Dusk was falling on a cold December Saturday, made all the darker by clouds and light rain. At a strip mall in Santa Clara, shoppers hurried along the sidewalk to the entrance of a CVS Pharmacy. A homeless man had found shelter on the sidewalk under the store overhang.
Shoppers couldn’t miss seeing him. One shopper extended his hand, giving the man—who was not asking for it—cash.
“There’s a lot of depression and stress during the holidays,” shared the homeless man, “but it’s easier to get money this time of year because people are out shopping.”
The man had all the comforts of a life on the streets around him. A bicycle, a backpack, a ground cloth and the blue sleeping bag he was sitting inside. White plastic bags contained carryout food. He guarded suitcases for his homeless girlfriend. His cell phone was on the ground, connected to a mobile hotspot.
He opened a quart bottle of Jim Beam Honey and took a swig, following up with a swig from a bottle of Coca-Cola.
“You caught me on the one day I was drinking,” he said ruefully. “Staying sober is the hardest.”
Perhaps it was the Jim Beam that made Jason agree to share his story when asked. Perhaps he liked the attention on a melancholy evening as he waited for his girlfriend of eight years.
Jason said that his girlfriend is “chronically homeless,” so he stays with her on the streets, which, even in Santa Clara, is risky. On May 30, 2021, just before 3 a.m., they were attacked while sleeping near City Hall.
“We were attacked by a man with a hand ax,” said Jason. “He attacked us bad. First me, then her. Then he took off. I called the police.”
Both Jason and his girlfriend were seriously injured in the attempted homicide. Jason was in the hospital for about three months.
Their alleged attacker, identified as Robert Smith, was apprehended by the Santa Clara Police on June 3, 2021. Smith, also unhoused, is being held at a mental health facility until he is competent to stand trial, according to Lt. Tyson Shearer.
Jason attended Blackford High School, which was a continuation school in San Jose, and received a GED. He attended college off and on. He did time in jail. He earned a Santa Clara Valley Green Gardener Certificate.
His parents are deceased. He has two brothers, one in California and the other out of state.
“They don’t want me to do it [live on the streets],” said Jason.
He has been on the streets off and on for about ten years and survives on a meager social security disability check.
Jason’s belongings were recently stolen from a homeless camp. He had to buy new clothing, a tent, sleeping bag and food.
“And I buy my girlfriend a couple beers a day,” he added.
Also, he has to pay his phone bill and $300 for monthly rent.
Surprisingly, Jason is not actually homeless. He has permanent, subsidized housing in Palo Alto. Traveling by bus and bicycle, he returns to his apartment periodically to shower and regroup. His girlfriend has been banned from overnight stays because of rowdiness.
“She needs to straighten up her act—no alcohol,” said Jason. “Both of us try not to drink, but it’s hard.”
“Tell everybody ‘Merry Christmas’ for me,” he said, lying down and pulling his sleeping bag up to his neck. “I really hope people can come home for Christmas.”
And with that, the curious, chance interview was over.