Edwin Lopez, a rookie California Highway Patrol officer, this week returned to a south Sacramento park where, all too recently, he used to live and sleep when he was homeless.
“This is the first (time) I’ve been back since then,” said Lopez, 26, recalling his personal odyssey from extreme poverty back to gainful employment. “I’ve shed a few tears reflecting on what I’ve been through.”
Lopez knows what it’s like to dumpster dive, to be assaulted when sleeping outside, to ask complete strangers for food and water, to routinely feel unsafe. Lopez lived all of that and more in the seven or so months he was homeless in 2012 after losing his job in an Elk Grove tire store, and then his apartment, and then his car, which was repossessed.
He was homeless while on active duty in the California Army National Guard, Lopez told the Sacramento Bee. He tried to find work but that became increasingly difficult the longer he went without shelter. “I had a lot of people who had ‘Help Wanted’ signs tell me they weren’t hiring, probably because I looked homeless,” he said.
Meanwhile, he slept in construction sites. He slept in bushes. Or he would spread out his old clothes and sleep on the floor of public bathrooms. “It didn’t work out too well,” he said. The stench would keep him awake.
Salvation came when Lopez shared his story with a friend in the National Guard, he said. That friend hooked up with a jobs service assisting veterans. That led to an opportunity with the California Conservation Corps.
Lopez remembers the interview going well. The CCC called back the next day and offered him a position doing fire clearance. He could either start in a few months or a few days. He chose a few days.
Working with the CCC, which provides food, clothing and a stipend, got him back on his feet. Then he applied to the CHP.