"I have a clean conscience and I sleep peacefully knowing well I've never stolen anything from anyone." says Abeleno De Jesus Jimenez in Spanish. He's been homeless on the Santa Ana River Trail for more than two years, currently living in an encampment made of wood and green tarps surrounded by bike parts. It's this cycling collection that has led to numerous resident complaints and visits by the Santa Ana Police Department.
The Guerrero native became homeless after falling from a ladder while he was on a painting job. He's been on disability ever since, but the money isn't enough to rent even a bedroom in SanTana. So to supplement his income, Jimenez says he collects bikes from junk yards, trash bins and sidewalks to fix them and sell. "The most profit I make from the bikes I fix is $20," he says. He's still nursing bruises on his chin and arms, the result of another homeless man beating with a bat just a week ago to take a Mongoose bike that Jimenez had just patched and painted. "Often, my bikes get stolen. I wish I could donate them to children who want bikes but can't afford them. At least this way, my work would be appreciated rather than just stolen."
Jimenez wears an orange vest and has a silver necklace around his vest with dog tags, a Bible and a wrench charm on it. As he speaks, police are on sight checking his workshop. "We've received a complaint about stolen bikes, but we checked, and none of the bikes or bike parts have serial numbers on them that can identify they've been stolen," one officer says.
It's not the first time police have visited Jimenez. Residents interviewed by the Weekly insist Jimenez is probably one of the homeless men who've broken into their house. They've complained to city and county officials. "I first heard about this concern through [Facebook], and I Immediately took screenshots of the pictures posted by [a resident] and sent them to the rest of the council along with an email so that this could get taken care of," said councilmember Michele Martinez.
But other homeless defend Jimenez.
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"I've known him for a year and he has taught me how to fix bikes as well," says Carlos Aquino. He's holding a bag of tacos ("I don't have money to pay Abeleno back, so I bring him food") and starts to work on his own bike with tools that Jimenez lets him borrow.
"I know I'll never die of hunger because as long as I have my hands I have work," Jimenez says as he taps a wrench onto his right hand. He avoids a deep cut on his thumb. "When I was young, my younger brother and I decide to steal some candy. We got caught by the shop owner, and my dad beat us with a stick. I've never forgotten that, and ultimately thats what keeps me away from stealing."
Another man comes over and hands Jimenez some Ritz crackers. "I know all my bike parts look suspicious and it makes the place look filthy," Jimenez says as he reaches over to a green broom. "I get it. I understand the people's frustrations, but I try my best to keep it clean...to the passerbyers, this might seem like trash, but to me this is my handwork.
He takes a short break. "I feel ashamed that I'm the cause of their stresses, and that they all seem to believe I'm stealing from them. But I guarantee them that the sweat on my forehead is from hard work, not guilt."