“As much as I wanted to be off the streets and as much as I wanted to be doing good, I didn’t feel like I deserved it…If you’re not willing to get help, you’re not going to get helped.”


Three weeks after I arrived in Los Angeles from Arizona, I was still settling into my new surroundings. I met up with some new friends at an outdoor area near the beach to hang out. My one buddy, Sideshow, was holding this sign. It said something like, “Slap Me for $3.” We sat there for hours just goofing off, wasting time. No one was taking Sideshow up on his offer. So, eventually, he says to me, “Hey, you want to hold the sign for me? I’m going to the bathroom.” I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” The second he walked away, this dude comes up. Right away, he’s like, “You’d let me smack you for $3?” And I’m thinking, well, I’m holding the sign, so I have to let this dude smack me, right? So I said, “Yes.”

The deal was made. Now, I’m not a wimp. I can take a knock in the face, but this guy wasn’t going to give it to me easily. He actually wound up. He started with the outside of his hand on one cheek and then spun all the way around to open-palm slap me on the other. People’s jaws dropped. It was unbelievable. Most people would have been knocked out from something like that, but I think I took it pretty damn well. But, come on, this guy didn’t have to throw in all that extra.


Someone is sitting here trying to make money, and this is how you are going to treat him? I’m homeless, so I don’t matter? It’s funny? He ruptured my eardrum. It was messed up for almost a year. I think that is the moment when I started to lose all faith in humanity. It’s just so messed up that someone would be willing to do that to another person, and for money.

How would this guy, any person, feel if that was their kid and someone did that? But, at this point, I had been homeless for at least five years. I was used to people treating me like I wasn’t human.


Growing up, I always lived with my dad. My mom and dad were separated, and she was always much more of an addict than my dad, so she wasn’t able to take me and my brother in. One time, she actually said that the reason I couldn’t stay with her was that she couldn’t afford to feed me AND the dog. So, anytime that my dad would go to prison, which happened regularly, we would be sent to live with an aunt.

We moved around so much that I didn’t really make or keep any long-term friends. I always knew that I was going to end up moving somewhere else, so what was the point? My dad would go to prison, and we’d move to my aunts until he got out. Then back to my dad, and repeat. I bounced between Arkansas and Arizona for most of my childhood. There was absolutely no stability.

At one point we were living in a little town in Arizona when he got busted, and my aunt and uncle in Phoenix said that I could come and live with them. They knew that I was hanging out with the Mexican kids down the street, and they didn’t like it. That side of my family was extremely racist at the time, but I wasn’t about to let them tell me who I could be friends with. I told them that.


One day, I came home, and the house was locked. My stuff was sitting out front. I tried to stay with the kids that I refused to unfriend and their family, but the landlord found out that I was there and threatened to throw everyone out, so I had to leave. That was the first time that I was homeless. I was terrified. I was 14.

I just started walking around Phoenix until as late as I could stay up and ended up sleeping on a bench, covered up with some of my clothes that I had grabbed off the lawn. The next day, I was walking around, and I met this kid. We started talking. I told him my story, and he said he was going to ask his mom if I could stay with his family for a bit. I moved into his house shortly after that.

Me and one of this kid’s friends became good friends. We started doing stupid shit. We ended up being arrested for breaking into this 99 cents only store. They called my mom to get me because they were going to let me go. I had never been in trouble before. My mom showed up and was like, “Keep him and drug test him because he’s been smoking pot.” That caused everything to be way worse. It seemed like I always got the short end of the stick with her. During my whole life, my brother was always treated better than I was.


So, thanks to my mom, I spent about a month in one of the worst juvenile detention centers in North America. After I got out, I was back on the street. I would say that I spent almost a year homeless in Arizona. I eventually ended up selling everything that I had and bought a Greyhound ticket to Los Angeles. I heard it was a lot easier to be homeless in LA and a lot easier to get help. At first, I found that wasn’t the case.

Then I met the Spare Some Change people. They saved my life.  

Michael Leoni runs an organization called Spare Some Change, and I was introduced to him by a friend after spending a little time in jail. The first way he started helping me was just by talking to me and listening. One of the hardest things about being homeless is the way that people look at you and interact with you. So many people think that homeless kids are on the streets because they choose to be, so they treat you like shit. I’ve been harassed, propositioned and spit on during my time on the streets.


People have absolutely no respect for you. They completely ignore you, like you don’t even exist. Mothers pulling their children’s arms to stay away, people turning their heads – It’s so dehumanizing. But Michael’s group would serve us all food and sit there having conversations with us, treating us like we mattered and were human beings. It meant everything. When I met Michael, we just ended up clicking. We sat up and talked for hours. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I had never been asked that before. I had never really thought about those sorts of things.


We ended up starting a friendship that can never be replaced. Spare Some Change took me in numerous times when I needed help. The last time was six years ago. I always wanted to get out of my situation, to get off the street and straighten up. But, as much as I wanted to be off the streets, doing good, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I would get really close to that goal and then I would self-sabotage. So many years dealing with my mom, feeling like I was more worthless than a dog, had beaten me down. So I just kept getting high. I figured that I was always going to end up back on the street doing drugs, so what was the point of any of it?


I just kept getting high and didn’t sleep for a long time. I was spiraling and started to really feel like, “Fuck it. I’m done.” I had been up for 10 days straight. I was out of my mind and depressed. I just wanted to kill myself. I decided that what I was going to do is just walk into traffic on a busy street. I was all set to do this, but as I was stepping off of the curb, I called Michael.

That definitely was the pivotal moment of my story, when everything finally changed. I got Michael on the phone and told him what I was doing, that I was done with it all. “I don’t want to live anymore.” He reacted immediately and said, “My God, David, where are you right now?” He was there in under 15 minutes. He picked me up and took me back to his house. I slept for like three days.


When I finally woke up, we sat down and made a plan to help me get off of the street for good. For a few months, I went and lived with Michelle, another member of the Spare Some Change group. During that time, I met and started dating my fiancée. I was finally tired of dwelling on the past, you know? I always had low self-esteem my whole life, and I always blamed myself for how things ended up.


There was all of this negative energy that I was holding onto in my body. It was really unhealthy. All of that makes it hard to grow. You need to be looking forward in order to grow. I was tired of going back and forth, being in the same situation over and over again. It’s the same thing that my dad always did. He would do drugs, get arrested, and go back to prison. I didn’t want to be that way, so I decided that wasn’t going to happen to me.


I am pretty happy with the person that I am today. If all of that stuff hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have the outlook on life that I do now. I can see now that it helped me grow so much. Now I am building a life and a home with someone I love. We just got an apartment together in Vancouver, WA, where we live now.

It’s just me and her, and everything seems to be working out okay. I think that one of the toughest things about getting off the streets was really believing that it was possible. You have to believe. Because, if you don’t actually believe it, you will just keep sabotaging yourself again and again.

I absolutely believe in myself now, and that has made all of the difference. Whatever good thoughts you have about yourself, no matter how small, you need to focus on those things, because you are an amazing person. You deserve all of the good around you. I have been there, and I have done that. I was on the streets, on drugs, with no hope, and at the absolute lowest point. I had nothing. And now I am making it happen. I’m making a life for myself. And, if I can do it, anybody can.