Homelessness in San Diego: My Friend, Bobby

by on August 27, 2012 · 9 comments

in Culture, Politics

Last night, my friend, Bobby, died. A San Diego, CA native, Robert Eugene Ojala, 56 years old, was homeless. Bobby was grateful for the hospital and residential hospice care he received which enabled him to spend his last several weeks indoors and free of pain.

After run-ins with the law, Bobby found Jesus and changed his attitude about life. Although he may not have often attended formal services, Bobby spoke about how important Christian values were to him. He also had a sense of humor about himself. Tattoos from his earlier beliefs covered his torso, both legs and arms. He knew that the sight of his tattoos sometimes caused people to be afraid of him.

Bobby would explain to me, “That person is afraid of me because of my tattoos.” He knew that there was nothing to be afraid of because he did his best to act according to Christian beliefs. I would tell Bobby that it was a shame that people were afraid of him because I knew him so differently. In response, he just smiled.

Bobby would tell me about his life in the riverbed. He prided himself on having created a home around his 18-inch foam mattress bed that supported his pain-tortured body. Although he had made friends with many people in positions of authority, one day when he was gone, someone cleared out his “home.” Bobby was devastated: “Where will I go? Why did they do this to me? What can I do now?”

Bobby was very respectful of me. Although he walked with a cane, he always managed to hold doors open for me so I could precede him as we walked into buildings. My friend was also contrary. When I said, “red,” he would say, “blue.” One day, I asked Bobby why he was so contrary. “What do you mean?” Bobby asked. “Well, when I say, ‘red,’ you say, ‘blue.’” Smiling Bobby said, “You mean ‘chartreuse.’” See what I mean – always contrary.

Bobby was brilliant and very logical. For example, one day I made an appointment to meet Bobby at a convenience store between 1pm and 3pm. I had a noon appointment elsewhere and felt that range of time would give me the flexibility I needed to meet him. However, an unexpected change in that noon appointment allowed me to arrive at the convenience store promptly at 1pm. And I was sitting there for over two hours when up strolled Bobby.

My patience worn thin, I exclaimed to Bobby, “Where have you been? I’ve been here for two hours and 15 minutes waiting for you.” Calmly, Bobby replied, “You said to be here between 1pm and 3pm. It’s 3:15pm. I’m fifteen minutes late.” Upon reflection, I could see that I created the wait for myself by not giving a specific time for our meeting. So I said to Bobby, “Well, next time I’ll just pick a specific time to meet, like 3pm.”

“That’s fine,” he said, “I’ll be there by 3:15pm.” Our exchange still makes me chuckle.

Apparently, Bobby had promised his late wife that he would put roses on her grave. His wife, Robyn, died in 2006. Six years later, he still wore his wedding band. Although Bobby was unable to fulfill this promise, several kind people at hospice were able to locate the tiny cemetery in a remote part of Georgia where Robyn is probably buried. We will need to investigate a little further, but I’d like to see if we can honor Bobby by putting roses on Robyn’s grave.

To Bobby, I say, “Rest In Peace, Dear Friend.”

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Christine Schanes

Christine Schanes, J.D., Ph.D., is a consultant and public educator in the area of homelessness. Christine is director of two departments within Nos Amis/Our Friends, Inc.: (1) the new Center for Justice and Social Compassion (www.centerforjusticeandsocialcompassion.org) and (2) Children Helping Poor and Homeless People (www.chphp.com), co-founded by Christine and her two children, Chrissy, age 8, and Patrick, age 6 over twenty years ago. Today, CHPHP is a nationally recognized educational outreach program conducted by children and teens with adult advisors that encourages direct service.
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avatar John Lawrence August 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

The homeless are becoming an increasing sub-class in the US. They are not even included in “the poor”. They are thought of as beneath the poor. They are never mentioned in political speeches. There are huge numbers of vacant buildings in the US which could provide homes. Every day supermarkets throw away half of the perfectly edible food they get from distributors because it doesn’t meet esthetic standards. The key to reforming or remaking this society is the demand that everyone should be housed and fed and get medical attention regardless of ability to pay.

avatar Christine Schanes August 27, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Hi, John,

Thanks for your comment.

I could not agree with you more. It’s all about the political will of the people. I believe that we just don’t have the will to end homelessness at this time. If we did, we could make demands upon our politicians and get things done politically to truly help homeless people.

Right now the majority of us are afraid – afraid of homeless people and afraid of becoming homeless ourselves.

Because we fear homelessness, we turn our heads and refuse to see homeless people as they truly are – just people without homes.

The answer is to get to know homeless people. That knowledge destroys the fear.

Without fear, we will have the political will to help our brothers and sisters who are homeless.

Any further thoughts?

Christine

avatar Caridad SD August 28, 2012 at 8:35 am

Bobby was a friend of Caridad. Do you know anything about funeral arrangements?

avatar Christine Schanes August 28, 2012 at 8:40 am

Caridad,

Thanks for contacting me. Please accept my sincere condolences upon the loss of your friend. I am grateful to know that you were Bobby’s friend, too.

The San Diego Public Administrator is in charge of making all decisions in this regard. Just contact that office for further info.

Please keep in touch.

Christine

avatar Cheri July 25, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I was saddened to hear about Bobby, he was my brother-in-law and you are right he was a good person who just made bad choices. You can post here if you would like to know where my sister is buried, I would be more than willing to help you in anyway I can to help honor Bobby’s love of Robyn.

avatar Christine Schanes July 26, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Cheri,

Thank you so much for writing. Of course, I would like to know where your Sister, Robyn, is buried. I tried to find this out earlier but to no avail.

Bobby was a wonderful person and we cared for each other as brother and sister. He was always kind, thoughtful and generous. And he spoke about Robyn all the time. He truly loved her and missed her. Bobby would get very quiet when he spoke of Robyn, almost like she was near him and he would be saying words about Robyn directly to her.

It was my honor to hear about his heart-felt feelings for Robyn.

I do not have Bobby’s ashes, otherwise, I would send them to you to be put near Robyn. That was his desire. However, I believe that they are together now. And I kind of see Bobby’s big grin of agreement when I’m writing this.

If you would let me know where Robyn is buried, I would appreciate it. For the last year and a half of Bobby’s life Robyn was a major topic of his conversation with me.

Robyn must have been a truly wonderful person for Bobby to have such enormous love for her.

Best Wishes,
Christine

avatar Christine Schanes July 26, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Cheri,

I just had a thought. Could you leave roses on Robyn’s grave on behalf of Bobby? That’s what he wanted to do, particularly the last week of his life. If that would be possible, that would be wonderful.

Best Wishes,
Christine

avatar jana jamer July 25, 2013 at 11:19 pm

sorry to hear about your loss!

avatar Christine Schanes July 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Jana,

Thank you for expressing your sympathy to Cheri. I believe Bobby’s passing was a great loss to everyone who knew him.

Please stay in touch,
Christine

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