Many people wonder what it would be like to hitch a ride on one of the many freight trains criss-crossing America, but not John.
The 63-year-old Texas native spent an entire summer traveling around the western U.S. courtesy of unattended freight cars. He once spent the night in an unlocked passenger van being shipped to San Jose, California.
He learned some things about how to survive without a permanent address from the “hobos” he met along the way. “They gave me a few tips,” said John, “but I learned a lot on my own the hard way.”
During his lifelong battle with homelessness John says he has lived outdoors more than he has inside. Living outside meant John spent the majority of his a time alone. He did not enjoy the solitude. "Being homeless is definitely not pleasant,” he said. “Being alone is the worst part.”
But John is lonely no more. In August 2014 he received housing. Now, he is greeted by many of his neighbors when they see him outside his apartment. He knows their names and they know his.
“Oh, it’s been a blessing,” he said of having his own place. “My apartment gives me a place where I can stay warm, a bed to sleep in, a stove to cook on, and I can take a shower whenever I want.”
John gets an assist from T.J. Martin, his St. John Center case manager. “T.J. has helped me a lot. He visits me every month,” explained John. “He helps me go shopping.”
"It is a pleasure to work with John. He always has a funny story to tell about his past experiences," said T.J. "He has a positive outlook and wants to give back. John is saving money so he can make a donation to St. Jude Children's Hospital."
No stranger to the kitchen, John's favorite meal to make is baked chicken breast stuffed with cream cheese and spinach, and a baked potato.
John’s family life as a child was less than ideal. He never knew his father. He started drinking due to peer pressure when he was still in high school. At 15 he went to live with a friend in Wyoming. When he was 17, John started hitchhiking. His travels took him to California, Utah, Montana, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.
John has held several unusual jobs on a - surveying crew, oil wells, the railroad (the same one on which he sneaked rides years earlier), and even an underground uranium mine.
It was June 2005 when John first visited SJC. He often worked second and third shift then came to the shelter to take a shower.
John attended college for a semester and earned straight As. He is still interested in learning. He checks out books and DVDs at the library. John would like to take a computer class and learn to speak Spanish.
He has some simple advice for anyone who finds themselves in a situation similar to his. “Don’t give up. It is never over until you quit trying,” said John. “And don’t refuse to accept help when someone offers it.”
Now officially “retired,” John’s many decades of working have earned him monthly Social Security benefits. He manages his money carefully; making sure his rent gets paid first. And he manages to save a little bit most months.
An experienced fisherman, John has purchased a rod and reel and tackle. This spring, when the weather gets warmer, he plans to put them to good use. Then he will no doubt add fish to his repertoire of home-cooked meals.