Story, Photos and Interview by Jose Olivares
It's a weekday evening. Doug sits on the porch of a condemned house in downtown Reno, with blankets, a couple of sweaters and a few pieces of cardboard for comfort.
Smoking a Cigarette and Feeding Birds
The 72-year-old homeless man smokes a cigarette as he watches birds on the sidewalk pick at bread he throws at them.
“I give them bread every day,” he says with an aged, gruff voice.
Homeless but on a Porch
Doug is homeless and has been living on this porch for an unknown amount of time. At one point he mentions five years, at another point, six. A close friend says ten. That doesn’t matter to Doug, though.
“It’s free rent,” he says with a grin.
He suffers from emphysema. Every few minutes he will have a coughing fit with a pained look in his face. He’ll spit on the floor to clear the phlegm from his throat and apologize.
Dealing With Emphysema
“I take Ventolin but I can’t afford it. Every tube costs 17 dollars. It only lasts for three days.”
“My Medicare doesn’t cover it,” Doug says. As a result, Doug has to fight through his illness while battling the elements.
Memories of Other Places
Doug worked on a farm with his family in Minnesota when he was very young. He fondly remembers when his 8-year-old sister was bitten by a goose while she was trying to feed the winged animal. As she ran off crying, he recalls his grandmother pulling out her shotgun and killing the animal for the vicious act of biting the little girl.
“Let’s just say we had goose for dinner that night,” he smiles.
From Skyscrapers in Chicago to Windows in Reno
Doug lived in Oakland in 1989 during the Loma Prieta earthquake. He also cleaned skyscrapers’ windows in Chicago. He later came to Reno and worked at the Cal Neva as a top-deck porter. He says he lost his job after the Cal Neva hired low-wage workers and replaced him.
The old man defies a common misconception that homeless people do not work.
On his porch, he has a bucket with a window washer and squeegee. He often goes out to the streets, offering to clean people’s windows. He also visits restaurants to clean their windows and make a couple of bucks. He cleans “every day I want to eat.”
Seeking More Work
“I used to go out to the streets with a cardboard sign that said ‘Hungry! Want to work! I’ll clean your windows! I’m 72! I’m homeless!’” Doug says. “But nobody gives a f***.”
The few dollars he makes for cleaning windows goes to buying a bowl of rice with two packets of sweet and sour sauce at a local Chinese diner.
Dealing With Cops
It’s not uncommon for cops to bother Doug. When staying at the overflow shelter, he remembers being released at five in the morning. One morning he was released from the shelter and out into the cold.
“I go to the (casino) to get warm, and I get arrested because I wasn’t gambling!” he says. “True story.”
No Family But a Friendly Neighbor
Doug has no family in Reno – or anywhere. His parents and his sister are long gone. His sister was 35 when she died of cancer. However, he does have a very friendly neighbor who visits him every day. Scott lives in a house around the corner from Doug’s porch.
Every evening Scott will visit Doug, occasionally bringing food, but always bringing a conversation. As soon as Scott comes by, Doug perks up. The elderly man will smoke a cigarette while their conversation hits on a variety of topics.
“Doug’s a hard worker,” Scott says. “He cleans windows for a living. You’ll never see him out there panhandling, you know? He works hard.”
The years have very apparently worn Doug out. He is tired and it is hard for him to move around.
“I just want a place and a job. Plain and simple,” Doug says. “I don’t think they have enough low-income housing for people over fifty years.”
The message he wanted to get out into the world is: “He who has no sin can cast the first stone.”