A Transformative Moment Sparks Change of Life

George Hill i i

George Hill told his story in Santa Monica, Calif. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps
George Hill

George Hill told his story in Santa Monica, Calif.

StoryCorps

After leaving the Marines, George Hill became addicted to drugs and alcohol. He soon found himself on the streets of Los Angeles, homeless for a dozen years.

"I can't even begin to tell you the misery of rain," he says. "I don't even care how slight the rainfall is, it was misery beyond belief.

"Sometimes you sleep during the day because it's warm enough to sleep. And then at night you keep moving so you don't freeze."

He would watch people get on buses and think, "Those are normal people."

"You felt anything but normal and I was just looking for a change," Hill says.

One time, Hill was sitting on a bag ("If you didn't carry your blankets or your jackets around in a bag, they were gone," he says), "and here comes a homeless man, so dirty it was just awful. His hands were black, with the exception of his knuckles and joints, where the bone had kind of rubbed through the dirt. He had rags tied on his feet. And his hair was matted in two big, nasty dreads.

"Out of all the people on skid row, he looked down at me and reached in his pocket and pulled out a dollar in change. It's all he had and he gave it to me and said, 'Here, man. I feel sorry for you.' And he shuffled away."

Something about that moment changed everything for Hill, he says.

"I just said, 'Oh, no, no. I'm going to get some help.'"

With the money the man gave him, Hill says he took a bus to a hospital psych unit.

"I still think about it sometimes," he says. "I don't believe in trying to make up for lost time. And I don't have regrets for anything that happened, because going through the homelessness just made me so grateful, determined, thankful.

"Now, every time it rains and I have keys in my pocket, I have a joy of life that you cannot believe."

Hill has now been off the streets for 10 years. He has a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is pursuing a degree in computer information systems at Cal State University.

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

StoryCorps Griot: Turning Point in Homelessness

On this week's installment of StoryCorps, we hear from George Hill. After leaving the Marines, Hill became addicted to drugs and alcohol. He soon found himself on the streets of Los Angeles, homeless for a dozen years.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Time now for StoryCorps Griot. This project's been traveling the country, recording interviews between African-Americans. Today, we've got the story of a changed life. The story began when George Hill left the Marines. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol and found himself on the streets of Los Angeles.

Mr. GEORGE HILL (Former Marine): I was homeless 12 years, and I can't even begin to tell you the misery of rain. I don't even care how slight the rainfall is, it was misery beyond belief. And then sometimes you'd sleep during the day because it's warm enough to sleep, and then at night, you keep moving so you don't freeze.

I used to watch people get on the busses, and I used to say, you know, those are normal people. And you felt anything but normal.

One time, I just happened to be sitting on this bag, because if you didn't carry your blankets or your jackets around in a bag, they were gone. And here comes a homeless man, so dirty it was just awful. I mean, his hands were like black with the exception of his knuckles and joints, where the bone had kind of rubbed through the dirt.

He had rags tied on his feet, and his hair was matted in two, big nasty dreads. And out of all the people on skid row, he looked down at me and reached in his pocket and pulled out a dollar in change. That's all he had, and he gave it to me and said here, man, I feel sorry for you. And he shuffled away.

Something about that moment changed everything. I just said oh, no, no, no, no. I'm going to get some help. With that dollar in change, I caught the bus, and I went to the psych unit in the hospital. You know, I still think about it sometimes, and I don't have regrets for anything that happened because going through the homelessness just made me so grateful, determined, thankful. And now every time it rains and I have keys in my pocket, I have a joy of life that you cannot believe.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: George Hill at StoryCorps in Santa Monica, California. He's now been off the streets for 10 years and has a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

StoryCorps Griot has finished its national tour, but you can still record your Griot interview at any StoryCorps booth around the country. All the Griot Initiative recordings are archived at the Library of Congress. A copy of each interview will also go to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Hear more at nprnewsandnotes.org.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

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