Bryan Morgan has had an interesting and difficult life since his birth in Oxfordshire, England almost 58 years ago, going from US Navy sailor to horse trainer to homeless father.
Part of an estimated population of 48,000 homeless veterans in the United States, Morgan spent his time on the streets in Turlock where he struggled to survive and provide for his son, Tristan, before finally securing a one-bedroom house close to six years ago thanks to a disability claim.
“Life is about trials and tribulations; making right decisions and bad decisions,” Morgan said. “It’s a fact of life that things happen. The way I look at it is you have to keep on keeping on.”
Morgan’s tumultuous road began at age 13. After moving to Oroville, California from England so his father could work on the Oroville Dam, Morgan moved to Idaho where he was eventually kicked out of the house. This was his first step towards military enlistment.
“I got a job and tried to finish school but never graduated,” Morgan said. “I figured no body loved me around here. Uncle Sam has got to love me.”
Before he knew it, Morgan was serving on the USS La Salle just two years after the end of the Vietnam War, porting and visiting 42 different countries including Saudi Arabia and Antarctica.
“We loaded and offloaded ships. We replenished NATO, went down to operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica and set them up for their winter,” Morgan said. “I liked it but they wanted to make me a cop, or a Master at Arms actually. I couldn’t see myself arresting people for a lot of the stuff I liked doing.”
By 1979 Morgan’s military career was over with an honorable discharge. Much to his dismay, however, he returned home to find that his family had moved and spent much of the money he had sent back to save during his six-year service.
With nowhere to go and with his nest egg gone, Morgan found himself working odd jobs before returning to California to live the life of a cowboy in 1981.
“I made a career out of breaking horses and mules for racing,” Morgan said.
Morgan worked up and down the west coast, breaking horses in Oregon, Washington, Arizona and California. In 2003 Morgan found himself in Delhi where he met Tristan’s mother.
Morgan’s life was seemingly on the rise during this time, but those circumstances flipped upside down over the course of the next two years as Morgan lost his job and car and watched as Tristan’s mother was incarcerated. Morgan was now facing a new dilemma he would have never imagined — being a single father on the streets.
“As an individual there’s not much to worry about. This is an enabling city. If you go hungry in this city you’re an idiot,” Morgan said. “The only difference is with a kid, there’s always that fear of them taking him away.”
Between living life as a homeless man for the first time in his life and raising a small child, Morgan’s problems were further confounded by difficulties securing aid programs and finding safe areas to stay at night.
“I dodged cops at night so they wouldn’t take my son,” Morgan said. “We had different places to hide out at night until finally they let us stay at the Salvation Army for a while. But there were nights when it was raining and I had to hold him up out of the water so he didn’t get wet.”
“There’s no help with (homeless) men with children,” he added. “There’s no shelters for men with children. They’re all geared for women, women and children, and men.”
Visiting parks and shelters like the Homeless Assistance Ministry Day Center in Turlock became a daily routine for Morgan and his son. Initially thinking they’d spend three to four months on the streets at the most, the pair ended up spending close to two and a half years as part of Turlock’s homeless population. In addition to issues of safety and resources, Morgan cites dealing with the stigma of homelessness as another difficult aspect of his experience.
“They look down on us like everyone is a druggie. Not everyone is a bum, not everyone is a thief. But we’re all profiled like that,” Morgan said. “There are great people who are just on hard times, but everyone looks at you like you’re a different class of society.”
Many of Morgan’s concerns were alleviated in 2011 when he moved himself and his son Tristan into the house they currently live in. Not everything was remedied, however.
“With my disability it cuts off everything else. I don’t get cash aid and I only get $100 in food stamps. After paying bills I just don’t have enough money to afford everything by myself,” Morgan said.
Because of this, Morgan and Tristan still regularly visit the Day Center to eat dinner and socialize.
Still, the fact that Tristan, now 10 years-old, no longer worries about sleeping on the streets is more than enough to be thankful for.
“He goes to school now. He’s got a secure place, he knows where he’s going,” Morgan said. “He has more self-esteem. It’s a lot easier to say you’re going to home at the end of the day instead of looking for a place to hide.”