It was time for Stanley, an Oakland handyman, to return home to his family in Kenya after 20 years. But there seemed to be no way to save enough money for a plane ticket home while he also paid rent. So, he gave up his place in July to seek shelter in a different, cheaper building.
But that shelter fell through, and the 64-year-old has been on the streets since, spending his days at career centers and his nights trying to catch some sleep on BART. Through careful planning of bus and train times, he’s been able to avoid sleeping on the street. Through finagling credits from T-Mobile, he’s managed to keep his phone connected.
“It’s a mental thing to survive,” says Stanley, who asked that we not publish his last name. “You have to use your brain.”
After Anna Geiduschek — a tenant of a building Stanley used to do maintenance work on — and her former boyfriend Joe Rivano Barros became aware of his situation, they started a GoFundMe to help him get him a plane ticket to Kenya, and promised to match $800 between the two of them.
After Barros tweeted the GoFundMe link, it caught a lot of attention. Donors now aware of Stanley’s situation raised more than $1,000. To avoid spending it all to survive here, Stanley — who came to Oakland in 1998 — is having Barros hold onto the funds to save it for life in Kenya.
But worsening medical conditions are keeping him here. Having diabetic neuropathy means that high blood sugar causes nerve damage throughout the body, but mostly in the legs and feet. Stanley chose to stop working as a handyman a year ago, to prevent further long-term disability.
“Ultimately, we kind of pushed him to realize he’s sick and needs a place to sleep,” Geiduschek says. “It’s all a wash if he’s too sick.”
Little rest and a poor diet has sent Stanley to emergency medical services with dangerously high blood sugar. He says his doctor at Fremont’s Tri-City Health Center — which has a program for homeless individuals — wants him to stay put until the diabetic neuropathy stabilizes with the help of medicine. But the longer he’s on the street, the harder that is to accomplish.
“When you’re hungry, you have no choice,” Stanley says, referencing the fact that it’s hard to find healthy food when you’re scrambling for the next meal.
Geiduschek and Rivano Barros have tried to assist in other ways, like having Stanley use Geiduschek’s address for California identification, research documents needed to make it to Kenya, and a contact point for homeless services. Despite having access to the internet, Stanley has had trouble navigating where to go, or who to talk to.
“It’s difficult to find services,” Rivano Barros says. “It’s not intuitive at all.”
Rivano Barros says his instincts as a former Mission Local journalist kicked in, and he called as many people as possible for help, Stanley’s now on a shelter waitlist of over 1,000 people.
Stanley hasn’t told many people about his situation, including his adult children in Kenya. He doesn’t want his family to worry, nor does he want to stay with anyone he knows until he has one week left, to avoid ruining the relationship.
“It’s painful — you become lonely,” he says. “I don’t even know how to go back to a normal life.”
Stanley hopes to leave the country by March or April, but he’s struggling with the cold and rain this winter. He’s tried to look for odd jobs on Craigslist, but has a difficult time explaining his situation to potential employers.
From outward appearances, he looks like any other Bay Area resident going from place to place with a backpack and coat. But he sees how others look at people with more severe conditions.
“They think homeless people are criminals,” Stanley says. “Most of them — they won’t do nothing.”
At first, Geiduschek says she felt like there wasn’t a lot she could do as the Bay Area struggles to tame rising homelessness — at least 7,499 reside on San Francisco’s streets alone, according to a 2017 point-in-time count. But even as little as $50 can change Stanley’s week or month.
“A little bit of help really goes a long way,” Geiduschek says. “There’s actually a lot of people who are very quietly homeless, and you don’t really notice.”
Ida Mojadad is a staff writer at SF Weekly.
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Stanley’s online fundraiser can be found at gofundme.com/stanley-kenya-fund.