'Hopefully, I can pick myself back up'

It's one of the tidiest stretches of road in Newport Beach.

On one end, Mercedes-Benz hoods gleam in the Fletcher Jones Motorcars lot. On the other, a gated condo development looms from behind tall palms. Jamboree Road, with its wide lanes, absence of retail development and speeding cars, is one of the last places you'd expect to see someone hanging out on the corner.

Especially if that man is homeless.

For the past month or so, Nate Meador, 50, has been leaning against lampposts between MacArthur Boulevard and Coast Highway. He wears a soiled winter parka and draws his head deep into the recesses of its hood. With his knees twisted and shoulders hunched, Meador cuts a jarring figure.

He reminds the hundreds who pass him every day how far one can fall. In a city known for its beautiful harbor and high-end shopping, not many Meadors exist. But somehow he's here.

For years Meador lived in and around downtown Los Angeles, most recently staying in Exposition Park.

“Then one day I just started walking,” he said.

Meador said he's also very familiar with the bus system, and that's why he wanders around Jamboree. He takes the Nos. 57 and 1 bus routes, which bring him to social-service providers in Santa Ana and Laguna Hills.

In those two cities, Meador heads to Veterans Administration clinics. He was once a Marine, he said.

Today, he's like many other veterans: homeless and mentally ill.

Meador said he visited the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach about five years ago and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Doctors prescribed him Risperidone and other medications, but he said he stopped taking them about three years ago.

“If they're not in treatment, and they're off their meds, to get back to mainstream society is really tough,” said Karen Harrington, a director at Share Our Selves, a Costa Mesa center for the poor.

It's so tough that Meador has been off and on the streets for almost 20 years. He's what social workers call chronically homeless.

Despite this, Meador insists he can pull himself out of it.

“I just need a hotel room to get myself together,” he said.

With a shower, shave and a change of clothes, Meador said he could start a journey to get back on track.

“I need to get this scum off of me,” he said, looking down to blue socks, stained brown with sweat and dirt.

It's probably not that simple. Richard Beam, spokesman for the VA in Long Beach, said that for a long journey into homelessness it's often a long, complicated road out.

Meador said he joined the Marines in 1977 after graduating from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.

He served at Camp Pendleton until 1980, after which when he returned to Los Angeles and began working odd jobs for the next 10 years, Meador said. A custodian here, a janitor there.

Then, in 1991, “I had some personal problems, had some bad luck,” he said.

It is as if he had internalized a series of clichés to help understand and make sense of his predicament.

“I've just been having bad breaks,” he said. “Hopefully, my luck will change. Hopefully, I can pick myself back up.”

For someone like Meador, to recover alone is next to impossible, experts say. It typically requires a complex partnership with social-service workers.

“For someone with mental health problems, just getting them a bed is not enough,” Beam said.

The VA has an Orange County program called Veterans First that places the homeless in temporary housing and pays for food and clothing. It also offers mental health care at its clinics.

But it doesn't have enough beds from which to choose or any long-term housing, Beam said.

“We're struggling to find beds in Orange County,” he said.

Beam said that residents here often resist any homeless shelters proposed near their homes, more so than in other places.

“We see some resistance by Orange County communities to support homeless individuals,” he said.

But one woman pulled over during morning rush hour this week to give Meador a couple of hamburgers and a Diet Coke. Before getting back into her Jeep Grand Cherokee she looked at him earnestly and handed him a $5 bill. “God bless you,” she said.

“They're generous,” Meador said about the people of Newport Beach.

Police aren't as friendly. Meador said they hassle him for identification.

“They chase me off.”

Newport Beach Police Department spokesman Sgt. Steve Burdette said police officers have to respond to citizen complaints of homeless individuals breaking a law.

Sometimes people call and fabricate a story to rouse the cops, though, Burdette said.

Officers become familiar with certain individuals, he said, and can use their judgment about when to question longterm homeless men.

“But when they're brand new, we typically get a lot of calls,” said Burdette.

Meador, if he were in different circumstances, might have called the police last week. He said he set a bag of clothes down at a bus terminal and someone took it. At night, that's where he sleeps.

Meador's not alone in Orange County. Individuals sought shelter 35,065 times during 2007, according to the most recent county data available.

At Share Our Selves in Costa Mesa, operations manager Vanessa Ontiveros said that the number of individuals seeking help daily has swelled by 40% in the last two years.

If the VA and other agencies can help get Meador off the streets he might drop from that stat. For now, he's not sure if he'll make it to that point. In August Meador will turn 51.

“I got to hurry up if I'm gonna be around for many more”

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