Feb. 26 2008 01:55 AM

Our weekly series putting faces on San Diego's homeless

Like many native San Diegans, Steve (not his real name) grew up with a surf obsession he just couldn't shake. After riding the waves for years, Steve says his parents, a well-off Coronado couple, eventually called a family meeting, during which his uncle offered him a fully paid college education and a brand new surfboard, as long as he agreed to take life more seriously.

“And I just said no,” Steve recalls. “That's not what I want to do. I want to go surfing tomorrow.”

So he surfed. Then he tried his hand at professional volleyball, and he wasn't bad at that. But a broken neck put an end to his dreams, and his new goal became opening a surf shop in Mexico. By this time, his family had given up on him.

“I was always so promising in the industries I was working in, and my family saw that,” Steve says, “but then I'd drop everything to go on these spontaneous surf trips.”

A year ago, Steve took a trip down to Tijuana and rented an apartment in preparation for opening a surf shop, but two months into his stay, his financing fell apart. Homeless, he crossed back to San Diego.

“At first, I thought [sleeping on the streets] would be just like another one of my surf trips,” he says.

But it wasn't. One rainy night, while he was standing under a bridge after recovering from slipping on another homeless man's feces, he told himself he was done living on the streets.

“I finally reached a spot where I was just kinda telling myself maybe it's just over,” he says. “Maybe the word ‘temporary' has been temporary.”

Steve joined up at Saint Vincent de Paul, a downtown homelessness charity, but he found the programs too fast-paced. So, for the first time in his life, at the age of 36, he made a decision to do something a bit more permanent. Two months ago, he signed up for the yearlong program at the San Diego Rescue Mission, a religious homelessness charity in Bankers Hill. He's using the year to get his life in order: He's working toward going back to school and getting a good job.

If he completes the Rescue Mission program, he'll have earned 12 college credits. “I have an opportunity to just leap into what I've always wanted, which is a college education,” he says.

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