Milwaukie-area man seeks work, sheds light on path to homelessness -

You’ve seen him at freeway on-ramps and off-ramps in Oregon City and at strip malls in Milwaukie and Oak Grove.

He’s always with his dog, a 3-year-old friendly pit bull named Edward, and he displays a weathered cardboard sign that reads, “Begging Sux ... Compassion Doesn’t ...”

His name is Trinidad Rodriguez. He’s 31, and he’s homeless. Rodriguez has been living outside for much of his life, after being kicked out of his house by his stepmother when he was 13.

Before moving in with his dad and stepmother, he lived with his mother and grandmother. He says he ran away from that home at age 12, after undergoing constant physical abuse.

“My mother broke my nose, and she tried to kill me three times,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez agreed to be interviewed for this article in the hopes that it might land him a job and that passers-by won’t be so quick to pass judgment on him and others who, due to circumstances beyond their control, find themselves living on the streets.

“You asked what I’d say to people who think I’m here because I’m lazy,” Rodriguez said. “To people who drive by and think that people like me don’t want to work, I would say, ‘Get to know my story. Stop by, even if it’s just to say hi. Give me a chance, give me work. I have skills, and I’m a hard worker. If you’ve got work to do, give me a call, and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.’ I’m ready to settle down. I have a family, and I’ve got to think about them before myself. ... I’m a hard worker. I’m loyal and trustworthy.”

Rodriguez would like people to know that being homeless is no picnic.

“It’s just like a five-day-a-week, 40-hour-a-week job,” he said. “Only it’s harder ... 24/seven, 365 days a year. In the heat and cold, wind, rain, sleet and snow. There’s no time off.

“When you first start out, it’s really scary, because you don’t know anybody, or where you’re going to get your next meal. You don’t know if where you are going to sleep is safe. Safe for me was under bridges, next to a train yard or railroad tracks, or in the woods, somewhere on the outskirts of town. But you’ve always got to think about keeping safe, from animals and sometimes people. If you can find it, they can find it.”

Rodriguez says he’s had run-ins with “bears, wolves, mountain lions, snakes of all kinds — many times poisonous — rats, spiders, bugs of all kinds, scorpions.

“The wild animals, that’s one good reason you should have a dog with you,” he said.

A native of Southern California, Rodriguez graduated from Santa Maria High School in 2000. Not long afterward, he began traveling around the country.

“Something just pulled me to the road,” Rodriguez said. “At that time I was soul searching, mostly running from my past. Trying to figure out who I am. Trying to discover my soul again.”

His travels took him to every state in the U.S., with the exception of Hawaii. He’s been homeless in Canada, Mexico and South America — Rio de Janeiro and even “the jungles of Brazil.”

During most of Rodriguez’s homeless years, he has worked. But he says that since the economic downturn, work has become much more difficult to come by. Among skills he says he’s acquired through the school of hard knocks are: “lots of construction and demolition, landscaping, small-engine mechanics, pile driving, painting — I’m a good painter, roofing, moving, splitting wood.

“Roofing is one of my main things. I’ve done a lot of roofing, hot, cold, tarring, from tear-off to complete reconstruction. Putting shingles on, metal roofs, wooden roofs.”

Born in San Bernardino, Calif., Rodriguez is the oldest of six children, each with a different father.

by: PHOTO BY: JOHN DENNY - Its nap time for baby Gideon, as Trinidad Rodriguez, Sara King, and their dog, Edward, stand outside their home, a 1976 Ford Econoline van, which has a leaking roof and a cracked front windshield.He says his mom, who gave birth to him at age 16, sometimes worked three jobs to make ends meet. Still, he says that things were OK at home until he was 8 and the family moved to Redlands, Calif., to stay with a grandmother.

“Until then I was a good boy,” Rodriguez recalls. “Made breakfast for my brothers and sisters and made sure they were ready for school. When we moved, everything went downhill from there. I was physically abused by both my mom and grandma. Beat on top of the head, told over and over I’d never amount to anything and that I was ‘all-around dumb.’

“I was constantly in fear of being beaten, many times for no reason at all. My mom would come home after a bad day at work and beat me, just because she’d had a bad day. I’d tell my siblings when my mom got home, ‘Stay in your room, and I’ll take the abuse.’”

Rodriguez recalls the punishment he received from his grandmother when he wet his bed shortly after moving into her home.

“I pissed my bed, and I lied to my grandmother because I was scared,” Rodriguez said. “I cleaned it up and put the bedding in the laundry. The next day my grandma asked if I’d pissed myself. For the first time ever, I lied to her. She lashed me and hit me with a telephone cord so long and so hard that my back was completely sliced open. I felt like Jesus Christ must have felt like when he was crucified.”

Every day, Rodriguez says, his grandmother would make him and his siblings copy pages of the Bible on paper so that they would “learn the Bible and morals of the Bible.”

“My grandma had me up all night writing the Bible,” Rodriguez said. “But it was never good enough. Every day I’d write a page out of the Bible and every day I got hit. She’d hit us on the palms of our hands with the heel of [a hard-soled shoe]. If we’d wince or cry, we’d get hit more. I’d have blisters on my hands, and sometimes they would bleed. I remember it hurt, a lot.”

He added, “My grandma believed she could talk to angels. I think she was psychotic.”

Rodriguez has a vivid memory of the first time his mother tried to kill him.

“It was late one night,” he said. “I was in our house asleep, and I woke up, and everything was really, really quiet. I could sense something wasn’t right. I grabbed my brothers, and we hid in the closet. When I looked out through the crack in the closet door I saw something shimmering. I opened the door a little more and saw my mother, with a butcher knife. She went over to my bed and starting stabbing the sheets, over and over and over.

:At the time, I was playing baseball and my baseball bat was in the closet. I grabbed my bat and came out of the closet and hit her on the knees and knocked her to the floor. I hit her arm, and the knife fell from her hand. She had this blank stare and a crazed look in her eyes. Eventually she came out of it and she said, ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘Get out of our room and leave us alone!’ She asked me not to call the cops, so I didn’t.”

Rodriguez says that on two occasions, when he was 11, his mother attempted to run him over with their car, one time “smashing me against the house,” and another time, running over his bicycle, just as he jumped off.

By the time he was 12, Rodriguez had had enough.

“I told myself, if I stay here, I’m going to die,” he recalls. “I told myself, I either need to leave and stay away or I’m going to kill myself. I was done. I was getting hit all the time.”

Rodriguez did run away from home, with his brother, Rey, who also had received his share of physical abuse. But the police found them the next day and took them back to their mother.

“When they brought us home, I said, ‘I don’t want to live here anymore. I’ll commit suicide if you leave me here with her.’ I had it all planned out. I’d hang myself in the garage with a nylon rope we had.”

Rodriguez recalls the painful words his mother had for him as she made arrangements for him to stay with his father.

“She told me, ‘You go with him, I don’t want no letters, no phone calls. I don’t want to even hear if you’re alive. You’re not my son anymore. You were the biggest mistake of my life.’ She gave me a kiss on the cheek, and that was it.”

Rodriguez didn’t see his mother again for 19 years. He was visiting a sister last November and she arranged a meeting.

“When I saw her in November, I instantly started crying,” Rodriguez said, with tears streaming down his cheeks. “She just looked at me. She didn’t say anything. It was really awkward. We embraced, and I told her I forgive her and I love her. I asked her why she allowed all those things to happen. She said, ‘I don’t know why.’

“There was so much hatred. The last words I’d remembered was her telling me I was the biggest mistake of her life. All I wanted to do was hit her. But I told her I forgive and I love her. I had to forgive her for myself as much as for her,” Rodriguez said. “Whatever happened was for a reason, and it has made me the person I am. In order to move on with my life, I had to forgive all the hardship and stop dwelling on the past.

“The forgiveness has put a lot of ease on my mind and my soul. I have become more understanding and peaceful. She was a single mother, working three jobs and trying her best to raise six kids. It wasn’t easy.”

His rough life as a youth led to heavy drug use and associations with Southern California gangs.

“My main gang was PMK,” Rodriguez said. “Punk Mafia Klick. It was a skateboard gang.”

He says that when he was younger, he spent a lot of time in jail. “Mostly on drug-related charges, but never thievery.” He says he once went to jail for “skateboarding on top of a car.”

Rodriguez nearly died between his junior and senior years in high school, when gang membership led to his getting shot.

“I was shot twice,” he said. “Mistaken identity. They thought I was someone else. I got shot in the hip and spine. I was laid up for four months. The doctor said I’d never walk again. I proved him wrong.”

Rodriguez says he no longer does drugs. He says he stopped using on his own, because of the consequences.

“I’ve done everything. Heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, pills of all sorts, PCP, marijuana. I kept getting in trouble, going to jail. I decided it just wasn’t worth it. It was ruining my life. I kept losing relationships and going to jail. The last time I did anything was marijuana, around eight years ago. It’s not worth my going to jail and not worth me sacrificing my family.”

Rodriguez has a soulmate in Sara King, a 29-year-old homeless woman he met four years ago in the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland. They have a son, Gideon, who turned 2 on April 17.

They’re making their home in Milwaukie, living in a 1976 Ford Econoline van, which has a cracked front window and a roof that leaks when it rains.

Asked how he envisions his future, Rodriguez said, “I would like to be in a house and on some land. In a house, with my family and with a good job.”

Rodriguez says his life has made him “the person I am.”

Asked who he is, Rodriguez said, “I’m a family man. I’m a brother. I’m a hard-working man. I’m a husband. I’m an uncle, a very good friend, and somebody you can trust. I’m a protector. A protector of women and children.”

One might add, “gentleman.”

During the interview for this story, this reporter visited a local Starbucks with Rodriguez. Approaching the counter to place an order, Rodriguez trailed behind, holding the door for a customer.

On another occasion, while visiting a McDonald’s to talk and get a cup of tea, a woman and her child arrived at the counter. Despite the woman’s protests, Rodriguez insisted that the woman place her order first.

Another time, while visiting with Rodriguez at the entrance to Milwaukie Marketplace, he abruptly ended the conversation and said, “I’ve got to go.” He apologized profusely after returning from helping a motorist in distress.

Over the past year, Rodriguez has taken 20-year-old James Ormsby, a young man with local ties who is down on his luck, under his wing, mentoring Ormsby and teaching him how to survive on the streets.

Ormsby attended Milwaukie Elementary School and Rowe Middle School and has been out of work for two years. Raised by his grandmother, he hasn’t seen his mother since she left when he was 2 1/2 years old.

Shorty after beginning his freshman year at Milwaukie High School, Ormsby’s grandmother became seriously ill, and he quit school to care for her. Since then, he’s earned his GED from Clackamas Community College.

Ormsby’s grandmother died when he was 18, and he found himself without a place to stay, living on the streets.

Ormsby said of Rodriguez, “He’s mentored me. I see him as a brother — family. When I’m sick he’ll go out and make money to bring me food, besides getting his family and his dog food.”

Rodriguez never asks for a handout. If someone makes an offer of financial assistance or food, he accepts, but with a warm and sincere, “Thank you so much!”

“Everything I’ve gone through in my life has made me who I am, and I’m thankful for that,” Rodriguez said. “God has helped me out in everything I’ve gone through, and I put all my faith and trust in Him. I’ve been shot, stabbed multiple times; I almost died twice by drowning. If He didn’t want me to be here, I’d be dead. I was forced into what my lifestyle is. But if you asked me if there is one thing in this life I’d change, my answer would be no. I’ve met really nice people. Some of my friends have become my enemies, and some of my enemies have become friends. I love them all the same. They’re all human beings, and I love them all the same.”

by: PHOTO BY: JOHN DENNY - Their sign says it all, as Trinidad Rodriguez (left), his dog, and street brother James Ormsby greet motorists as they exit Milwaukie Marketplace.Asked to elaborate on the meaning of his cardboard sign, “Begging Sux ... Compassion Doesn’t ...,” Rodriguez said, “It does suck when you’re out in the rain and cold, begging for someone to help out. It sucks. Don’t judge me until you get to know me. Stop by and talk, even if it’s just to say hi and wish me well. Help out if you can. I’m human, too. I’m here. I’ve got work skills. Help me out.”

Rodriguez says anyone with work to do may reach him by calling Sara King’s phone at 828-699-3000. Or stop and talk when you see him at an area shopping mall or near a freeway.

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