Sparks Homeless Journal #4: In Praise of Darrell Duke!

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Darrell with Governor Newsom, Jan. 14

A change of pace from the drab, forlorn and fiendish! Today’s installment is not about anyone on the street or anyone who is currently calling the shelter home. It’s about a man who managed to earn my respect, which is not an easy thing to do, during my very first night of being homeless in Riverside.

I first met Darrell Duke during my intake process at the shelter where he’s the head of security. Actually there’s only two of them here, but to me he’s the only one that matters while the other is more of a punk with a sewn-on badge on a weekend power trip. The day I did my intake I was informed that I wouldn’t have a bed until the following day which meant spending the night somewhere on the street in a part of town that I was not all that familiar with.

That night I had about $8 dollars on me and I wanted something to eat that was a bit more substantial than the peanut butter Girl Scout cookies I’d become accustomed to during my last few days in Garden Grove thanks to a fellow dreg named Donny who had managed to find a couple of discarded boxes while looking for “snipes” (cigarette butts that still have enough drags left in them to help with the feaning and to blissfully stimulate one’s frantic endorphins.)  So with another night of lugging a backpack which was now being held together by bent safety pins, a black bandana and fleeting hope, along with a duffle bag with no snaps or drawstring, I headed to the Jack In The Box on University and Chicago.

My plan was to order a Junior Jack and a small drink so I’d still have enough left over for another pack of Talons from Rite Aid the following day. Lucky for me the Rams scored two touchdowns that day which meant a Jumbo Jack combo for the price of a large drink. And to think I’ve always hated football and, well, all sports in general. As I finished eating I noticed a very familiar face walk in. It was none other than Officer Duke.

We had a good conversation which began by me asking him if he knew of any places where I could crash without having to worry too much about getting fucked with by tweekers and, more importantly, uncle LEO. It was definitely the right question to ask because it opened up a very personal discussion regarding homelessness which he himself had experienced firsthand just a few years earlier on the same exact streets. What really impressed me though was his passion and empathy for those who find themselves in this situation.

We probably talked for a good 45 minutes and he didn’t even care that the food he’d ordered had already grown cold. He was in a zone. A welcomed topic of discussion for him and I couldn’t be more grateful. It was during our talk when I found out that he had self-published a book called Helping The Homeless Find A Haven For Hope, which details his story and the solutions he feels are key in combating the homeless epidemic. He did manage to turn me on to a few spots where I could sleep without too much worry of intrusion, but I found and opted for shelter in some bushes behind a 24-hour Winchell’s instead.

As far as authority heads go around here, Duke is the only one who seems to know what it takes to make a difference both at the shelter and on the street. In short he’s the one who should be running things and is the only person on the payroll that I truly trust and respect. He has spoken to the higher-ups, but they’re content on keeping a questionable twelve-year system in place because a change might bring about, oh I don’t know, an actual change for the good.

Last week I was speaking with him about whether or not I could use him as a reference on my application for housing from The Grove Community Church. It was during what would become another lenghthy conversation, full of aired grievances and shared frustration over the way things are being handled and what tools should be introduced in both the shelter and for those in the tent city outside, when I decided to ask him more about his book.

This time he went into much greater detail about what went into it and the pushback he got from certain people who didn’t much appreciate the information that he’d brought forth within its pages. Obviously I’m in no position to purchase a copy of it off Amazon, so I asked him if he happened to have an additional one that I could possibly borrow. He said that he did and would be happy to give me one of the original pressings. That night during the seven o’clock smoke break/kennel call, he called me over and handed me a copy which I immediately started reading once I was back on my bunk in the dorm.

I finished it in just under two days, a very quick read, and was sickened once again at reading the stats, circumstances, and treatment of our homeless brothers and sisters, most of which I already new long before I ended up here. He doesn’t hold back. The NIMBY vermin, the systematic racism and cruel treatment from the state and its official gang who are sent out to make sure the already unbearable lives of some are made even more so with the excitement and overzealous glee from those who are all too happy “just following orders,” are all on full display albeit worded a little more politely that I would have.

All in all there’s only been a few people who have made my time here in home sweet hell a bit more bearable. Of course most of them are either on the inside with me or can be found outside milling around on the cement and asphalt. But then then there are those few I have come to admire greatly. Those who genuinely understand what’s needed and have actually stepped-up to help. Kevin and Pastor Andy from The Grove Community Church, and of course my main man and the only one here who seems to know what both the right and left hand are doing, Officer Darrell Duke.

It’s easy to forget where you came from and I for one am grateful that he never has.