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In search of power (outlets)

An increasingly connected population of street people are plugging in their phones, cameras and GPS monitors at stores, churches and cars. Some welcome them

others don't.

October 29, 2011|By Lauren Williams
  • An electrical plug outside El Toro Bravo restaurant in Costa Mesa.
An electrical plug outside El Toro Bravo restaurant in… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

COSTA MESA — During Thursday morning's Bible study at Lighthouse Church, Danon Hellbusch sat on the floor between racks of free clothes, charging a slim red phone.

The man, recently homeless and living in a cardboard box near the Department of Motor Vehicles office on 19th Street, said it was the ability to connect his cell phone to a power source that led him to his all-important job interview Friday.

"It's very important when I'm working," said a clean-shaven Hellbusch in his spotless white T-shirt. "I'm a virtual assistant. I'm using my cell phone and laptop continually."

Electrical outlets are simple, small and found in every home, but to the homeless, they are sometimes a hard-to-access necessity that powers everything from smartphones and laptops to wheelchairs and court-ordered monitoring bracelets.

Lighthouse Church, bodegas, cars and friends' homes are just some of the power sources serving a population of increasingly connected street people.

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Take Ron Davis, who has been on the streets for four years. He uses a digital camera to photograph

the work he does as a handyman, then he shows the pictures to potential employers.

Without a place to power his boxy point-and-shoot, he can't find work. Fortunately for Davis, a recent influx of jobs has made it possible for him to buy a laptop and a car, where he usually charges up his devices.

Many others, however, aren't able to afford cars, whose cigarette lighters can supply power.

Police sometimes see the homeless

charging their devices outside of area businesses, particularly on the Westside.

Victor Bonilla is troubled by the homeless using outlets outside of his bodega.

Bonilla, who owns a small market about a block away from Lighthouse Church and pays about $1,700 a month in electricity bills, said he is just trying to get by. He can't afford for anyone to tap into his utilities, so he's considering hiring an electrician to remove the outdoor outlet.

Some in need of power wear court-ordered GPS ankle devices, some of which must be charged twice a day for an hour to keep from sending a signal to law enforcement.

"They [charge] wherever they can," said Costa Mesa police Officer Julian Trevino. "They just plug in."

Some, but not all, of those wearing the ankle bracelets are sex offenders.

Of the 146 sex offenders in Costa Mesa, 22 are listed as transients, according to information provided by police, although it is unclear how many are mandated to wear a GPS ankle device.

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