There are many homeless people here in San Diego. I suppose I should make that statement more universal and say that there are many homeless people all around the world, but we need to zoom in on this particular situation. In certain areas like Pacific Beach they are quite ostentatious about it, strolling around with their baby buggies or wheelchairs full of belongings, relaxing on the benches overlooking the sea, particularly the ones close to public restrooms. Some are pathetic, like the one I sat behind on a city bus until the stench overpowered me; I thought that he had just given up bathing, but it turned out he had voided his bowels and bladder right there on the bus seat. Some are intellectual, like the one I came across on the Pacific Beach esplanade with his Mac Book propped on top of his luggage. Some are sociable, like those who gather on the patches of grass near the esplanade smoking cigarettes and chatting. My homelessness lately, however, has been of a different sort.
I have been staying in cheap hotels while searching for a house. The hotels have been comfortable enough, but hotels are not home, and I have been alone much of the time as I struggle with prospective employers, realtors, and my own inner doubts and uncertainties. The first hotel by the beach had paper-thin walls, an uneven floor, and old fixtures and furniture, but at least it was in the midst of a lot of action. I could take walks and watch the people and deliver resumes here and there. At present I am staying at a hotel on the Naval base in Coronado which is primarily for military personnel. I moved here for the obvious reason: it is much cheaper than a hotel anywhere else in the city. But it has the disadvantage that I can’t get on and off base by myself, for security reasons. I should qualify that: there’s no problem getting off, but I can’t get back on again without being accompanied by my son, who is in the Navy. It was a necessary step, as our house hunting has taken much longer than we thought it would have.
Things have changed much in the housing racket in the US since I last had to rent a house. Back in the seventies, when I was renting houses and apartments either alone or with friends, it was a very simple procedure. You would look for vacancies in the newspaper want ads, call the owner, see the place, and then if you liked what you saw you discussed the details with the owner, signed a lease, paid your rent and deposit, and moved in. So it is even now in Greece, where I used to live. Now, however, in the USA in this modern age of the Internet, things have got much more complicated. One would think all this technology would have simplified things, but such is not the case. Credit checks are needed. But not just credit checks, no. They want to know everything about you, your financial history, your employment history, all your personal details, whether or not you have a criminal record, and so on. And all this is investigated at your expense; that was a shocker for me. For any house we applied for we had to put down a fee of $25 to $35 per adult so that they could run a search for all these details. So since we were listing two adults as co-signers of the lease, that was $50 to $70 for each house we applied for. It adds up fast, especially in a place like San Diego in the summer, where many people are looking for housing. Some realtors are completely unscrupulous about it and accept applications from as many people as walk into the office; others are more ethical and only accept one application per house at a time. But whatever the particular method, it is a hardship on the would-be renter, especially one in such a difficult financial situation as myself.
This rental system is meant to deal with those already in the overall US financial/employment system. There is no provision for dealing with an outsider like me. I am an anomaly. I don’t fit in. Realtors didn’t know what to make of me. I have been living abroad in Asia and Europe for thirty-five years. A credit search for me comes up blank. In fact, my son’s excellent credit covers us both, and I see no reason for them to take my money and run a search for me at all. Okay, I suppose they want to be sure I wasn’t a deranged criminal or some-such, but…
The problem was, we needed a place expediently, but these credit checks would take from one to two days or more. And of course the realtors had to take the weekends off. And a national holiday came up and they had to take that off too. In the meantime I would cool my heels at the hotel, the bills piling up, the money dwindling. It reminded me of when I had my passport stolen in Iran, back in the seventies when the Shah was still in power and there were many western budget travelers, how I had to wait through endless delays in getting a new passport and then a new visa, at the same time staying in a cheap hippy hotel and begging on the streets for enough money for food. The situation was extreme enough as it was, but it was compounded by the fact that a national holiday was coming up and all government offices would be closed for a week. We are always, it seems, potential victims of bureaucratic entanglements.
In addition, the other two sons who were due to join us already had their non-refundable tickets and the day was fast approaching when they would arrive. For all of us to stay in a hotel together was not unthinkable, but it would be a very difficult situation both financially and logistically. So we searched, my son and I, and searched and searched. And encountered more delays, more setbacks. Some places were already rented by the time we called. Others were unsuitable due to location or size. We found one beautiful place we could afford and applied but were turned down. We found another we liked in an ideal location but the realtor has been giving us the run-around for over a week, even up to the time of this writing. We found another which was a little small and a little out-of-the-way and did not have all the appliances we were hoping for; we applied for this as a sort of back-up plan, in case nothing else came through, and we passed the test for this one and were offered the place. So if nothing else opens up we will move into this one in a few days. At least it is something to fall back on.
The terrible days were the days in the void when we kept getting turned down, kept getting frustrated. When I decided to come to the United States to open a home for my sons I left behind a house, and a car, and furniture, and a job, and an Internet connection, and a familiarity with a place I had known for many years, and acquaintances and contacts, and I could go on and on. I left all of this to take a great leap into the unknown. I had to trust that things would work out, that I would find a place to land, a house, furniture, a job, new friends and contacts – in short, a new home. It was frightening during these house hunting days to feel myself still falling, still with nothing to grasp, nothing secure, and to realize that I was responsible not only for myself but for others who would soon be following on a pre-arranged schedule. I have taken care of myself in the past; I wandered the road for years with nothing more than a duffle bag. But those days are gone. If I failed it was not just a matter of finding myself on the street with my bags. I had to make this work for the sake of others, for the sake of those I had begun it for in the first place. I had to persevere.
So, here I am – persevering. We still don’t have the house, but at least we have the promise of one. We’ve narrowed the field down to two, but whether one or the other works out, it is coming right down to the wire: we will only be able to procure the house on the very day my sons arrive. We will finish all the paperwork and obtain the keys in the afternoon, and they arrive in the evening. The place will be completely devoid of furniture. I hope we at least have time to stock it up with a bit of food. But at least we will have a home. We will build from there.