Danny, 35, is homeless. Look for his "Just Hungry" sign on city street corners.

I was at a strip mall in Oildale considering my options for lunch-hour takeout when a thin, sun-ripened man walked past me. He was carrying three very full, 24-ounce cups of water, moving carefully so as not to spill.

I instantly switched from burger mode to reporter mode. "’Scuse me," I said. "Are you homeless?"

That seemed blunt and tactless, I know, but I had been scolded just an hour before by a woman I'd spoken to as she rested in North Beardsley Park beside a shopping cart brimming with cans, bottles, cardboard and old clothes. I asked her three different ways — artfully, I thought — to describe her living situation. She wasn't having it. "Just say 'homeless,'" she snapped. "You can say the word."

So that's how I approached this young man, and it seems to have been the right way to go about it. He looked at me with sad but warm eyes. "Yes," he said.

His said his name was Danny and he was a regular user of heroin and methamphetamine. He had worked in construction and the oil fields but now, at age 35, he relied mostly on the hand-scrawled cardboard sign he brought to city intersections. "Just Hungry," his sign read, because, he said, he almost always was.

We chatted for 10 minutes, just the two of us behind the strip mall, and then I shook his hand and left. I walked 100 feet before I realized I'd forgotten to write down the message phone number he'd offered. I spun around and walked back, spotting him, mostly obscured, behind a huge, freestanding HVAC unit. He had taken off his T-shirt and was giving himself a shower, or at least a half-shower — slowly, judiciously, pouring his limited supply of water over his head, face and shoulders.

He saw me, set down his cup and walked my way.

Might I take your photo?, I asked. I could think of nothing that might better portray his circumstances than the scene playing out before me now. Homelessness had not blunted his self-worth so much that he had abandoned hygiene, even if he had to go to these extremes. No, he said, I don't really want that in the paper.

I felt a little embarrassed for having asked. But I needed a photo. How about a picture with the backpack, empty cups and wet asphalt in the background, behind you?, I asked. No, he said, I don't really want that in the paper, either.

I settled for a simple head-and-torso shot.

And then it dawned on me that Danny didn't merely crave hygiene, didn't merely want to be presentable. He also valued the commodities, elusive in his isolated world, that most of America's homed population take for granted: privacy, self-esteem, respect.

He wanted his dignity. And he deserved it.

You have to wonder how many homeless drug addicts — and the Venn diagram linking those circumstances shows a substantial overlap — would find the will to overcome their situation if dignity were in the equation. Respect given, dignity displayed.

Homeless advocates know all of this already, of course. The rest of us like to think we do, too.

If we really meant it, though, we might consider:

● Public toilets, available 24/7, perhaps similar to the solar-powered, mobile restrooms used in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Side benefit: cleaner sidewalks and parking lots for the rest of us.

● Public showers. Public soap.

● Mobile methadone programs, which the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has refused to license since 2007. Side benefit: realistic treatment options for addicts in rural communities like the stricken Kern River Valley.

● Additional, suitable housing where services, such as GED and certificate programs, are readily available.

● Continued exploration of the existing funding sources to make it happen. Encourage elected officials to create more.

Dignity promotes motivation, and people like Danny could use a jolt of both.

He grew up in Wasco and attended high school there before transferring to Centennial High. He left in the middle of his junior year, 85 credits short of graduation. Does he ever think about earning his GED? "Not so much," he says.

He says he has been homeless, off and on, for 10 years, due mostly to drug use. He'd walk away from the heroin and meth if he could. "I'll get tired of it and go off but then always go back," he says. 

His criminal record contributes to his sense of hopelessness: He spent time in state prison on drug charges. That stretch of time would've been ideal for GED study but instead it's just a blot on job applications.

These days, Danny occasionally hangs around the 99 Cents Only strip mall on Olive Drive near Roberts Lane, where I found him Thursday. He sleeps "wherever," sometimes on a soft patch of ground just off Olive with his brother and his brother's girlfriend.

When he needs to eat, he grabs his "Just Hungry" sign and heads to a busy intersection; the best spot, he says, is near the McDonald's on Rosedale Highway.

"But the homeless have ruined it over there with graffiti," he says. "Makes you not want to be homeless, that's how bad it is."

Makes you not want to be homeless. Yes, that's pretty bad.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(29) comments


need to try san frans new terms , "justice involved felons, post digested food and heroin delivery sticks"...


I agree with She Dee - providing his spots and sleep locations clearly puts him at risk. Sometimes there is more to the not having a job than just his habits or not wanting to work. Without truly knowing the person and the reasons, judgment should be kept to yourself. And homelessness in large part is also due to the fast rising rates of rents - anybody looked at the wage rate compared to rental rates? I remember when a young adult and a friend could rent a place on minimum wage - not so much these days. Hopefully, Danny gets what he needs to succeed in life and get out of the cycle of homelessness.

She Dee

elanca6506- I have to wonder if Mr Price would have posted a photo & story like this if the person had been a female. It could get her raped & beaten. I have seen it happen. When I was living in the streets, I did a ton of crappy things to people & most will never forget it. This is why I am glad I moved out of Bakersfield prior to becoming homeless. At least if I ever have to move back, I won't have to worry how many of my old enemies are after me! I hope all the street people eventually get a bed for the night.


Why doesn't the Californian start a tent city on its front lawn....?


A needle exchange program would also help. They have a fantastic one in Fresno.

Inconvenient Truth

Yeah, needle "exchange" program in San Francisco is "fantastic" too:


They hand out 4.5 million needles a year in San Francisco, and only recover about 2.8 million, which leaves 1.7 MILLION NEEDLES DUMPED ON THE STREETS EVERY YEAR.

Yeah, that would be a "Fantastic" program to implement in Bakersfield...



Fresno’s program is needle for needle, but go to the extreme to make a stupid point. Do you realize the savings to local government by having these programs?


Maybe read from the CDC about savings, unless scholarly articles are too difficult to comprehend.



As I look back I'm sure glad that I grew up in a time when people were more responsible and life moved a little slower. My parents and grandparents instilled hard work ethics in kids in the family and to show passion to those that deserved it. I started working at paying jobs at age 9, mowing lawns, paper route, and working on my grandparents farm and yes I did many years of farm labor. As I look back coming from a large family my parents did not have extra money so the kids had jobs to pay for a Saturday matinee or those things kids like to buy. When I was in the 1st grade the school I attended had the local bank start a savings program to promote kids to begin saving money, my brothers and I would hit the local park and hunt pop bottles almost every day and cash them in at the local store for 4 cents per bottle. The bank would pick up the deposits from the school once a week and I usually deposited 8 - 12 cents a week, not much but it taught kids early to save. By age 16 I saved enough money to buy a car, by age 18 I was married and I'm still with that same great woman, I worked 55 years before retiring. I truly believe that people now days just do not try hard enough, even at my age I could go find a job within a week. I'm glad I grew up in once was a great America.


Homelessness is an EZ fix. Just re-open the mental health facilities cruelty and ignorantly closed due to no lobby for those poor souls—EZ targets of budget knives. Bako and others naively thrilled when closed. Narrow-minded. That one very obviously wrong move created this mess. Happy now? Of course not. So just undo and re-open and mess disappears very very quickly. How and why? Cuzz the —some dangerous-mostly vulnerable schizophrenic folks talking to themselves, the sadly confused, and the manic-depressives will get the humane care and treatment they need and deserve which gets them off the street until condition managed—if possible—then returns when/if able to function in society. That would cut problem ivy 2/3. Then all that’s left homeless are predominately the drug addicted. EZ to spot now that clutter of mentally-ill no longer allows them to blend in. Cops scoop up, judges allow opportunities for rehab, or “re-hab” work programs like Lerdo which used to encourage working all week innorder to cut detention time. Getting these addicts to either rehab, work or stew in jail gets them off the street. Then the homeless will mainly consist of folks truly in stressor-induced acute domestic situation or those truly in need due to economic dynamics. There will be the fringe or newly homeless from the realm of recreational druggies that are mid-slide into the abyss, but they won’t get the comforts of seeing drug brethren in full begging-mode and sleeping all over town. They will stand out, soon to be scooped or re-Hab bound it’s that simple. EZ.


" . . . dignity. And he deserved it." ( . . . earn it!!!)

"Dignity promotes motivation . . . " ("MAN UP!")

" . . . with his brother and his brother's girlfriend." (Dad said, "do ya wanna grow up to be a mule?")

" . . . regular user of heroin and methamphetamine." ($$$?)

' . . . 85 credits short of graduation (yearbook?) Does he ever think about earning his GED? "Not so much," he says.'(" . . . so . . . what's to think . . . ? DOES HE LIKE IT HERE?")

" . . . shook his hand and left." (empty-handed, no $$ or ¢¢ from Bobby . . . and off to his next 'drop-spot'?)

Clueless Bobby--"There but for the grace of God go I , , , !" (Bobby ?. . . SOON!)


Such a distorted and disjointed writing style. In attempt to manically make multiple points—-these comments instead are actually not even read—sure, one might start to read, but just stop after a couple of mind-numbing parenthetical asides that are not pertinent or just plain jagged and jarring to follow) might consider easing up on the coffee, Ritalin, or whatever substance fuels the mania. Please and thank you


And then 22 minutes later your medication wore off and Mrdelusional returned. Those who live in glass houses....

She Dee

Robert Price...I just lost any respect I had for you as a "journalist". This story shows how clueless you are to the true meaning of PRIVACY. Sad Sad Sad is all I can say. And Lucky that you didn't get your butt kicked.


Want porta potties

The produce fields have them

Want water

The fields workers are supplied with drinking water

Want food....

But you have to work.

Stop and converse with Hispanic workers and ask them what they think of Americans homeless drug users. They will smile and look down and say it's an American luxury..

Sure there are mental health issues , but at least half of the homeless are addicted because it works for them . Take the example of the man in the article. 10 years he's been rewarded for his behavior. Bakersfield people get out of their car in front of Costco on Rosedale give money. See it all the time. Rewarding bad behavior.

He uses a sign that says " I'm hungry". Well, most of us are hungry if we don't work. Infants cry " I'm hungry" but he isn't an infant.

He gets a small adrenaline rush when people give him money. Manipulator.

Never had to work picking, transporting, processing or preparing the food. Just had to hold up a sign and baby cry.


Amen!!!! Tired of this “journalist.” And if you dare disagree with him in the opinion section he’s snarky and rude.


There too much ignorance in this thread. People love to pretend that drug use is merely a choice ignoring medical professionals who have for decades recognized it as a disease.

When someone says something like, "They just need to stop, or they're choosing to do this" they're ignoring the physiological and psychological components that come with addiction. It's akin to say "just stop breathing." Ok, easy to say. Not so easy to do.

-- Sign a recovering addict


You did it . . . and survived!


Seriously it is a choice. People just started calling it a disease so insurance companies could dole out medication.


You want dignity? Take the spike out of your arm and get in a program. Until then you're not homeless just another junkie bum.


I'm going to ask you guys to think out of the box of methadone treatments & portable toilets and ask what the heck happened to uneducated Americans.

Trade schools don't truly exist and agriculture monocrops so that the work is monotonous, hazardous and Americans won't do.

Companies won't pay minimum wage if people can be hired for less. ( Don't like illegals, call and complain to Agri. Companies). Why do you look away?

Know what "funny". South Americans love our uneducated homeless. Best buyers of their drugs. It's not just China shipping in ingredients.

Pull on your boots boys. Time you speak up to your golf buddies, hunting buddies or anyone else you know and educate and employ in agriculture, oil and service.

Thanks for being brave enough to do the article.


As to the article as presented I agree with M Hunt but as to the whole homeless situation I agree with KMatttrick in that the homeless population is made up of many mentally ill people who need to be in facilities. Open up the doors of jails and prisons without any kind of support along with those mentally ill and those who would rather scrounge for cans and bottles than work a "9-5" 5 days a week job. I'm not without compassion and I certainly don't have the answer to eliminating homelessness. I liked the idea of public showers and toilets but I also know that before long the plumbing and soap would be damaged or stolen and there are those who would rather "go" on the floor beside the toilet than actually use it. Ask those who clean and maintain public toilets of the abuse. Thanks for letting me give my take.


Ive met Danny several times at various places around town. Nice enough guy and I don't disagree with most of your suggestions. Danny needs to take responsibility to clean his **** up. In your article he says he goes off drugs from time to time " when he gets tired of it". That sounds more like recreational use than addiction to me. Where's he getting the dough for the heroin and meth if hes only asking for money because he's "just hungry". Again,I've met him, I'm pulling for him, but you gotta help yourself too dude. Help us help you.


Thank you for this. There are homeless veterans with PTSD in our community. There are those who have mental health issues who desperately need care. This story is certainly not one-sided. In fact, homelessness is a multi-faceted issue. By the grace of God go we.

Mike Hunt

That’s a great feel good one sided story but the truth is , most of these street people had a chance to work, not do drugs, steel, not be a drunk etc. but they didn’t choose that. Now it’s our kids turn to make good decisions in life and we need to focus on their safety so they get a chance. The street people are taking this away from our kids. It’s faulty logic stories like this that will make sure this paper continues to fail and will be its demise.


Could you lack any more empathy? Also, the paper is failing? That's news to me. Didn't it just sell for millions of dollars? Looks like the paper has consistently put out material for over a century now, what a complete and total failure. Printing something you disagree with is not the same as "failing." For someone who invokes the "faulty logic stories" it might be in your interest to actual learn the what logic is and what it isn't. Logic, at it's core, reveals what is possible. Nothing more, no thing less. Logic can only tell you what is definitively true in EXTREMELY limited scenarios. The benefit of logic that is illuminates the things that are not possibly true.

She Dee

Mike Hunt- I feel similar, but for very different reasons. Price basically put a target on this guys back by divulging his hangout spots. I now live in Northern California & stories like this are getting the homeless killed & maimed by the haters of our society. Journalists need to find other ways to do their stories while protecting the people they choose to write about. My 2 cents.


Mike Hunt, you are absolutely right, and Danny's own words prove it. He said he left high school in his junior year. He worked what are generally considered good paying jobs in the oilfields and construction. Possibly he got laid off from those jobs, as they are cyclic in nature. But then he started doing drugs, has no interest in getting a GED, and only gives up his drug habit when it suits him. Those are CHOICES. Bad ones. and though the naysayers and the equivocators will loudly protest, THESE are the choices that many (not all) homeless people make. They don't seek food or shelter at homeless centers because they don't want to follow the rules and leave their addictions outside the doors. They don't seek help finding jobs because they feel they aren't worthy, or have been turned down too many times, or cant leave their addictions behind. There is a solution to Danny's problem. But it takes work, ambition, and self respect. When one does not respect themselves enough to clean up their act and ask for help instead of handouts, how do they expect others to respect them? Most of these people are self-made victims, and will remain so until they get rid of whatever albatrosses they are carrying around their necks. For many, that will never happen, but if they want it bad enough, THEY have to make the first move. The street people are not just taking safety away from the kids. They are taking it away from all of us, because you never know if your refusal to give a beggar money will result in you being assaulted. It happens more than you know, and with many of them being drug addicts, alcoholics, and/or mentally disturbed, looking for their next fix or bottle, that "I'm hungry" sign is just to prey on your sympathy. Most of them won't "work for food" either, unless crack, crank, and smack have all become food groups.

She Dee

ReefRanger- You stated that "Most of these people are self-made victims, and will remain so until they get rid of whatever albatrosses they are carrying around their necks". This is just not the case with most of us who started out life following the rules, obeying our parents, adhering to the rules of society & so forth. We didn't start out saying "when I grow up I wanna be homeless". We ended up that way because our parents & caregivers didn't have the educational levels to assist us in coping with life. They often depended on the teachers to teach us how to live. That was & still is a huge part of the problem. The other biggest problem for many of us is that we became ostricised by our own kind (I mean most white people) when we failed to live up to the ideal "American Dream" & lived a different styles of life than most of "proper" society" was living. I was & always will be an adult child of an alcoholic family. I did get stellar counseling when I was married & working, but soon ran out of money & was forced to raise a child on my own after my 22 year marriage ended suddenly when my spouse decided he would rather trade me in for a younger & more successful woman who was free to roam with him & be his armpiece. We had a successful business in Bakersfield & it's still operating today without me. I won't divulge the name of it, so don't ask!

Anywho, after I spent a ton of money on therapy & attorney fees, I was left with nothing & lost the house. I never recovered from these experiences. I had a traumatic childhood & suddenly the safety & serenity I thought would last forever with my forever mate was gone & I turned to drugs & alcohol for solace. Not my best life decision. I ended up in the streets because I needed to learn about a side of life that I never knew existed. I even got to go to jail. Another strike on my "permanent file"! So, if this is MY STORY, can you imagine just how many other people started out with a fairytale life & had it end up as their biggest nightmare?

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