• Go ahead, throw a coin to the disabled vet

    by Erika Fiske

    MONTEREY— I made the mistake of asking him about Vietnam. His eyes filled with tears as he looked down and said he wouldn’t talk about it. Not one word, he said.

    Levi is one of those homeless guys you try to avoid. Ragged looking, his backpack on his bike, sporting a beard of many years and a little dog on his shoulder. They can be seen in parking lots or on street corners holding signs seeking help. While he wouldn’t discuss the war, he was happy to talk about his dog earlier today.

    “Some boys gave her to me in a parking lot. They said they would have to give her to the pound if someone didn’t take her,” he said. Levi’s heart went out to the rat terrier pup named Scrubby, who’s now nine months old. So she goes with him everywhere, riding that shoulder.

    In April, Levi will be 55, but he isn’t expecting anything special on his birthday. People are more likely to give Scrubby a gift than Levi. “They’ll give my dog an $8 bag of dog food or $15 in dog treats, and they’ll give me 25 cents,” he said. But the homeless vet manages to get enough to meet his basic needs when he pulls out a sign at a parking lot and waits.

    I caught up with Levi as he was leaving Window on the Bay, where he and other homeless were given lunch by some volunteers. Soon he will be heading home—with home being a large tarp and rugs tied to some oak trees on a hill above Highway 1. The campsite can be reached by hiking 3000 yards up a goat path, where he lives with some 40 homeless individuals—mostly veterans.

    There are homeless communities like this all over the country—forgotten people who aren’t even getting the benefits they’re entitled to, particularly the vets. Levi applied years ago for disability, but was turned down. He learned to deaden the pain with alcohol. Now he doesn’t want anything to do with the government.

    While he admits to being an alcoholic, Levi is particular about his campsite. He patrols the area to keep it clean, and he and his friends, veterans Mike and Joe, make certain no drug users come to their part of the hillside. “One time a cop came up there and said my place looked better than his, and he pays $1200 a month,” Levi said. “You won’t find any garbage or cigarette butts around my camp.”

    Levi became homeless about eight years ago. Before that he was a carpenter and then operated a catering service known as The Food Dude. He even rented out his 25-foot Morgan sailboat at Moss Landing on weekends. Finally, he sold everything, including his Harleys, to buy a house in Santa Cruz where his former wife lives today.

    He camps here instead of Santa Cruz because there are too many drug-addicted homeless up there, making searching in dumpsters dangerous with all the needles, he said. Levi estimates some 3,000 homeless live in that area.

    “Also the Mexican Mafia is running a heroin ring there,” he added.

    Levi has no desire to re-join society. He prefers the simple life. Less is better, he said. But he and his friends do allow one luxury in their lives. Once a month, when Mike gets his food stamps, they splurge and have a steak and movie night. Levi cooks the steaks and with his DVD player and a small screen, they watch a movie in his large tent or under the stars. Someday Levi wants to get a 13-inch screen.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 8, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles


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