Jonathan Foster: Weekly Series Puts Faces on San Diego’s Homeless

San Diego City Beat

March 18, 2008 – Though it’s a few miles outside his congressional district, Rep. Bob Filner stopped by San Diego’s temporary homeless shelter on March 7, located this year in a Petco Park parking lot, and gave something of an “it takes a village” speech about the plight of the homeless.

“It’s an issue that’s really a moral blot on our nation,” he said, promising to do everything in his power to direct more money to homeless services. Filner heads the Committee on Veterans Affairs; it’s estimated that around 25 percent of people living on the streets are vets.

Jonathan Foster’s not exactly living on the street, but he’s without a home. A tall, lanky Vietnam vet with a persistent grin, Foster had been at the shelter for about a week on the day Filner stopped by.

Foster was born into military life—literally—60 years ago at the Balboa Park Naval Hospital. He spent four years in the Navy, including 13 months in Vietnam, where he manned a Patrol River Boat (shorter than a Swift Boat, a PRB is the kind of boat featured in Apocalypse Now).

“Thirteen months of gun fight at the OK corral,” he says of the experience.

Six months ago, Foster was working as a commercial landscaper in Arizona. A massive heart attack left him unable to return to work and, as a consequence, he lost his apartment and decided to move back home to San Diego. He gets $260 a month in disability pay from the military, he said, because he was wounded twice.

Before he moved to Arizona, Foster logged more than 2,000 hours as a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul, where he taught adult general-education classes and served as a translator—he speaks a half-dozen or so languages. “I have an ear,” he says. Wherever he was stationed with the Navy, he picked up the language.

With the shelter closing on March 15, Foster was able to secure a spot at St. Vincent’s short-term shelter, where he’ll be able to stay up to four months. After that, he hopes to move into St. Vincent’s long-term facility. He jokes that his volunteer hours earned him a slot, but the reality is that because of his medical condition, he gets priority. St. Vincent’s handles all of his prescriptions and medical care—better there than the VA, Foster noted.

“The VA could take a page from his book,” he says of Fr. Joe Carroll, St. Vincent’s patriarch. “I have little faith in the VA system,” he said, “but I guess that’s a Vietnam thing.”

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