Christian (name legally changed), a New Jersey native, routinely spends his daytime hours cleaning the park on the bay at 4000 Fanuel St. A cross between goodwill ambassador and landscaper, Christian daily sifts playground sand to remove debris, rakes lawns and picks up trash.
Speaking with the very Christian Matthew about Fanuel Park, you quickly grasp the park means a lot more to him than most.
“I do feel at ease here, at home,” he said. “It’s a great energy place. It’s very peaceful. If you show up on a day like this where the bay is glistening, kids are happy, and everything seems like it’s right in the world — that’s when you realize this place is special.”
Added Matthew: “I like this kind of work. It's kind of Zen-like where a person can just forget about their problems.”
Would Matthew like being compensated for his volunteerism?
“I don’t know if I feel comfortable getting paid for this, to be honest with you,” he replied.
Matthew takes park uncleanliness personally.
“To see the sand being inundated with tree debris, it’s kind of like having a beautiful home and having it fall to disrepair,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Matthew keeps a scrapbook of cards people have sent him appreciating his clean-up efforts. “If it wasn’t for these people, I don’t know if I could have gotten through being homeless,” he confided. “It’s about hope versus hopelessness. There are people who care. There are a lot of kind people.”
Of being unsheltered, Matthew said: “I was homeless sleeping on the sidewalk for 4 1/2 years. That bothered the heck out of my back. I felt like a pariah just because I had financial problems. You’re just trying to find a place, like when it’s raining. It’s very lonely at night. It’s not easy.”
By his admission, Matthew has been financially challenged nearly all his life. “My jobs have been mostly driving jobs or lower-skilled manual labor,” he admits, while noting, “I’m 53 years old. I have no criminal record. I’m a normal person coming from a working-class family.”
As his friends will attest, Matthew is one of the more atypical unsheltered people you’re ever
likely to run across.
“I’ve known Matthew since I moved to PB three years ago,” said Johanna Schnell. “He is a positive, sincere volunteer at the park, focused on keeping the children safe. It goes deeper than sweeping and sifting. When people see Matthew taking care of the park, everyone benefits. His presence truly makes a difference. The park shines brighter when he’s around.”
“He’s just a nice human being,” said Carlee Gee. “He is unassuming, kind, just doing the best he can.”’
“Sometimes, I would bring him food or a backpack of clothes,” said Dorothy Gison. “He gave that backpack to a friend, didn’t use it. He’s very kind, approachable. He’s never asked for money or anything. His neighbors want to help him. We just don’t know how.”
“Matthew is a truly special man,” said Peter S., who met Matthew when he moved from Connecticut to PB in 2016 and has since befriended him, offering him both work and lodging. “He has a beautiful soul and a heart of gold… he consistently gives to others less fortunate than himself.”
Regarding Matthew’s situation, Peter S. said, “Matthew is challenged in ways that are difficult to define. He’s unable to hold a job, which pays near enough to support him. He has difficulty accepting help.”
Nonetheless, Peter S. noted, “Matthew has proved himself 100% trustworthy, takes care of my home when I travel, has a wonderful relationship with my son, drives my car and is a true friend and de facto member of my family.”
Of Matthew’s future, Peter noted: “Matthew should be paid to do what he and the community love, caring for Fanuel Street Park. Government ought to find a grant or position that can pay him enough to be on his own for contributing so wonderfully to our neighborhood.”
Matthew proposed his own solution for enhancing city parks maintenance.
“I’m hoping they’ll start an adopt-a-park program where people could do raking, sweeping or picking up litter,” he said. “It could be like an army of volunteers making our parks cleaner and safer for kids. It would be a great example.”
Regarding his status, Matthew said, “Maybe this is my lot in life. I’m not crazy. Right now I have housing. I’m able to contribute and make a difference. I guess I have to count my blessings. I have faith in the creator, the savior.”
Asked the purpose of life, Matthew answered, “To be a blessing to yourself … and a blessing to other people.”
Matthew tithes at least 10% of the money he makes or people give him, to worthy charities.
“That’s what life’s about … being part of the solution,” he concluded. “That’s what’s taught in scripture, being a steward of wherever you are on the planet.”
Want to help?
Neighbors and Pacific Beach residents can come together to help Matthew Israel Christian at gofundme.com/f/matthew317.