Four-year-old Carah Hayes is heading to kindergarten this fall, and finding the school supplies and uniforms for her will be difficult, explained her father Johari “Joey” Roberts.
But Carah gives no indication of the hardship that she has endured growing up homeless. She volunteers at the Christian Outreach in Action (COA) shelter where her family eats twice a day, and she laughs, babbles and plays like any other girl her age might.
At the Dine Long Beach breakfast catered by the chefs of local restaurants and served at COA on Tuesday, Aug. 1, Carah bounced around, handing out hugs and smiles. She nibbled on her empanada from Cesar’s Bistro and munched on her pork slider with kimchi mayo from The Federal Bar while her parents tried to convince her to eat her fruit.
But despite the light-hearted way Carah’s parents handled her, their shoulders were heavy with the responsibility of providing for their daughter.
The path that Roberts took to ending up in the downstairs dining room of the COA started after attending high school.
“I went from Poly to Wilson [high school], and they didn’t like me because I kept wearing Poly clothes,” he said, laughing.
After high school, he married and had a child, and while his wife was pregnant again, she accused Roberts of domestic violence, for which he was imprisoned.
“The mother was very abusive towards me,” he said. “I tried not to get involved with the fighting […], but one day it just happened.”
However he never escalated the violence to physical abuse, he said.
“I did not touch her. She was eight months pregnant,” Roberts said. “I don’t hit pregnant women. All I do is walk away from them.”
He added that investigators took photographs of his then-wife’s face and of his hands, and that there were no visible bruises or any evidence of physical violence on her face.
Upon release, he moved to Utah.
“I was working three jobs. I was married with two kids,” Roberts said. However, the marriage didn’t work out, and he divorced and moved back to Long Beach where, last year, he met his now-wife Caroline Hayes and her daughter Carah, whom he said he loves as his own.
“She called me ‘Daddy’ when she first met me, so I’m her daddy,” he said with pride.
Since moving back three years ago, Roberts has been dealing with homelessness.
“It’s much, much harder for the job industry out here,” he said. “I want to go back out [to Utah] because it’s easier for me to get a job. I’ll take anyone that wants to go with me.”
Upon hearing her dad say this, Carah exclaimed, “I want to go! It’s our home!”
And it will be their home, someday, Roberts told her.
He said that he prefers the situation of homeless females in Utah because that state does more to take women off the streets.
Women with kids get homes faster than men do, Roberts said. “They make the guys work, but they give the girls more easier advantage to move into a home.”
But while he works out the move to Utah, he has his wife as a support system.
“She keeps me strong when I’m weak,” Roberts said of Hayes. “When I get angry, she calms me down. When I get discouraged, she’s there to make me feel better.”
When Carah heard Roberts say that about her mom, she chimed in, “I’m there to make my daddy feel better!”
Carah then walked over to her father, seated in a chair next to her, and wrapped her arms around him for a big hug.
“I’m not sad now, but thank you for the hug,” Roberts said to her with a loving grin.
Roberts has been trying to find a job so he can support his family.
“It’s hard now to get a job. I’ve been looking for a job for 30 days now, and I still haven’t gotten a response back,” he said.
And it’s especially hard because any money that Roberts and his wife can scrape together goes towards providing for Carah.
“You always [have to] constantly spend on her, and you never have money to buy for yourself or your food or clothes, so everything has to be spent on the little one,” he said. “We have to sacrifice ourselves for her.”
But, in truth, he doesn’t mind, Roberts said. It’s part of being a parent. His only real worry is Carah being taken away by a government agency.
“My kids that I got out here– they [have] been taken away from me,” Roberts said, and he doesn’t want that to happen to Carah.
He acknowledged that growing up staying in family’s and friends’ homes and on the streets is a hard life for someone Carah’s age, but he also sees the gain from it.
“She will learn how to be caring and loving and nice and sweet and basically be like me,” Roberts explained. “I’m a very giving person. If I have a shirt and somebody ain’t got a shirt, I give [it] to them. […] That’s the way she is. She’s a very nice, kind, sweet little girl, and she likes to help people. And actually she works around here sometimes.”
In fact, Carah said excitedly, “I get the spoons and napkins!”
Roberts added that he has built a bond with both workers and visitors at the COA over the three years he’s been going there.
“Everybody in here is my family,” he said.
COA Executive Director Dixie Dohrmann explained that her organization does everything it can to help families and individuals stuck in homelessness like Roberts, Hayes and Carah. The COA provides meals every day of the week, food banks, diaper banks, pet food banks and clothing and small furniture distributions.
“This last year we served over 132,000 meals,” Dohrmann said. “Our meals program is what we started almost 40 years ago.”
The food for the meals is collected from partnerships with restaurants and companies and from donations, she said. The non-denominational nonprofit doesn’t receive any government funding and so they depend heavily on donations and help from the community.
In addition, COA can provide references and resources for getting jobs. Dohrmann spoke about one client, Reggie, who, while homeless, began working in the COA kitchen and four semesters ago began taking culinary classes at LBCC. She expressed that, when possible, the organization likes being able to help the homeless of Long Beach rise up, find jobs and move into homes.
As part of the Dine Long Beach event, Cesar’s Bistro, The Federal Bar, Ocean Market Grill, The Attic and Restauration provided food.
Terri Henry, the founder of Dine LBC Restaurant Week, partners quarterly with local rescue missions to serve meals to the homeless.
“With the increasing […] homelessness in our community, we’re realizing that there are a lot of us– a lot of our neighbors– that will not get the opportunity to dine out during Long Beach Restaurant Week,” Henry said. “We decided to bring Restaurant Week to them.”
Unfortunately, aiding the needy can be very controversial because so many homeless individuals suffer from drug addictions, Dohrmann explained. There are people who believe that those afflicted don’t deserve help.
However, she countered, she sees little wrong with providing the homeless of Long Beach with the bare necessities.
David Sculati, a homeless drug addict and former airline steward, said he believes more respect should be given to the homeless.
“I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the homeless state. I never fathomed what it was like because it wasn’t a part of my life, but now I have more compassion,” Sculati said. “I get very angry at people that dismiss me because of my situation. There’s a lot of people that have not had my experience that, unfortunately, look at me as a sub person, and a lot of these people in this room have had a lot of issues because people do not respect them in the way they should be respected.”
He has been without shelter since October but was was fired back in 2010 after being caught high on crystal meth at his job.
“I’ve had a lot of things to battle,” he said. “I’ve gone through cars [and] money, and I don’t think that’s making me happy.”
Though originally living without residence was not a choice, he said he believes that by being homeless for a while, he will be able to find that missing piece.
“It is [a choice] now because until I go back into a recovery program 100-percent for me, I know I won’t succeed,” Sculati explained. He said that finding the right program will be the key to recovering from his crystal-meth addiction, but that for now he attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every night.
At the morning of the breakfast, Sculati said that he was almost one day clean.
“I’m [a] binge user. I go in spurts,” he explained. “I’m not trying to find it, but it comes to me, and I still can’t say no.”
However, Sculati has not used drugs his entire life. He started at age 39 as a way to cope with anger. He is currently 51.
“After 9/11, United [Airlines] was in bankruptcy for three solid years. We– as the flight-crew members– were taking all of the financial challenges. We had our pension given to a government protection agency,” Sculati explained. “I just was always angry.”
In recent times, that anger has come back to him, he said, and he has to be careful.
“I’m a very giving person, and sometimes [homeless have] stolen my things,” he said. “I think that just because I show them what I had, they come when I’m sleeping, and they take things from me, […] but that’s very normal on the street.”
But even if it is normal, Sculati explained, it is still a breach of trust and angers him.
Sculati said that when he finally finds a stable place in his life, he plans to donate his time to the organizations from which he has benefited during his time living on the streets.
Others interested in volunteering for the COA can visit coalongbeach.org.
Editor’s note: The following photos are images taken by Carah Hayes.