just dont get along.