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My Son is Homeless

My Son is Homeless

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A Parent’s View of Homelessness

You wake in the middle of the night to the sound of somebody rustling through your garbage can. You get out of bed, peak through the window blinds, and see the disheveled white man, hands blackened, calloused, the size of boxing gloves. You watch as he loads cans into one garbage bag, glass into another and balances the bags on the sides of his shopping cart.

He finds the pizza left over from the party you hosted a week ago and eats it with ravenous appetite. He reaches further down, retrieves your old baggy jeans and puts them on over his layers of clothes. As he walks away his gait falters and you may think he has the unbalanced shuffle of a drunk. You return to your bed and listen to the fading clamor of glass and metal as the cart rolls on to the next dumpster.

The man is my son. He’s 42 years old and has lived on the streets of West Oakland for four years. Legs painful and swollen tight under baggy jeans, he lumbers down the streets in the darkest hours of the night, towing that shopping cart with a car sized load of other people’s trash.

He turns the trash into money at Alliance Recycling Center, hoping to earn enough to survive another day. At dawn he returns to his home – a lean-to of plywood and tarps behind the freeway, away from the majority of the homeless. He is an outcast even here among his peers.

Our son was raised in a middle class home within a wealthy community. He struggled with the haughtiness of his peers, failed to meet the standards of one of the best school districts in the area, and looked for a way to escape. Not able to change his physical environment, he found a way to change his mental environment.

He discovered drugs – on the streets of Lafayette. By the time he was 14 he was in a drug rehab program, followed by years of family therapy. Nothing worked. He dropped out of school, couldn’t hold a job and couldn’t stay out of trouble.

Trying to live with addiction, ripped the family apart. Tired of drug dealers knocking on the door, middle of the night rampages, and fearing for our safety we needed to let him move on. For years we found places for him to stay – mobile homes, apartments, a house in West Oakland, a van, a car. Each time he faced eviction for one reason or another.

Our resources have diminished to the point where our help is no longer possible. Our son refuses to stay in a shelter or go to another rehab facility. We can’t force him.

“There are too many rules and restrictions,” he says. “I don’t need that kind of help.” It’s denial of the disease that prevents recovery; his denial further complicated by a severe head injury sustained when he was hit by a semi-truck.

One day he tells us he is content to be living on the streets. The next day he begs to live with us. This is not an option. We cannot live with his hoarded trash, lapses of sobriety and an uneven temperament. He cannot live with our ideals, restrictions and rules. I keep my distance, physically and mentally, for my own wellbeing.

My relationship with our son is tenuous, careful and cautious, hinged on years of conflict. I am heartbroken when I see our son. This sad unkempt man is not the happy fastidious child we raised. I have grieved the loss of that child for nearly three decades. His sky blue eyes are now sunken behind the gaunt mask of his hardened face, his breath reeks the odor of rotten teeth.

His immune system is compromised by Hepatitis C and heart valve damage from Endocarditis resulting in frequent hospital visits. These are the most difficult times. Each time he is hospitalized we visit and we wonder, will this be the last time?

When he is well enough by the standards of our government’s policies, he is forced to leave the hospital without a follow-up plan. With nowhere to go but the streets, he struggles until the next time – sometimes days later, sometimes months later. We wait for the next phone call.

I watch as my husband’s health declines. He chooses to stay connected with daily trips to Oakland, ensuring our son gets his methadone dose and a hot breakfast, bringing him home to bathe when his body oozes with infection. Too many missed daily appointments at the methadone clinic results in removal from the program. The addict ends up in withdrawals and seeks street drugs to ease the pain, exacerbating the problem.

See Also

This is not only our story. Every one of those homeless people that you see has a family somewhere. Homelessness, like addiction, affects the entire family.

We live with guilt when we sit down at the family table with the empty chair and as we tuck ourselves under warm covers on a cold and stormy night. Holidays and birthdays go by with regrets. What could we have done differently? We know we did the best we could but the guilt still haunts us.

What can you do? Advocate for the poor. Help to keep the recycle centers open. When you see a homeless person, talk to him (or her). Remind them there are people who care. Acknowledge them.

Share what you can even if it is only a smile. Spare change, food, toiletries, even clean socks can be a Godsend. I have a cousin who spends his money on a new jacket before it’s needed and then finds a homeless person for his old one. He was homeless once. He knows.

Remember – there is no guarantee that you will always have a roof over your head.


My son Jason, featured in the documentary 'Dogtown Redemption'
My son Jason, featured in the documentary ‘Dogtown Redemption’

For more information, please watch the documentary, Dogtown Redemption, which features my son. A sixty-minute version is available online until August 15th .
To find where it is playing in your area visit

View Comments (14)
  • Hello, I know these posts are old but if someone is reading this, I am in desperate need of advice,?? My son is 33 and he’s homeless, he lives in a rented car, he was recently evicted from his apartment because he couldn’t pay his rent, he works for Uber eats and he has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology however, he did get his real state License but has no money to pay his real state dues, He doesn’t know that I know he’s homeless, I found out from a friend who he calls quite often, I have tried telling him to come home so he can save money to buy a car and start his career, He left home right after college because his father caught him with drugs, All I do is worry, he lives in a rented car and knows he can come home, I tell him I love him and that I’m so proud of him on getting his real state license but at the same time I’m baffled?? I don’t know what’s wrong with him and why won’t communicate with me??

  • Hello, my 34 year old son is homeless. I have done all I can for him and now I have to let go. He is in a very toxic relationship with someone that I believe has mental problems. He brought her into my home and I knew nothing about her. I was trying to help them out, but they were stealing from me, destroying my apartment and being disruptive. I have done so much, but they have no sense of responsibility. Long story, but they recently had a baby girl who was taken away by CPS. They are still doing drugs and not following court orders. I just can’t deal with this any more. I am trying to get visitations with my granddaughter and maybe take custody. I’ve pleaded with my son to get help many times but I can’t make him. I pray constantly and try to find some peace. I don’t want to answer his calls because need to just let go. Please pray for us. There is so much more to say but it gives me comfort to know that I am not alone. What should I do?

  • My beautiful son is homeless. He’s 22 and broken. My heart is also broken. I’ve lived years of tormented hell trying to help him, enabling him, trying to protect myself from not only the endless gut wrenching heartache but also from his aggressive and volatile tendencies that I would forgive at the drop of a hat. He’s been in and out of mental health since the age of 16 and on and off medication, drugs, and whatever he can find to stay sane. I can’t live with him, been there, tried that, with absolutely disastrous results. Going to rock bottom and further has not been an easy journey with him. I can’t be near him because it hurts too much to watch someone you love destroy themselves and refuse to get help, yet I so desperately crave to hold him and keep him safe, to give him the unconditional love that I am supposed to be giving him as a loving mother should and would, if I could. If only I could. If only things were different. Tears stream as I write this, for my broken son, still a little boy in my heart and mind, the little boy that once cuddled and chatted and snuggled up with books and fluffy toys with all the love in the world. How much I hate the cruelty of life sometimes. How much I loathe my guilt and wish I could stop the forever nagging ache in my heart and soul for him. So now all I can do is pray and cry, cry and pray for my lonely broken young man who has nothing but the bag on his back and shoes on his feet. To those who judge mothers like us, please don’t. You will never ever know the anguish we live with day in and day out, or why and how we got to this space in the first place.

  • My son is homeless. 43 years old. We have tried having him home but he has burned bridges with his step father. I have helped him way too much. Rooms, food anything to ease my pain and guilt for him being homeless.
    He is in a bad relationship which has lead him to jail twice. They are water and oil and the funny thing about this is there are no drugs
    He had a job and she went to Portland and begged him to come. Now there is no car, no job, no shelter and I cannot help
    He had a car and was headed to Texas for a job. The car blew up near Bakersfield. That is a story in itself. He managed to get a job and was doing good
    He has been clean for a couple 4 years now but can’t seem to get it going.
    I feel horrible but the time has come for me to step back and let things happen.
    I believe in prayer and that God is the answer. Not me
    Thank you for sharing your story I believe the part that we grieve for that beautiful person that we knew
    God bless you and your son

    • Jennife,
      I’m sorry it took so long for me to respond. Somehow I lost track of this posting. Anyway, thank you for your comments. I hope things are going better for you.

  • You are the most vile, disgusting person I’ve ever read about. Surely, there must be a middle ground between enabling your son and leaving him to rot in the streets. Why don’t you let him live with you but punish him for behaving badly? Throw his alcohol away; change the wi-fi password; lock your refrigerator with chains, so he can’t eat anything tasty; confiscate his entertainment; *temporarily* suspend him from your home.


    • My son is 21 and is homeless !! He’s on drugs , so therefore he can not live with us , he had drugs and did drugs in our house! We do not trust him he has stolen items to sell for drugs!! It kills me every day to think about him living like this but I can’t help until he decides he’s done with drugs

  • I feel compelled to write because I too am going through situation right now with my 40-year-old son I cannot take him into my home I do help him way more than I should because he doesn’t seem even ready to go to work yet even though he says he doesn’t want to do drugs anymore but when I tell him that he needs to get a job he seems to get really upset and feels like I’m pushing him he says he can handle it on his own but yet when he’s on his own he calls me crying because he’s hungry or out of the rain has nowhere to go I offer my prayers and concern to all children and parents please pray for my son Ruben and all homeless they are all someone’s child and a parent somewhere is worried but helpless as am I

  • Please I’m begging for help I’m doin to be homeless no family or friends no one and no one cares I’m a throw away I’m a non priority please I’m begging

  • I read your story. It’s great. It’s not great that your son is in this position. But it’s good to hear the other side that we don’t often hear, which is the parents. (If there ever are any) there’s always hope.

  • My heart goes out to you. I have received a great deal of support from Alon. We lesarn to
    “LET GO AND LET GOD”. This enables us to live our own lives and to stop all enabling. Our loved.ones will have to hit bottom (different for everyone). Prayer is the only thing we can do for them. Beating ourselves up about only takes time away from our prayers. The stark truth is sobriety or death.
    I’ll pray for you and Jason. My first husband died drunk. My son, we forced into a rehab. He sobered up but died in a motorcycle accident. At least he is at peace now-somethings he almost never had.

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