People We See: Meet Armando Esquivel

In this feature, Club Founder and Training Officer John Hawkins introduces you to people you see every day, but you might not know who they are. The Club reminds you that we all have names and our stories to tell.

Meet Armando Esquivel

By John Hawkins
Club Founder and Club Education and Training Officer

I found Armando Esquivel wandering in the rain at a popular homeless spot where Alameda and Main Street split in the shadow of City Hall.

Armando was born March 14, 1986, making him 37 going on 38. He was born in East LA, has two deceased brothers and was raised Catholic. I asked him about his mom and dad, but he said he is not too sure where they are living or even if they are still alive.

He went to South El Monte High School and made it all the way to 12th grade but dropped out before graduating. He told me that he had quite of bit of head trauma while in high school from things like football, skateboarding, biking, extreme sports and just messing around. He called himself the “OG Jackass” and that all the trauma to his head contributed to him not being able to continue with high school.

After he left high school, he told me he took a job with Sealmaster paving streets. He said he was fired eventually after getting into a fight with a co-worker, and that working any kind of job has been hard due to his back hurting so much, collateral damage from all the falls he recalled taking back in the day. 

Armando said he is currently on General Relief and that he has been on the streets for about 10 years. I asked him about the first time he found himself on the street, and he said it was because of him constantly blacking out; he felt like something was going on in his head, and he described it as being like a hand probing around in his brain.

I asked him about drug use, and he said, “I only do meth.” He explained that he wants to try heroin to relax him and ease the anxiety but he hasn’t tried it yet. He said he can’t do fentanyl because his brain is “too full.” I asked him if he could kick the meth habit and he said no, it would be impossible, as he is too addicted, he said.

Armando’s favorite movies are Armageddon, Deep Impact and Top Gun. He likes Classic Rock, hip hop and rap. I asked him what his three wishes would be, and he meandered down a path that I couldn’t quite understand but it had to do with him being a prophet, about being the brain and heart of the world, and something about the King and Queen of England. This was a tough part of the interview because Armando seemed to drift into and out of coherence, but I don’t think it was drug-related.

While earning my degree in psychology I spent a couple of years as an art therapist at a home for young- to middle-aged people afflicted with mental illness, as in schizophrenia, bipolar (manic/depressive) and acute depression. I am by no means an expert and don’t have a medical degree, but in my opinion I wonder if Armando started suffering from mental illness in his late teens and most likely was labeled as a “troublemaker” and treated as such. I would also wonder if his drug usage enhanced his paranoia and conspiratorial tendencies, and further labeled him as problem teen/young adult, which perpetuated the cycle of not getting the proper medical/psychological help. Homelessness is complicated.

From left: John Hawkins and Armando Esquivel

John Hawkins wished Armando well and provided support.

The interview was conducted by Club Founder John Hawkins on Feb. 18, 2024. The contents described here were transcribed from a video recording.