By Marianna Moles
“The moral of the story is never give up. Stick with it,” said Rodney. He seemed to come to this realization after telling his story of how he became homeless for 30 years.
He was born in Detroit, Michigan. His mother was a secretary, and his alcoholic father was a Motown song-writer. “He was a rolling stone and wrote the song, too. Temptations, Marvin Gaye…everything having to do with Motown he was involved,” said Rodney. But years down the road, the IRS took everything his father owned, including royalties.
After five years, his mother left his father to go live with her parents. It wasn’t an easy transition for Rodney, who was getting picked on by kids at school. He believes this is why he became a bully. He also believes he had a focusing problem, which made school work tough. “It could have been drugs, but I think it was a learning disability,” said Rodney. “Nobody saw that so I started rebelling.”
Years later, they moved to Los Angeles to a house up the streets from where the Black Panthers were marching. All through high school Rodney witnessed gang activity but couldn’t understand it and thought to himself there was no way he would get involved. Instead, he focused on football and relied on his coach as a great mentor, who he still admires today. “Rest in peace now,” said Rodney. “He told me anything I ever needed, just let me know.”
Eventually he followed his mother up to Palo Alto with $300 in his pocket given to him by his step-father. But his inability to focus caught up with him, so he dropped out of school and moved out of his mother’s house. “I didn’t get very far,” he recalls. “I slept outside in the car. Sometimes I would sleep there all day long.” He was 16 years old when his life took a steep turn.
He began stealing to survive. “I had to rush my childhood,” said Rodney. “To this day I still believe that sometimes I still act like a child – it’s still in me. I’m not always responsible.”
Soon he was pushing a shopping cart filled with his belongings. He was homeless for years until he married at 21 and had his first son, Cody, “Eleven pounds, 12 ounces,” he recites easily – as if he was born yesterday. But when his wife left with his son, Rodney got back into drugs and was evicted from his home. “I was going crazy. I couldn’t eat or sleep for a year,” said Rodney. History repeated itself when his daughter was born, who he hasn’t seen since 1974.
All in all, Rodney was homeless for about 30 years. For 10 of those he lived at “the wall,” behind Palo Alto Medical Center, with many Vietnam veterans and also in Coyote Creek under the bridge. He experimented with heroine to stay warm and also turned to alcohol. “I started drinking and getting high to deal with all the things I was feeling,” said Rodney.
The first time he went to prison was for a burglary. “My hair was still long. I should have kept my hair, but it was a new start,” he said chuckling. Through the years he went back to jail for petty crimes – for four years each time.
“I don’t blame anyone for my lifestyle but the minister at the Red Cross near the Opportunity Center gave me hope,” said Rodney.
Once out of jail for what would be the last time, he joined Downtown Streets and was quickly promoted to a Team Lead (Green Shirt). “I started looking for work but I was getting discouraged because of my record.”
His persistence and never-give-up-attitude has literally paid off. Now he’s housed and hired and he can hardly believe it. “I’ve been working for Santa Clara Convention Center since May (2013). Never thought with my background I’d be working for a place like that,” said Rodney. “And they love me there.” His face breaks into a huge smile.
What kept him going through 30 years of homelessness? “I used my mama for inspiration. Through the whole time she never gave up, through all the moving and getting beat down. That stuck with me,” said Rodney. “When you’re feeing bad and its’ not working out, you gotta hold onto people saying ‘hold on – you’ll be fine.’”
Editor’s Note: Rodney is working full-time, married and housed.