Donna Faye Lankford sits cross-legged on a downtown sidewalk in front of a row of newspaper boxes near the waterfront. She's wearing a black hooded sweater and sweat pants. Her face is tan and weathered, her smile bright and frequent.
“You can call me Dino the Dinosaur,” she says. “You know, the pet dinosaur from The Flintstones.”
It's a nickname she was given by a friend in her hometown of Mesquite, Texas (a suburb of Dallas). She gives her age as “41 and holding” and says she's been living in San Diego for more than six years after leaving Texas to visit a friend in Long Beach only to discover she didn't have enough money for the return trip.
She hesitates to offer details of her life, instead issuing brief responses punctuated with laughter followed by silence. She can't remember the last time she had contact with family (“probably at least three years,” she says). She's stayed at a couple different shelters in San Diego and occasionally gets food from local churches but says she doesn't like the restrictions placed on her by charitable organizations.
“I'm my own person,” Lankford says. “I don't like somebody trying to tell me where to live and how. They always question you about where you're going. Why would I want anybody to know where I'm going?”
Lankford has thought about leaving San Diego, but says her efforts have been hampered by her inability to obtain and keep an identification card. And while she knows a lot of people on the streets, she prefers to keep her own company. The worst part of living on the streets, she says, is relying on other people for basic necessities.
“I work for myself,” Lankford says, laughing. “It doesn't pay too good, but it's OK.”
Lankford spends most of her days sitting on sidewalks, reading newspapers and panhandling. She has seven pennies, two nickels, a dime and a silver dollar neatly stacked on the pavement in front of her. She thinks long and hard about what she would ask for if given the opportunity.
“Everything I need to get my life started, you know?” she says. “Money. Food. Clothes—and a blanket.” She starts laughing, then pauses, still smiling.
“This isn't funny,” she says, falling silent again.