Anyone who passes by Mission and 22nd Streets has most likely encountered Marlon Muniz Cruz. Marlon has an expansive personality and a winning smile. He has lived on the street for many years. The first photograph I took of him, surreptitiously I am ashamed to say, was in 2012, and by then he had already been living outside for more than 15 years. Marlon was born in Guantanamo, Cuba. He served in the military before, at 20 years old, arriving in the United States in 1993 as a refugee.
Marlon’s home base centers on 22nd Street at Bartlett, although after the Mission Mall burned, he temporarily moved to the BART Plaza at 24th and Mission. Like some homeless men who have few possessions in this world, he wears a variety of necklaces. He generally has two shopping carts full of his possessions somewhere nearby. As soon as Marlon spots me on the street, I hear him yelling, “Hey, how are you?” while he rushes across the street to greet me.
Nearby, Marlon keeps two shopping carts filled to overflowing with, with the exception of bedding and his clothing, useless items. He is generous and always offers to give or sell me something from his carts. Among the things he has offered me: pages torn out of magazines, which neither have anything interesting or beautiful on them and makes one wonder why he is saving them; a few sections of a book about pelicans and penguins whose cover and more than half of the book are missing; an incomplete article from a recent New Yorker that I already have read; and a child’s pastel pink and blue plastic device, where one can plug in two USB connections.
When a friend mentioned that he occasionally buys things from Marlon, I realized that buying something him, even if I didn’t want it, was better than just giving him money. Once I bought a blank book cover that he had scribbled his thoughts on. Another time I gave him a necklace that was missing some stones, and in exchange for that and a few dollars got two watches that were not working.
Last year Marlon appeared barefoot and told me he needed shoes, pleading with me to buy some for him. Nearby Sketchers would cost more than I felt I could spare, but I remembered that Payless Shoes was going out of business with huge discounts. We went there but the remaining shoes were all plastic and in size 14 or larger or 3 and less. Marlon asked me to give him the $20 and he would go to Buffalo Exchange and buy them. I was hesitant, not sure if he would really go and get shoes. Reluctantly I gave Marlon the money and was greatly pleased the next day to see him wearing a nice pair of shoes that he bought.
Marlon was attacked twice in the last year or so. Someone stabbed him in the gut and he ended up at San Francisco General Hospital. The two events have left him traumatized, and he mentioned he is afraid he will end up dead. He seems eager to get out of his current situation, homelessness, by leaving San Francisco. He even talks about wanting to return to Cuba, something he didn’t say before the attacks. Should Marlon leave, the neighborhood will feel a little less alive.