It's a gorgeous, cloudless, breezy Monday morning on the eastern shore of San Diego Bay, and Bruce, a baseball cap pulled down low over his brow, sits solemnly on a bench and peers past the U.S.S. Midway and out over the water.A 52-year-old San Diego native, soft-spoken and rugged, Bruce has been sleeping near Seaport Village for the better part of nine months since he was released from federal prison, having been pushed out of the civic center area by police. They don't bother the homeless much by the bay, he says.
His recent stay at the federal pen was his second on drug charges—the first was nearly eight years for conspiracy to make and sell meth—and it cost him nearly three years' worth of the supplemental security income he gets because he suffers from severe depression and schizophrenia. Bruce, who sees a doctor at a free clinic once a month, believes he's been mentally ill all his life. One of two boys raised in Clairemont by a single mom, Bruce says he was always in trouble in school and was regularly beat up by his older brother. He says he started “self-medicating” with weed and beer when he was just 8.
“I don't know what it's like not to be depressed, he says. “I'm always depressed.”
He also suffers from visual hallucinations, but they aren't nearly as bad as the audio variety—the voices in his head that sometimes urge him to commit suicide. “I call them ‘The Committee' because some of them I can identify, and some I can't,” he says. “I hear them just like you and I are talking. I start looking around for whoever it is talking to me, but no one's there.”
Bruce last worked 12 years ago—he was a “tin banger,” a heating and air-conditioning duct installer. He was married for 17 years until his wife died more than a decade ago. He has three children of his own, plus four stepchildren, and 12 grandkids. He remains in contact with his family. “I talk to my youngest daughter just about every day,” he says. He's too proud to turn to them for help. “I could ask. They'd probably say, ‘Yeah, come on.' But, you know, I don't think children should be taking care of their parents. Parents should be taking care of their children. But they're all successful adults now; they've got good jobs and stuff, and they've got their own families to worry about, so I don't want to tax them just to help me. I can help myself, I think.”
And that's what he's doing. Bruce says he's been clean for 33 months and, with the help of an attorney, he convinced a judge last week to reinstate his SSI and grant him nine months' worth of back pay.
After a long wait, he was scheduled to get a bed at the St. Vincent de Paul shelter this past Tuesday. Once the SSI “starts rolling in,” he says, “then I'll get my own place again, and I'll be alright.” He'd like to go back to school to learn computer technology.
“I have a goal,” he says. “My goal is to live maybe 20 more years and see my youngest grandson's children. He's only 3 years old right now, but I want to see him have kids.”
His future won't be easy, what with his depression. Bruce holds himself responsible for his plight. “I don't like to bitch and complain about it,” he says. “It's nobody's fault but my own.”
Though he's promised a bed if he shows up the next morning, he'll believe it when he sees it.
“I always expect the worst and hope for the best,” he says. “In my life, usually what happens is I'll be hoping for the best, but… nothing turns out right,” he says. “Something gets in the way, and it doesn't happen. So, I don't really get my hopes up anymore.”
Write to email@example.com.