California is trying to house the homeless through a health insurance program. It worked for this man who spent 18 years in a homeless camp.
At age 28, Joseph “Joey” Martinez was trying to start a new life in his hometown of Sacramento, but the only job he could find was a short-lived job as a paperboy.
In 1983, just months after moving from San Francisco to Sacramento, he met a man — an ex-convict named Eddie — who offered him a place to stay in the city’s homeless camp. It was one night of work and then he’d be sent on his way.
It was the beginning of something special.
“[Eddie] said I could eat at the same meal and sleep on the same bed as him for free,” Martinez recalled in an interview in 2016 for the Archive on the homeless. “I learned how to survive and I got a chance.”
As Martinez started living at the camp, he met a man who introduced him to a friend who would eventually become a part of his life: Ed Williams. Together, they developed a friendship that would last his entire life.
In the following interview, we discuss the origins of their relationship, their friendship, the impact it had on Martinez, the homeless camp they both lived in, their relationship, and how they used it to raise two children.
A native of San Francisco who grew up in the Bay Area, Martinez first discovered homelessness while living at a camp at the city’s Mission District in the early ’80s.
“It was a different time. There was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse in the area,” he recalled. “Homeless people were living in the trash and not getting as much support as others. I think my time at that camp was some of the first and most helpful [homeless] experience I had.”
While Martinez lived at the camp, his life took a different direction.
“I met Ed in the camp,” Martinez said. “I didn’t know what he was doing. But Ed convinced me that by being positive, I could make a change.”