Challenges of Love and Homelessness
“It’s fun to be with him. We like each other,” Mackenzie said.
“Sometimes we talk and we look at the clouds or we just make jokes about things,” Gregory said. “Sometimes I’m like 'Hey, can I have your autograph?'" “A lot of people say I look like Whoopi Goldberg,” Mackenzie explained.
But they say it’s also a lot of work to make love work while homeless.
Gregory, 59, who used to work in security and in other jobs, but lost his way due to drug addiction, met Mackenzie on the streets of Oakland.
They recently moved to Reno, where they’ve also found it difficult dealing with police. They avoid the main shelter because it separates couples.
“We have already been told by the police that we can go live in the shelter but we don't like the shelter because there is a lot of bad personality. It's crowded and full. We are a couple and we don't want to be split up. The [police] even refused us to lay or camp in a park which is strange.”
They say in Oakland they didn’t have that problem. “In Oakland, you can go to a park and sleep peacefully, you do not get harassed. Here they hassle you even if you close your eyes and lay down,” Gregory said.
Keeping Each Other Safe and Dumpster Diving
They look out for each other, him at night and her during the day. “I promised her that I would never let anything happen to her and I never let anything happen to her and we worry each night we go to sleep because we have seen stuff happen at three or four o’clock in the morning. We have been threatened, we have been called all names. Sometimes it’s scary, most of the time I’m awake. Night time she sleeps, I stay awake so that I can protect her,” Gregory said.
“When he sleeps, I stay awake,” Mackenzie said.
They also help each other with their health problems. Gregory has back aches and has survived several heart attacks, while Mackenzie has problems with her feet. “I’m always in pain everyday,” she said. “I can’t get up sometimes, he has to help me out sometimes. I can’t take my meds because it will make me go to sleep.”
They were tired and hungry during the interview. They says they sometimes go dumpster diving.
“Sometimes we’ll be so hungry that I’ll go to a restaurant and look at garbage just to get us something to eat. That's something that I’m ashamed of but we have to eat,” Gregory said.
Missing their Children and Struggling to Get Back on Track
Both have had three children and miss them immensely.
“My daughters are 32, 31 and 17 years old. They don’t know we live in the streets at all. That's what we don’t tell them. I don’t want them to worry about me at all. I don’t want them to feel that they are obligated. They are not obligated at all,” Mackenzie said.
Gregory also has three children and misses them, but understands he hasn’t been in their life.
“My firstborn should be 38 years now, my second child who has the same name as me lives somewhere in ... Florida. I ran into my son on the streets and it didn’t go well because I wasn’t in his life and I think my kids they don’t look at me as a dad because I never supported or took care of them at all. I hate myself for not being in my kids life and it's really hard because I think about it and I beat myself about it.”
What would he tell his children if he could talk to them?
“I’m sorry that I wasn’t in your life. At the time, I was going through a hard life, it wasn’t you guys. Dad had a drug problem back then and I had nothing to offer but my love. There was no way I could have taken care of you guys and whoever raised you, they would have done a better job than I would have been able to and just don’t worry about me, just go on with your life. Don’t worry..."
Like some older homeless, they say they feel it’s impossible for them to get their life back on track.
“I had a job and I lost it and everything else went downhill,” Gregory said. “The company went out of business and it has been hard finding another one because we have no address … no phone, no clothes. It’s hard.”
He said once you lose your footing it’s hard to get it back.
“People look at you and say you need a job. I put in applications. They don't want me because I don't have experience and they don't want to train me so that I could get the experience and it’s hard because sometimes I would be so hungry and people would tell me to go find a job. My mother used to tell me if you’re hungry go knock on people's doors or go to the store and tell them you’re hungry. I used to do custodian work and I did security. As I got older, I had high hopes of being in law enforcement but it didn't work out. I was out of the streets. I had no steady place to go. Living with a friend became too expensive and I found myself on the streets by myself,” Gregory said.
Defining their Love
Gregory said they are like any couple trying to keep the relationship they value so much going.
“We discuss things and we talk things out. I don't think we are better than anybody, we just live together and we hang in there,” he said.
“He’s fun to be with,” Mackenzie said of Gregory. “I like him a lot. He keeps me going a lot. He’s special to me. Very special.”
Photos and Reporting by Prince Nesta for Our Town Reno