Lying on a small patch of grass on the southern end of the San Diego Harbor, John Mark Pumphery scribbles away in his notebook. From a distance, it's hard to tell Pumphery is homeless. He's dressed well in red and white Nike Air Jordans, jeans, a nice leather belt and a matching red and white athletic shirt.
Pumphery collects $940 a month from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for a mental illness he refuses to categorize. The money paid for a one-room apartment in Texas, but when he moved to San Diego, he couldn't make ends meet. He's been living on the streets now for a little over a year.
Medication isn't the answer for Pumphery. He says that 'whatever it was they gave me made me feel like I'd been run over... like I'd been hit by a truck.'
He says he'd rather work than be homeless and collect government money, but he's never been given the chance.
'I haven't ever got the job to hold down, you see,' he says, then holds up his right hand to swear on an invisible Bible. 'I haven't filled out many applications--that's my own confession.'
Even if Pumphery were given a chance at a job, though, it's not likely he'd last. The 49-year-old Texan alternates between lucidity and confusion--sometimes within the same breath. One moment, his soft Southern accent and exaggerated hand gestures are mesmerizing, almost convincing, and in the next, he's mumbling about biblical numbers and 'holy rollers.'
But in his moments of clarity, Pumphery makes a lot of sense.
'Those of us on SSI,' he says with one eye squinting against the bright afternoon sun, the other wide open and focused, 'we're not quite in touch with reality. We're in the clouds. We just wait around for stuff to be brought to us.
'The worst part about being homeless,' he says later, 'is not having an apartment.'