Larry Govea pulled himself off the streets of Seattle and out of homelessness 10 years ago. He was sick of sleeping in his car and of living in high-rise crack houses, as he calls some of the homeless programs in which he's lived. Govea has no better than a sixth-grade education but nowadays reads Plato and Diogenes. But in three weeks, he faces the prospect of being forced from his small one-bedroom cottage in West Seattle, his home for 10 years, and back onto the streets.
It's Morning at the Morrison
Has a $27 million renovation tamed one of the city's worst hellholes? Jan. 11, 2006
A Goal: Homes for 9,500
Creating permanent housing for all of King County's homeless is one big challenge. Helping people learn to survive on their own is another. July 20, 2005
Got Any Spare Change?
An audacious 10-year plan to end homelessness in Seattle faces the usual problem: not enough money. In fact, federal cuts are on the way. April 13, 2005
"I don't think I can do it again," he says of possibly sleeping in his old yellow Ford van. "It'd make me crazy. I don't want to go crazy," says Govea, 63, who lives on disability payments and a housing subsidy.
The consolations of philosophy can only take a person so far.
This is not supposed to be happening. Scores of cities and counties around the country have recently adopted plans to end homelessness within 10 years. Yes, end.
King County, Seattle, and other area cities ceremoniously rolled out their version of the plan last summer. It calls for permanent housing for the homeless instead of a mat on the floor of a traditional homeless shelter. Its intent is to prevent people like Govea, who are at risk of homelessness, from ending up on the streets.
It's the largest experiment to end homelessness since the latest wave of homeless hit America's streets in the mid-1980s. For the past 20 years, attempts to end homelessness have been largely motivated by ethics and a general sense that it's shameful for 3 million people to be homeless in the world's richest country. But good intentions in the form of a fragmented, gridlocked system of homeless shelters, transitional housing, and soup kitchens have not fixed the problem.
"The very definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results," says Philip Mangano, executive director of the Bush administration's Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Mangano's definition of sanity is to recognize that it is far cheaper to provide homeless people with permanent housing than to let them bounce from the streets to jail to a hospital emergency room. Housing First, as the approach is known. It's supposed to be better, faster, and cheaper. Mangano and others argue that, enlightened by potentially billions of dollars in cost savings, policy-makers, Congress, and state legislatures will open the public purse and fund permanent housing projects and medical services. The experiment is broadly known as "The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness," the by-product of President George W. Bush's call for an end to homelessness in his 2003 budget message.
But while touting a new approach, the Bush administration is already undercutting the experiment by making crucial cuts to housing and medical programs, especially ones serving the mentally ill, needed for ending homelessness. The city of Seattle, too, is making service cuts. As a result, St. Martin de Porres, a downtown homeless shelter that houses 212 older men each night, will close two days a week—and those men, many disabled, will hit the streets.
The federal cuts also put people like Govea in a serious bind. On April 1, he is expected to lose his Medicaid coverage and his housing, owing to federal regulations. He won't be alone. About 250 other King County residents are caught in the same fix and are threatened with the same outcome. They would join the county's 8,000 other homeless people, the majority of them in Seattle. Homeless in Seattle, they'll inevitably run into the Seattle police, who are often pressed into service trying to unlock a gridlocked system of social services for them. On a recent night, Seattle police sent a special squad into the streets to coax the most hardened of the homeless into an emergency shelter on one of the coldest nights in years. Led by SPD Sgt. Paul Gracy, the police ran into the same kind of disconnects that have Govea sitting up late at night.
It sure is a funny way to start a social experiment, particularly when Seattle and King County are considering spending hundreds of million of dollars to build a new home for the Seattle SuperSonics.
Life After Hooverville
The last time America made such a sweeping social experiment was in the 1980s. President Reagan had been voted into office in 1980 to go after the Soviet Union, cut taxes, and disembowel the so-called welfare state. Soon after, the Reagan administration oversaw the deinstitutionalization of hundreds of thousands of mentally ill from state hospitals and offered these same helpless people no housing. That's because Reagan was cutting tens of billions from public-housing programs, aimed at the working poor and the medically indigent. One homeless advocacy group estimates that the feds have cut public housing by $52 billion over the last 25 years.
It was the imperfect storm and created a problem. America was the country that had learned from the Great Depression—when cities like Seattle had their own Hoovervilles—that it was unconscionable to kick your fellow countrymen to the curb. President Reagan cut the safety net.
By the late '80s, millions of Americans were living on the streets, camping in canyons, and sleeping in cars. No one seemed to have the answer for what to do about it. It became such a moral crisis that President George H.W. Bush proposed a system of "a thousand points of light"— in essence, trying to solve the problem through private charity and volunteerism. Hollywood celebrities organized fund- raisers. Politicians went to great lengths to show how much they cared about the homeless. San Diego's mayor costumed herself as a homeless woman and slept on the streets one night in a cardboard box.
In the early 1990s, homelessness lost its cause-célèbre status. Nothing worked, and good-natured people wearied of trying to engineer a fix. The Bush I and Clinton administrations did not come through with housing dollars. So, the condition of homelessness became normal, a regular feature of urban life in America that doesn't exist in countries like Sweden and Japan. People got used to the idea of having to push past someone begging for money outside of a QFC or of men dropping dead in homeless shelters, as happened in Seattle three weeks ago.
The homeless were just another inconvenience in a busy day—one of those problems of modern life that are sad but insoluble.
But the Bush administration has insisted for the last few years that an end is at hand. The answer is to provide permanent housing with social services. You don't even need to get offended at the prospect of tax dollars going to support people many consider losers. This way will save money.
Mangano and others point to a series of studies that in recent years have tracked some of America's most hardened homeless—the ones who wind up in emergency rooms many times a year, who end up in jail several nights a year, who end up in psych hospitals and substance abuse programs. Studies in Boston and San Diego found that people like these can chew up $50,000 a year in costs that the taxpayers pick up one way or another. A Seattle version of the study confirmed that a sample of the so-called chronically homeless here racked up costs of about $50,000 a year per person. The Seattle study also found that the same people could be taken from the streets, housed, and offered regular health care and other services for about $13,000 a year per person.
Around the country, police officers, ER doctors, and social workers have pointed to this disconnect for years. That if someone doesn't have a home, then they end up costing a hell of a lot of money. Politicians finally began to listen a few years ago. That led to the feds making funding for homeless programs contingent upon cities and counties, which generally administer the nation's social programs, devising their own 10-year plans. The Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program similarly forced local and state governments to accept a federal mandate to get some federal support while shouldering much of the financial burden themselves.
"The intent here is to end homelessness," says Mangano.
Such talk is now accompanied by $4.1 billion in the 2007 federal budget for homeless programs. But these programs don't cover medical needs or fund much housing. And in the same budget, the Bush administration cut about $3 billion from Medicaid, which provides much of the health care for America's homeless, and cut federal housing dollars by $600 million.
"You can't fill a $52 billion hole with $4.1 billion," says Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a San Francisco–based group, referring to the generation-long gap in federal public-housing spending.
And local governments like the city of Seattle and King County will be left to deal with the inevitable result.
'The feds are making our job much harder,' says Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. 'We are getting doublespeak from the Bush administration.'
"The feds are making our job much harder," says Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. "We are getting doublespeak from the Bush administration."
The Medicaid cuts may cause the biggest problems initially. Fifty percent or more of America's homeless are afflicted with mental illnesses, and the federal Medicaid program, buoyed by state contributions, is the backbone of the country's public mental-health system. But about half of the $3 billion in cuts will directly affect mental-health systems, according to the National Mental Health Association. It will be up to the states to fill the gap—or not. This year, the Washington Legislature punted, creating an $11 million hole in King County's mental-health system. In the last few years, about 2,000 low-income people have lost their mental-health coverage because of similar cuts.
Govea is in a small group of patients who face the same this year.
Path to the streets
Larry Govea: facing homelessness again.
Govea was born in Decatur, Ill., in 1943. His father left the family to shift for themselves when Govea was 2 years old. His mother had battled mental illness for years. When he was 12, his mother was committed to a state hospital. Govea was sent to a series of orphanages and, because he was admittedly a troublemaker, reformatories. Govea didn't get past junior high. A few years later, his mother's health improved and his family moved to Alhambra, Calif. It was a near suburb of Los Angeles, a mix of light-industrial buildings and small homes with orange and avocado trees in the backyards. There, Govea's family lived in public housing, still a fairly new phenomenon in the 1950s.
"It wasn't ever normal, I know that," Govea says. He stands 5 feet 7 inches and limps when he walks. His hair is gray, and he's missing most of his lower front teeth. "The situation I was born into wasn't normal. I was a kid from a broken home. In those days, it was like having a disease."
Govea left home at 18, uneducated and with few prospects. He traveled back and forth along the Interstate 10 corridor between Los Angeles and New Orleans. His transportation was his thumb. He worked day jobs mostly. He cleaned the tanks on oil barges and scraped the hulls of ships along the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast. But it was never enough to buy him any kind of stability.
In 1961, Govea made a life-altering mistake. He wrote a hot check for $395 in Phoenix. He did jail time for that, the only time in his life he's been in jail. He came back to Alhambra two years later and, for a time, was married. He and his wife had a daughter. Six months after her birth, Govea left them.
"I wasn't any good for them," he says, shaken by the memory. "I wasn't a provider."
By his own admission, Govea says he had something else dogging him. He was, as he puts it, "strange." Prone to fighting, long stretches of depression, and extreme isolation. His mother wasn't the only one in his family with mental illness. Govea had several relatives who'd been institutionalized in Illinois. He sensed that he might share the family burden and feared that one day he would snap.
Back in the 1960s, doctors rarely diagnosed mental illnesses. Treatments were few, and those that existed, such as Thorazine, involved long stays in state mental hospitals. Govea had seen what this had done to his mother—and he wanted nothing to do with it. So he kept living on the margins of American society.
His best job came in the 1980s, when he captained a ship and ran supplies to offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. He later became certified as a refrigeration technician and worked, he says, on the systems on large ships. Around 1994, Govea took a job in Los Angeles doing repairs on a large private yacht. The boat's owner asked Govea to bring the boat up to Seattle. Govea motored the yacht along the West Coast and into port, where the owner promptly took over the boat and stiffed Govea on his money. That left Govea, 51 at the time, penniless in a city where he knew no one.
Somehow, he managed to scare up enough work to buy a car. But then the work went away. He lived out of his car for almost a year in a state park near Anacortes. From time to time, he drove down to Seattle, looking for work by day and sleeping in his car at night.
On one of these trips, he was riding a bus through downtown Seattle. A woman was seated next to him. Suddenly, Govea began hearing voices and his body tensed.
"I scared the woman sitting next to me," he says. "She was terrified."
So was Govea. He got off the bus on Third Avenue. He was "one of them." He'd snapped. There was no running from it anymore.
'We'll Wing it, Sir'
Bunking in a Pioneer Square doorway.
At 8 p.m. on Feb. 16, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske held a brief press conference at SPD's West Precinct. With him were Patricia McInturff, the city's director of human services, and Sgt. Paul Gracy and a team of four other cops. This night's mission, the chief explained to the TV cameras, was to get the homeless off the streets and into an emergency cold-weather shelter in City Hall. Operation Weather Wagon, as it was dubbed. The shelter was equipped for 80 people. Kerlikowske asked that citizens call 911 if they saw any homeless people out in the cold. The chief's comments would air at 11 p.m.
Outside, the temperature was in the low 30s with a stiff, cold wind off Puget Sound. The forecast called for this to be the coldest night of the year, with temperatures expected to hit the low 20s.
Gracy, a 27-year veteran of the force, gasses his patrol car at a pump in the parking garage of the precinct, then drives up the ramp and onto the streets looking for anyone unlucky enough to be out. These would be the most hardened of the homeless— people who prefer living on the streets or are too messed up by mental illness, drugs, or drink to tell the difference.
His first stop is under the Alaskan Way Viaduct near King Street. There, three men and two women sit on the pavement, some huddled in sleeping bags, some sitting out in the cold and changing their socks. Overhead is the constant thump of car tires on expansion joints. One of the men runs up to Gracy's car.
"Look what happened to me," he says. He has a fresh shiner underneath each eye. He wears a thin jacket over a red-and-white poncho. Around his neck, he has a string of green Mardi Gras beads. "Two guys jumped me last night."
Gracy offers to take him and his friends to the shelter. The man refuses. Gracy is 5 foot 11 and balding with a well-trimmed mustache. He gets out of his car and walks over to repeat the offer to the four others. From seven feet away, he can smell alcohol on one of the men. All four refuse. Many homeless prefer "sleeping out," as the euphemism goes, to staying in a cramped, noisy, and sometimes smelly shelter. Besides, drinking isn't allowed in homeless shelters, and, for obvious reasons, women bunk separately from the men.
"It's going to be cold out," Gracy says.
"We have body heat," says one of the women.
Gracy gets back in his car and drives south, poking around empty parking lots behind industrial buildings.
"There's no law against public drunkenness," he says, explaining one of his key limitations in getting people off the streets. "I have to respect their rights. The only law is against camping."
As Gracy drives, he shines a spotlight into a few parked cars. Then he drives south to Starbucks' SoDo headquarters. As the community policing officer for the West Precinct, he'd received complaints from Starbucks relating to HQ employees encountering homeless people sleeping in one of the company's parking lots when they arrived at work in the morning.
There is no one in the employee parking lot. Gracy has better luck underneath the viaduct leading to the West Seattle Bridge. There are a couple of RVs parked there, one with a generator running. Gracy pulls up in front of a late-'70s Ford Futura, painted a two-tone red and white. The spotlight from Gracy's patrol car wakes the man.
"Seattle police," Gracy says, as the man rolls down his window. The man, fat and bearded, sits behind the steering wheel, wrapped in what looks to be five layers of blankets.
"I've got an eighth of a tank," the man says. He does not appear to be drunk or out of sorts in any other way.
"You know you can only park for 72 hours?" Gracy says.
"It starts," the man says.
It's strange and sad seeing people like that, making do with what little they have and the hope gone from their eyes. How do you live like that? And how do you fix it?
"That's the million-dollar question," Gracy says.
As the evening approaches 10:30 p.m., he's had no takers. The other officers have had more success. Over the radio, Gracy hears that the City Hall shelter is filled to capacity, and they aren't letting anyone else in.
"We need more shelter," he says. Soon after, he walks into the shelter at St. Martin de Porres. Operated by the Archdiocesan Housing Authority, it serves 212 homeless men over 50 years old. A dozen are seated on metal chairs in the lobby watching television or just letting their thoughts drift.
"We're full," the clerk behind the desk says. Gracy starts asking questions. That's all he can do. He has no authority to order a homeless shelter to do anything. Soon, the television will be shut off, the clerk explains, and the men will move into the shelter proper.
"So if we're out of room at City Hall and you've got these chairs, do you think we could let some people sleep on them?" Gracy asks.
The clerk hesitates, then promises to take them "as long as they are over 50."
Back in his car, Gracy sighs. SPD likes to push decision making well down the chain of command, but finding substantial space this evening is out of his pay grade. He needs to find someone with the authority to open other city-owned buildings. Gracy calls a dispatcher on his cell phone. Within minutes, Harry Bailey, an assistant chief of police, calls back. Gracy explains the situation to Bailey while the assistant chief apparently explains operational reality to Gracy.
"OK, we'll wing it, sir," Gracy says, ending the call.
Creating Homelessness in Order to End It?
'If the plan is going to work, then we have to start moving money away from the way we've provided services to a new suite of services,' says Ceis.
America has winged it on homelessness for the past 20 years, and Mangano says it's time for results. So how do you get 3 million people off America's streets? He says that after two decades of no results, the feds have moved away from a "soft social- service perspective to looking at business approaches that go beyond the nonsense of homelessness to the commonsense and dollars and cents of homelessness."
But these are expensive results to achieve even with cost savings down the road. King County Executive Ron Sims says the 10-year plan will cost $100 million a year. What's more, the plan calls for the county to construct 4,500 new units of housing at an estimated $120,000 apiece, says Bill Block, the county's director of the plan. That works out to $540 million. Some of the funding will come from the state and local housing levies.
Govea is being cut off because his Social Security disability payment of $662 a month is $35 more than federal rules allow. His housing subsidy, known as "shelter-plus," is tied to his Medicaid eligibility. When Govea loses his Medicaid, he will lose his modest blue-shingled cottage. Asked about Govea's situation, Mangano stresses that it's important to see the big picture. The right plans are being laid and the paradigm is shifting in the right direction.
Pressed on how the feds intend to shift the nation's results on homelessness while cutting necessary federal programs and pushing more people onto the street, Mangano fesses up.
"Do we have the resources we need?" he asks. "No. Not everything is perfect."
Mangano explains that his hands are tied. The Interagency Council on Homelessness, which he heads, comprises 20 federal agencies—everything from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Veterans Affairs. He has no authority to order the secretary of health and human services to stop cutting federal Medicaid programs in order to provide health care for the homeless and near homeless. Mangano can only try to persuade such agencies to follow his lead. He admits that this is a process that will take time.
"The point is to create a trajectory to get the results we want," he says.
Sims says he doesn't like that kind of trajectory.
'One can only hope that people will watch the federal government as it makes these heinous cuts and that you'll see a political change.' — Ron Sims
"One can only hope that people will watch the federal government as it makes these heinous cuts and that you'll see a political change."
The city of Seattle also has much at stake. In 2006, the city will spend $6.6 million on shelter beds and transitional housing (up to 24 months) for the city's homeless. But both the mayor and the City Council have caught paradigm-shift fever and have acted to redirect about $400,000 of that money away from traditional shelter beds and short-term programs such as the Downtown Emergency Service Center and the Archdiocesan Housing Authority to transitional housing provided by agencies like the Salvation Army and the YWCA.
The city insists that the shift amounts to no loss of shelter beds or services for the homeless.
"We are moving away from a strict shelter system of mats on the floor," says Ceis. "I'm sorry, but this is a small incremental step in the first year of the plan."
Service providers see it differently.
"This will be an incredible tragedy," says Bill Hallerman, director of special ministries for the Archdiocesan Housing Authority. "It is unconscionable to send these 212 men [at St. Martin de Porres] to the streets." The city's reductions, Hallerman says, will also force AHA to cut off about 30 women from its Noel House program in Belltown.
The Downtown Emergency Service Center budget is being cut by $155,000, and Bill Hobson, its executive director, fears that come April, he may have to cut as many as 50 beds in the agency's three shelters.
One of the most troubling cuts being made by the city is to the Central Area Motivation Project. Known as CAMP, the agency operates programs aimed at low-income African Americans in Seattle. Its motel voucher program, which offers young women a week in area motels as a short-term emergency bridge to long-term programs, will be eliminated.
The reason for the cut is that CAMP doesn't offer wraparound services—access to permanent housing, medical care, and other social services. The city says it will no longer fund agencies that don't offer wraparound services.
"If the plan is going to work, then we have to start moving money away from the way we've provided services to a new suite of services," says Ceis.
Seattle's cuts are, in effect, creating homelessness in order to end homelessness.
"I have no idea why the city does what it does," says Sims. "I don't know why the mayor would cut voucher programs. Those are some interesting cuts."
"If Mr. Sims believes that this is moving too fast, then Mr. Sims can, through the county budget, participate in funding those services," says Ceis, who was once Sims' chief of staff.
'Do You Need Shelter?'
Operation Weather Wagon's Sgt. Gracy.
At about 11 p.m., Gracy parks his car in front of City Hall on its Fourth Avenue side. This is supposed to be Seattle's safety net for the night. There is a police van idling outside with a few homeless people seated inside. But the shelter is at capacity. So Gracy walks into the ground-floor emergency shelter. It's a long, dimly lit room with a concrete floor. There is a young woman at a check-in desk and row upon row of sleeping bodies laid out on thick green mats. Several men snore loudly.
"Hi," says Gracy to the woman. "Could we maybe get some more people in here?"
"City Council said 80, tops," the woman says. She explains that she has no authority to go beyond that number.
"Who's in charge?" Gracy asks. The woman answers. "Could you call him?"
She looked at Gracy and reaches for the phone. "What do I tell him?"
"Tell him the police are here," Gracy says. "Tell him the police are being persistent. Tell him the police aren't going away."
Before Gracy departs a few moments later, the shelter's capacity expands to 90 people. By now, Kerlikowske would be on the local news, telling people to call 911 if they see homeless on the streets tonight.
Gracy's next stop is the low-income housing Frye Hotel, where a woman behind the lobby desk agrees to take five more women for the night. Then he drives north on Third Avenue. Outside DESC's Morrison Hotel sits a gray pickup with a camper shell. It is marked "Medical Examiner" in black letters. Just past the truck is a small, thin body on a gurney covered by a white sheet. Gracy doesn't say anything about that. He needs to find more shelter beds. It's getting colder, and he can't guess how many people will need help.
As he drives back to the West Precinct station, he talks to his squad on the radio.
"We're going to modify this a bit," Gracy says. "So look for people who really need assistance."
At his small office, Gracy gets on the phone and calls every shelter on a sheet given to him earlier in the evening. One shelter puts him on hold. The Union Gospel Mission says it's full. A young man answers the phone at Operation Nightwatch and tells Gracy that they, too, are full. "Do you need some blankets?"
"No, I really need a shelter," Gracy says. He hangs up. "OK, that's everybody except mind control." He pauses. "Let's review. One, we've run out of room. Two, what's true capacity at a shelter and what's the capacity I can take there? Three, we've had to re-evaluate how we are assessing people. And where are we going to put them? There's churches, but how do you tap into that?"
Gracy turns on the e-mail on his computer. He reads aloud from an e-mail sent by a woman from Round Rock, Texas. "We enjoyed coming to Seattle on our recent trip, but we were bothered by the number of homeless people we saw. They were aggressive and asked us for money. We'll go somewhere else on our next vacation."
By the time Gracy drives back onto the streets, Kerlikowske's appeal has produced calls to the police. The computer screen in Gracy's car is alight with reports of homeless. Two men sleeping under I-5 at Albro Street. A man sleeping in front of an empty business at Fourth Avenue and Vine Street. With the shelters filled and extra room running out, his option would be to take people to the ER at Harborview Medical Center. He drives north to look into the man at Vine Street.
The man is surrounded by four bags of newspapers, sleeping deep inside a sleeping bag against a door a half block north of Uptown Espresso.
"Seattle police," Gracy says. The man wiggles his head out of his bag. He is maybe all of 30 years old and wears gold-rimmed sunglasses, which he lowers on his nose. "Do you need shelter?" Gracy asks.
"Huh?" says the man.
"It's cold out. Are you OK? Do you need some shelter?"
The man replies that he is fine, and Gracy lets him scrunch down into his bag. Back in his car, he gets on the radio. "We're pulling the plug. We've got nowhere to go."
'We enjoyed coming to Seattle . . . but were bothered by the number of homeless people we saw. . . . We'll go somewhere else on our next vacation.'
A Bum's Epiphany
The day Govea got off that bus downtown back in 1996, he had an epiphany. He'd snapped, finally and irrevocably. He'd always felt he could just keep pushing ahead and his strangeness would go away.
"I could always get by under the radar working day jobs, but you get too old," he says. "And if you've got injuries, you are out of luck."
Back in 1996, he decided to stop running. Govea began navigating the byzantine social-services system, which he'd largely avoided most of his adult life. He doesn't remember where he went when or in what order things happened. He just remembers that he ended up being diagnosed with a mental illness and began receiving Social Security disability checks each month. He got on Medicaid and received a housing voucher for $600 a month. One day, he opened a newspaper and found a one-bedroom cottage for rent in West Seattle. He pays the remaining $75 a month in rent out of his disability check.
"Things really changed," he says. "I went from 'How long can I do this?' to 'I can do this.' I was rescued really." His cottage is comfortable and he keeps it neat. There are blankets and throws over a love seat and a small armchair. He keeps the heat turned low, even though his place is uninsulated and chilled in the winter wind. He says his right leg, the bad one, hurts in the cold.
"I've got electric heat," he says, "and I cannot afford to run it hot. But this is the way it ought to be. People ought to have vouchers so they can rent places instead of being stacked up in crack houses. This was a godsend."
In the late 1990s, he owned a small business. It was called Clean Start and he and other homeless people did janitorial work at the YWCA and other social-service agencies. But that ended when his doctors thought he had liver cancer. It turned out to be hepatitis C. He spent about a year going through treatment, which involved injecting himself with Interferon and other drugs.
"I'd wind up puking in the bathroom," he says.
After a time, the illness cleared. He keeps an unused injection kit, complete with drugs, in his refrigerator. It's a reminder, and so is the occasional pain in his right side from his liver.
But he knows what many citizens think of people like him—he's a bum and a loser who doesn't work and costs society money.
"I understand," Govea says. "There are good reasons for them to think that way. We all have our dark side. But you do it—take care of the poor—for the sake of doing it. The reward is in the doing of it. I'm looking at another 10 years now. I know that. If I could've had some intervention in this vicious cycle years before, maybe things would be different. Now, I want to wake up each day and see what happens. It's worth staying in the world just to see what happens. How do you live in this world? Who do you want to be? I am who I want to be. I've had my epiphany. I understand what happened to me. I am an example of how the system works in many ways."
But no one can say what will happen to him—and that system—after April 1.