As I approach the Here/There encampment on Adeline Street, two men lounge under the communal canopy tent while a third is hurriedly gathering his things. He looks like a young, pre-beer gut, hippie Santa Claus—a free-spirited dissenter who dreams of a world in which the naughty get coal for Christmas.
He seems not to hear me as I make small talk with the other two men. But when I get to my question— are any of them willing to be interviewed for Street Spirit?—he pauses for a moment, listening.
“I was going to go fly a sign while it’s not fuckin’ raining….” says the man, who goes by Moon Dog. “Flying a sign,” or panhandling, has been all but impossible for the past few days, due to the downpour projected to resume soon after this brief respite.
“But,” he sighs, “I have some things to say.” Moon Dog resignedly takes a seat, gesturing for me to do the same.
At 16, Moon Dog was kicked out of the home he shared with his parents and younger sister in Raleigh, North Carolina, trading a “boring” childhood spent dreaming of being an astronaut for life on the road. Moon Dog traveled across the country, learning how to blow glass in Vermont and attending Grateful Dead shows and Rainbow Gatherings in California, where he fell in love with the free-wheeling counterculture.
“This is one of my favorite places to be,” he says. “It’s beautiful, diverse, and just a nice place to live.”
Moon Dog has lived here off and on with his beloved dog, Dante—a Retriever, Chow, Shar Pei, and Pit Bull mix—ever since.
Moon Dog reluctantly gave up glass blowing (“It got ruined by cheap Chinese and Indian importing,” he gripes) some time ago, turning to his other passion in life, music, with renewed energy. He has found his groove as a psytrance DJ, performing at venues ranging from underground establishments to San Francisco’s famed DNA lounge.
Moon Dog recently drove up north to purchase a school bus, which he intends to use to start his own mobile production company. He has been gathering equipment, and when he is done, he plans to start throwing events.
“I want to create something that’s there to let people have a good time,” Moon Dog explains. “It’s going to make people happy. That makes me happy. We need more things like this.”
In the meantime, Moon Dog has been earning money by driving for Postmates—a meal delivery platform with an Uber-like gig-economy structure—though since he left his car behind to procure his school bus, he has been flying a sign to fill in the gap. Between Postmates, DJ-ing, and flying signs, Moon Dog manages to scrape together $200 per month in car insurance and $10 per month for a gym membership. “I have a place to take a shower, a place to sleep—I have everything I need,” Moon Dog says. “Life makes me happy. I love it—it’s beautiful.”
Though Moon Dog admits that being unhoused is tough, he is adamant that his lifestyle beats the alternative.
“I figured out a way to be comfortable without working two jobs for 15 hours a day,” he says. “Because if you’re doing that—are you living? You’re not living. You’re slaving.”
Moon Dog believes that homeless is the price he pays for freedom.
“I was watching [the movie] Team America: World Police at my friend’s house,” he says. “And it’s like in that song:
‘Freedom isn’t free –
it costs folks like you and me.
If we don’t chip in that buck o’five,
As Moon Dog explains, he could work long hours at a minimum-wage job, trading his freedom to invest in himself for enough money to rent a room the size of his school bus. He used to do just that as a forklift driver for Sam’s Club, a Walmart-owned retail company and Costco—but he won’t go back.
“I’m able to invest in my future in a way that people who have homes—but give it all to their landlord to get by, paycheck-to-paycheck—will never have,” he says. “As somebody who’s homeless now, I’m accomplishing more in life than I ever did when I had a home, because I’m experiencing freedom that was lost.”
Moon Dog believes that the world should be structured so that those willing to work full-time jobs are paid enough to live comfortably and raise a family—and if it was, he would seek a full-time job and a stable living situation in a heartbeat. But his experience as a forklift driver revealed a working world that falls considerably short of this standard.
“You can’t raise a family on that,” he says. “In fact, you can’t even raise yourself; you have to go back and live with your family. But to do that, you have to have a family. The home I grew up in was abusive.”
“I wish I could tell everyone to wake the fuck up.”
Inadequate minimum wages are one side of the coin that makes life on the street preferable for Moon Dog—the other is high rent. In his view, high rents reflect an unjustifiable consumer greed.
“It’s society’s fault,” he says. “People buying multiple freakin’ homes…They call it real estate; I call it hoarding resources. They set rent to a point where renters can either pay it or eat; of course people are going to be homeless.”
Moon Dog is especially fed up with moneyed complaints about homelessness. To him, such complaints add insult to injury revealing an empathy gap within the wealth gap.
“I wish I could switch homes with Donald Trump,” Moon Dog says. “That man has never had to struggle to survive. Do you really think he would have kept the government shut down for so long if he knew what it was like to live paycheck-to-paycheck?”
For Moon Dog, the problem is willful ignorance—an intentional, “see no evil” blindness.
“I wish I could tell everyone to wake the fuck up,” he says. “The solutions to this big ‘eyesore’ are obvious: The number of homeless people is a teeny grain of sand compared to the space we have; the city could house every single one of us. But people aren’t looking, so they don’t see it.”
He pauses for a moment, shaking his head. “Wake up!” he barks, making me jump.
Moon Dog laughs. “I’m not trying to make you feel bad,” he says. “It’s just the way it is. People need to wake the fuck up. But they don’t even know that they’re asleep.”
Street Spirits is a feature in which someone who lives on the street tells us their story.
Julia Irwin is a writer, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, and a soon-to-be law school student.