This piece was originally published in Vol. 161, Issue 3 of The Guardsman and is being republished as part of San Francisco’s city-wide focus on homelessness on June 29, 2016. For more information about this effort, visit http://projects.sfchronicle.com/sf-homeless/.
By Nancy Chan
Nick Lindley, 24, wakes up to a panic attack every morning at 7 a.m. His body does this without an alarm clock or an actual cause for alarm.
Then he walks with his dog Ziggy to the Bay Area Addiction Research and Treatment (BAART) clinic on Turk Street. There, he drinks 81 milligrams of methadone.
“They’re great,” Lindley said, who holds the clinic in high regard. “They raise or lower the amount if I ask. I’ve tried lower doses but things get weird at school if I take less.”
With Ziggy in tow, Lindley ties back his blonde hair and sweats through a threadbare band T-shirt as the BART train takes him toward his 9 a.m. class.
Lindley carries a toolkit slung over his back that holds a City College Rams 2016 planner, homework, documents for financial aid and Ziggy’s service animal papers. He also carries “The Primal Screamer” by Nick Blinko, “The Enchantment of Everyday Life” by Thomas Moore, “Introduction to Physical Anthropology,” and a Merriam-Webster Spanish-English dictionary.
The last two books supplement his biological anthropology and Spanish classes. Both classes count toward an associate degree in sociology. He plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University.
Lindley is enrolled part-time at City College with the help of financial aid, and City College Chemistry Professor Raymond Fong referred him to Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS).
“He said to me, ‘Here’s the backpack and the supplies you need.’ I was like, ‘Thank you very much, sir,’” Lindley recalled.
Lindley became a first-generation college student against numerous odds. When Lindsey was 14 years old, his father separated him from his mother because she had a methamphetamine addiction. One year later, he got into a physical altercation with his father that lead to disownment, heroin addiction and six years of homelessness.
He backpacked across Tucson, Arizona; Chihuahua, Mexico; and Houston, Texas before securing housing in a single-room occupancy hotel in San Francisco’s Mission District.
“San Francisco is where my life turned around,” Lindley said. “I used to think instant gratification is better now than tomorrow; now I think feeling horrible now is better than feeling horrible in the future.”
San Francisco gave Lindley a new start—his GED at City College. “Back in Houston and Tucson they charged $150 for each test. In San Francisco, I was paid $50 to take each test,” Lindley said.
He became a construction worker with his GED and obtained a certificate for completing employment training from Asian Neighborhood Designs. However, Lindley realized construction wasn’t his calling during his last solar paneling job at Environmental & Construction Solutions.
Once he decided to follow through with formal education, Lindley acquired a Board of Governors (BOG) fee waiver by completing the Bridge Academy program at Larkin Street Youth Services.
“It’s like a homeless college,” Lindley said. “It prepares homeless kids for college and teaches them what people expect of them.”
Lindley never forgets the time he spent homeless. He volunteers regularly at Larkin Street Youth Services, where he encourages and teaches young people through TED Talks. In addition, he’s a hired outreach worker for the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team.
“I want to become an outreach counselor for at-risk youth,” Lindley said. “In my opinion my story is not rare. You could find a kid from any major city like me.”
To fuel his ambition, Lindley’s room has personal, customized touches that keep him motivated.
A worn Bruce Lee poster hangs at the center of attention by the door, whom Lindley admires. Like Lee, he has attained a lean and muscular build, having learned boxing while living in Tuscon, Arizona.
Another belonging he holds close is his varied vinyl collection, with genres ranging from punk to soul, from country to pop. “It’s my replacement for Xanax,” Lindley said. He refrains from taking anxiety medications because they interfere with his drug tests.
Staying on course
On discouraging days he plays Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” record on loop, sped up from 33 to 45 RPM. The increased speed makes Madonna’s voice to sound like Alvin the Chipmunk, which does wonders for him.
“You have no choice but to smile. Nothing feels sad when I do that,” Lindley said. His constant, stifled laughter is a more accurate description of his reaction.
A hanging, miniature Harley-Davidson leather jacket makes Lindley smile as well. The jacket is for Ziggy to wear when special occasions arise. “Like when I graduate,” Lindley said.
Like Lindley, Ziggy is a survivor too. When Lindley adopted him in Chihuahua, Mexico, the Staffordshire terrier and pocket pitbull mix had previously lived as a bait dog.
Ziggy’s missing teeth, crushed larynx and bite scars add to Lindley’s appreciation of their companionship.
“Such a hard life…such a big beginning,” Lindley said to Ziggy, petting him furiously.
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Send an email to: Nancy Chan