Jesus: The Grandfather
Sixty-five-year-old Jesus tears up when he talks about his apartment. In a mixture of Spanish and English, he says, “It is so beautiful. I have furniture too.” To Jesus, who’s spent years on the streets, it’s a castle.
Thirty-six years ago Jesus left his family and traveled from Mexico to California. His first job was in a McDonald’s, where he “ate too many hamburgers and wanted to be outside.”
He found construction work, but the hours were long and tensions escalated at home with his wife and two children. Jesus found himself in court trying to save his marriage and family. He lost and walked away without a job or home.
Eventually he stumbled upon a soup kitchen and stashed food in his pockets for later. Jesus spent seven years on the streets, three of those in cardboard boxes on L.A.’s famed Skid Row. He used drugs; he had sex with women, men, anyone, he says, who might help him survive. He went days without eating, causing his weight to plummet to 130 pounds and putting him close to death.
Jesus still thinks about that time when he cooks a healthy meal for himself. Lorraine, his nutritionist, has shown Jesus how to prepare dishes that help to lower cholesterol, using the grocery vouchers from Alliance for Housing and Healing. His illnesses—AIDS, syphilis, advanced glaucoma, an injured knee, high cholesterol, and mental issues—are debilitating. He takes more than 34 pills a day, sees several doctors regularly, and has had operations on his eyes.
On sunnier days, Jesus rides his bike around his neighborhood. “It is shiny, gray, and says ‘Comfortable’ on the side.… I keep it in the apartment. People tell me that a bike belongs outside, but it is a treasure. I would never leave it outside.”
The bike was a gift from his estranged wife, with whom he is now on good terms. Jesus is also in touch with his son, daughter, and 16-year-old grandson.
“The Lord gave me the chance to live when so many others died,” he says.