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Homeless Man Dies With Few to Mourn

November 09, 1986|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

To anybody who heard about Roy Jones' death, he might have been just another bum whose life on the streets was shortened by cheap wine.

In Pomona, where Jones' body was found slumped in an empty pickup truck on Sept. 29, a routine story in the local newspaper identified him as a dead 47-year-old.

The police called him a transient.

But to those who knew Roy Jones--who knew he had lived in Pomona for at least 10 years, who knew him when he was a metal plater for a scientific instruments company, who knew him as a proud, gentle and unassuming man--there was another story to be told.

It was the story of a good man down on his luck, a man who had lost his job, apartment and automobile, a man who in the end never would accept any help without doing at least a little work in return.

Mundane Details of Existence

There was Jones working as a plater for six years at Beckman Instruments, enjoying a barbecue and watching a Lakers game at a friend's house, driving an '82 Pontiac, living on Caswell Avenue in a studio flat with a bed that folded out of the wall.

Then, as his drinking got worse, there was Jones getting fired, living for the last three years in boarding houses or open cars or city parks, hanging out in front of Bob's Big Boy on Holt Avenue, dragging his deteriorating body up to the Pomona Valley Council of Churches where he would empty the trash or staple papers in return for a sandwich.

When his stomach felt bad that last evening, he asked a friend living at the YMCA if he could rest in his truck for a few hours. Jones died there alone in the middle of the night.

"Life owed him more than what he got," said Richard Sanchez, a 42-year-old Pomona resident who described himself as Jones' best friend. "He gave out a lot of love for people and he just didn't get it back from life."

Susan Traniello, a community worker at Tri-City Mental Health in Pomona, said that for the last several months of

Jones' life she was trying to get him some kind of government assistance. They had a meeting scheduled about three weeks before Jones died, but he never showed up.

"I imagine there's a lot more Roys out there," said Traniello, adding that there are few resources available for the estimated 1,500 homeless people living in the Pomona-Claremont-La Verne area.

"I felt like there was no one defending him. (Dismissing him as a transient) is so simplified and reduced. He deserved more than that," she said.

Leaders of the Pomona Valley Council of Churches were so touched by Jones' quiet pride and the poignancy of his solitary death that they held a brief memorial service last week at the First Christian Church chapel.

'Blowin' in the Wind'

The Bob Dylan song, "Blowin' in the Wind," was sung, and bread was broken in Jones' memory. Only eight people, all church officials and community workers, attended.

"This memorial service symbolizes all the homeless people who fall through the cracks into pits of despair and neglect," said the Rev. Richard Landrum, president of the Pomona Valley Council of Churches. "I hope you are offended when this kind of thing happens in our midst."

Two weeks before, Jones' stepfather, Porter Jones, had claimed the body and had Roy buried.

"He never came to me for help," said Jones, 71, who lives in Compton and had not seen Roy for several years. "I would've helped him if he had asked me."

'Proud Man'

But as the dozen or so people who knew Roy explained, he was not the kind of person to go asking for help.

"You felt sorry for him, but you didn't pity him because he was too proud of a man," said Arvis McCracklin, a program coordinator at the YMCA, where Jones used to spend several hours every day sitting with other homeless men on the side steps.

"He appreciated the fact that I treated him just like everybody else," McCracklin said.

Lucky Phelps, executive director of the Pomona Valley Council of Churches, said that almost every week for the last three years she and Jones would "play a little game," in which he would ask to do menial chores in exchange for some food.

'Simply Homeless'

"I'm sure it was not a comfortable role for him to be on the street," Phelps said. "The real tragedy of his death is that he was not a transient. He was simply homeless."

As might be expected of someone who lived his last years on the streets, large gaps exist in the story of Jones' life.

No one could find a photograph of him or could say where he was born.

Based on interviews with his stepfather and friends, Jones might have spent several years of his youth in Hot Springs, Ark., before moving to California in the 1950s. He attended Compton High School and played on its 1958 championship basketball team.

Jones left Compton after high school, spent several years in Oakland and ended up in Pomona in the mid-1970s.

Pool and Beer

In 1975, he began working for Beckman Instruments in Fullerton, where he and Sanchez, also an employee there, became friends. The two took turns driving to work, frequently enjoying a beer or game of pool afterwards.

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