What It's Like to Be Homeless

A conversation with "Barber Joe" and Sheriff Villanueva

Barber Joe cuts Sheriff Villanueva's hair while they talk homelessness and life.

Joseph Ramirez, aka ‘Barber Joe,’ has experienced the highs and the lows of life. He has been a successful businessman, a proud father, and homeless. Barber Joe understands the homeless.  He was homeless for 7 years.  “These people have been pushed, ridiculed, bounced around.”  

Barber Joe is no longer homeless.  He rents an apartment.  He’s working.  And he’s helping those who lived the life he once lived.  

Barber Joe volunteers with our department’s Homeless Outreach Services Team that helped him get back on his feet.  Joe makes a difference because he’s lived life.  A few weeks ago, I sat with Barber Joe and Lieutenant Geoff Deedrick, who directs the HOST Team.  Oh, and my dog Simon joined us as well.  I invite you to listen to our conversation.  

Barber Joe is a modest man.  As he says, “”We’re all trying to survive.”  Our HOST Teams recognize this.  We treat people with dignity and compassion.  We know that it’s not long before people on the street begin to lose their respect for themselves. 

That’s why we cannot turn our backs on the homeless.  It is not humane to allow people to let people suffer like this.  It is not humane to allow people to die on the street like this.  

Geoff Deedrick, puts it best.  “It’s not cops and robbers anymore.”  When we go to a homeless encampment, we know too well the desperation.  We are there to help. To provide safety. To connect people with their loved ones, and to see if we can connect them with services like medical care, food, hygiene and more. It is a co-response model. We work with local city and county agencies as well as community based organizations contracted to help. 

It is a shame that self-anointed activists take advantage of the homeless. They speak for them, without getting to know them or help. They are trying to profit off the homeless. They apply for contracts, grants and financial rewards for doing the work Joe and others do, not for pay, but because they know firsthand what happens when you’re homeless.  Domestic abuse.  Sexual violence.  Predators looking to take advantage of people down on their luck, who may have made a few poor choices.  Human sex trafficking.  

Our HOST Teams work with social service agencies to get people back on their feet.  They help the homeless break the cycle of despair.  They help the homeless find, again, a purpose.  

These deputies are making a difference.  I am very proud of these dedicated men and women.  That is why over the last few years, despite the Board of Supervisors’ efforts to defund my budget, I have significantly increased the number of HOST deputies.  

To address the homeless crisis, we need to do what works.  I have learned a lot from leaders like Lt. Deedrick and Mr. Ramirez.  You can watch our conversation here.  

And thanks for the haircut Barber Joe!

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