Homeless getting bum rap in Calexico?

May 06, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE
  • Jim Brand sits on a bench in Calexico while talking about being homeless, although he says he's not penniless. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO

Staff Writer

CALEXICO: Jim Brand is a bum. Just ask him.

"Yeah, basically. I don't panhandle, though," he noted.

The 66-year-old doesn't have to panhandle because he gets more than $800 a month in Social Security benefits.

"And I don't pay any rent," he said with a smile.

Brand is homeless.

"I sleep out … it's not a home, you know," he said.

The North Dakota State University graduate usually sleeps behind a Calexico pharmacy.

During the day he walks around town collecting recyclables to cash in or kicks back on one of city's public benches or in one of the city parks.

In the evenings he said he visits a woman's house in Mexicali.

"My girlfriend in Mexicali. I see her every night," he said.

They've been an item for five years. Are those wedding bells sounding in the distance?

"Yeah. I'm going to marry her," he says.


A good number of Calexico's business owners won't be waiting by their mailboxes for invitations.

At a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting, chamber members complained to Police Chief Mario Sanchez about the city's homeless.

The chamber members said homeless people — mostly men — loiter in front of stores, hindering sales and sullying Calexico's image as they push their cartloads of belongings around or park themselves on a bench or at a park for hours at a time.

Brand has heard the complaints.

"Yeah, someone told me there was something in the paper," he said.

As he sat on one of the city's benches recently, smoking a corncob pipe, Brand addressed those complaints.

People standing in front of the downtown stores?

"I don't think it's the homeless … it's the people looking for work; the campesinos," Brand said.

As for the 15 or 20 guys who hang out around the Imperial Avenue Jack-in-the-Box each day, Brand said those guys are just waiting for mail or a ride. They're not hurting anyone, he insists.

That's an important facet to note, according to the police chief. Sanchez said his officers can't legally do something to people who appear to be loitering, who appear to be bums, unless someone complains or the loiterers do something illegal that an officer sees.

Juan Cisneros is one guy people might say looks like a bum. On a recent afternoon, he walked toward the parking lot of the Apple Market-Super Shopping pushing a shopping cart full of what looked like trash.

Cisneros wore a grubby green sweatshirt, his hands were sticky with the residue of flat beer and soda pop and his unwashed and unkempt hair was kept at bay, barely, by a tired baseball cap.

On closer inspection though, his shopping cart didn't contain "trash" or a mish-mash of his possessions. It contained only recyclables.

He wasn't wandering about aimlessly, he was pushing his cart of recyclables toward the I.V. Recycling redemption center at the edge of the parking lot.

After separating his street booty, the man at the center gave Cisneros 77 cents per pound for cans, 44 cents per pound for plastic bottles and .05 per pound for glass. After his haul was totaled, Cisneros pocketed a redemption receipt worth around $20.

As he walked to put his shopping cart near the store's repository, he talked about his day.

The Mexicali man crossed the border around 6-7 a.m., then picked up cans and bottles here until around 1:30 p.m. After dropping off his cart, he walked into the Apple Market to redeem his receipt.

A shopper looked at the guy standing there with no items and asked, "Are you in line?"

He didn't say anything and she found another aisle.

Cashing in the receipt, he said he was going to get a beer, drink it in one of the city's parks and head back to Mexico in the evening to check into a hotel.

He said he never has problems with the police during his daily routine.

How many beers a day?

"Ahh, three or four," he said.

The manager at Apple Market-Super Shopping, Joe Moreno, said he's happy to have the redemption site on his parking lot because normally the homeless guys, or the sort-of homeless guys like Cisneros, cash in their receipts and buy something from the store.

"Usually they spend it here on another aluminum can. It's the old circle of life," he said, laughing.

Talking about their recycling efforts, he said, "It's a good thing. It keeps the area clean and gives them something to do."

Bill Castillo of the state Department of Conservation said the homeless population in Calexico and across the state plays a "significant role in society. They really clean up."

"In Los Angeles and San Francisco, they collect $60 or $70 worth per load," he said.

All total, taking into consideration all of the recyclables that homeless people collect, "You'd be surprised. You start looking at tons," Castillo said.

Plus, "None of this stuff hits the landfills," Castillo added.

According to a redemption center staffer, the people he thinks likely are homeless take away around $10 or $15 per trip.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles