The first place Ramon ever lived was in a car, around the San Francisco Bay area with his parents. He stayed with his parents until he was about two years old, and was taken to live with his aunt after his parents’ drugs and alcohol use escalated. By the time he was five, he was sent to live with his grandmother, and at the age of 11, he was shuffled to his father’s home in Portland. By age 15, he was put into foster care.
Foster care for Ramon was really hard. Growing up without his brothers and sisters, who had been placed in different foster homes, he says he felt surrounded by strangers and did not feel connected as a family member. Rules were broken, expectations went unmet, and he ran away often, he says. He would stay with friends or gang members until he was picked up by police and placed into another foster home and the cycle began again.
He thinks back for a moment and remembers very clearly how he has always known gang life as simply life and that he knew being in a gang was part of what was expected of him. Officially, he joined a gang when he was 14 years old. His older brother, whom he looked up to as a man, was already in a gang and Ramon remembers wanting to be a man too.
Upon graduating from high school, he moved out of foster care and was on his own. He got a job while attending Portland Community College for almost two years but then “blew off” his potential transfer to Portland State University, he says. Ramon met a young woman named Tabitha, started to feel loved, and soon Ramon was holding his new baby daughter LaShanti.
Soon after, he lost his job and apartment. He stayed with Tabitha and her mother for about a year. When he lost another job, their relationship ended, and he became homeless. Tabitha gained full custody of LaShanti. Ramon became depressed. He felt he had lost everything. Ramon stayed with a friend for about a year, but there was some conflict, and again Ramon was homeless. His first trip to jail was for sleeping in an abandoned house, beginning a cycle of jail time. He feels “it all went downhill ever since. I lost hope for a while. I have struggled in finding a way out of this.”
The first time Ramon had to sleep outside on the curbside by a bus stop was likely the defining moment. It really hit him that he could have made better choices. “I felt like a bum at first, but not less than a man.” Now, he says, he feels like he is at least doing what he can to support himself and improve his situation, to be responsible while off the streets. Ramon expects to couch surf from place to place until he is able to obtain a more stable housing opportunity. Ramon knows he could go back to California, but he wants to remain close to his daughter, LaShanti, who is now two and half years old.
Ramon has never known the stability he wishes for his daughter, and he wants the opportunity and support to make a difference. Ramon says he wants to go back to school to study electrical engineering, to provide for his daughter and give her a life far better than his own upbringing.
For Ramon selling the paper has been interesting. He laughs and tells how he has been meeting a lot of people who give him advice or say it will get better. “I like that my location is in the Gateway area, and wonder if I will find my gateway to more opportunities while I am there. The community makes me feel supported when I am selling the paper.” He told Street Roots that he learned so much from others that he feels he would still sell the paper in his spare time after he finds gainful employment, because he thinks that awareness of what it is really like to become homeless needs to be raised.
When asked about his situation, Ramon does not think twice about telling them the hard truth. “I have my faith in God. I think he has saved me from some of the bad stuff that can happen to people who are homeless,” he said. Looking down at his hands, his voice became so soft it was almost inaudible as he shared how he fought so hard to obtain stability and how quickly it seemed to slip right through his fingers. In what felt like the blink of an eye, “I just want it back,” he says. “I am looking at the glass half full now, not half empty, and trying to have a better look on things.”