Ricky Lopez: Resident at Talmadge Gateway
“No one ever expects to get where you can’t work, and end up on the street,” says Ricky Lopez, 57. “You see homeless people and hope to God you are never there. I couldn’t even picture myself being in that position, but there I was.”
Homeless no more, Ricky was the first resident to move into a studio apartment at Talmadge Gateway, a new community of 60 affordable homes designed for formerly homeless seniors with ongoing health needs. The supportive housing community opened last June through a partnership with Wakeland Housing and Development Corporation (Wakeland Housing), City Heights Community Development Corporation (CHCDC), and St. Paul’s Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).
“I have been to the worst place in the world, where I don’t ever want to go again, and now I’m in the best place in the world,” Ricky says in reference to his new apartment. “When I first moved in, I cried for several days. Now I can’t stop smiling. I wake up every day thinking, ‘This is mine! I can make plans.’”
Ricky describes himself as a happy person with a strong work ethic and drive. When his health was better, he earned a living in construction in the trade show industry. For a while, Ricky was working all the time. He was making a good living and had an apartment. Things were moving steadily along. Then his health declined.
“I just ruined my legs,” Ricky shakes his head, looking down. “I was dragging my feet the last few years. I couldn’t work trade shows anymore because my health was poor. I ran out of money. I spent it all on food and rent. I remember being minus one hundred and something dollars in my bank account. I didn’t have anything.”
No longer able to afford to pay rent, Ricky moved out to the streets. He ended up staying there for 15 months.
“I moved around a lot,” he says. “There were times I felt afraid. Every day I lay my head down, I thought, ‘How many more days do I have to lie down on a piece of dirt, pick the rocks out of my body?’ Every day I had to think about that. I started thinking, ‘Months, days, years? I can’t do this for years.’ I started to work my way out by talking to people.”
Each day, he went to St. Vincent de Paul’s Village, a homeless shelter in San Diego, and tried to get in. It took four months. There, he learned about St. Paul’s PACE. Through St. Paul’s PACE, Ricky was able to get help for his sleep apnea and other ailments, and through PACE’s partnership with Wakeland, he was able to find a permanent place to live. He is ecstatic about his new home.
“People ask me what it looks like in my apartment,” Ricky smiles. “It is perfect. It is just beautiful. Remember, I had nothing before I came here.”
Unable to work because of his disabilities, Ricky is adamant about giving back in any way that he can. He wants to help others like he was helped.
“My number one goal is to try to help people that need help, need that push, are tired of falling back down because no one cares about them - there are so many,” Ricky says. “I need to show people how to get here. I know I can’t work anymore. My feet hurt just standing around doing nothing. But I can volunteer. I can help other people the way people helped me. I can show people where to go for help, that there is hope, good things can happen.”