Of all the homeless people to gather at the Pasadena shelter called the Depot one night last January, only one could trace his troubles to federal budget cuts. Ricardo Morales, a lively and articulate community counselor, has never recovered from accelerating disenchantment with the war on poverty.
Born in New York's Spanish Harlem in 1933, Morales lived in a Catholic boys home from age 6 to 14 because his seaman father and his asthmatic mother could not care for him. He remembers watching from the street as she waved from her sanitorium window.
He recalls the thrill of school life full of music, religion and sports. His appearance in a 1946 high school baseball championship made him, he said, "the first black to play in Yankee Stadium, no, I mean the Polo Grounds."
He spent three years in the Army: On the way south to Fort Bragg, the officers ordered all the blacks to the back of the train once it crossed the Potomac River. He spent most of his military career on the boxing team and continued in the ring after his discharge. A severely broken nose in 1958 ended that career, but he had other talents.
He could organize anything. He was an optimist who found opportunities where there seemed to be none. From boxing and music promotion he moved to community organizing and counseling, earning as much as $24,000 a year helping drug addicts and ex-convicts in Orange County, Calif., in 1974.
He has been married three times and has three children. His second wife, with family ties to California, inspired his first move to the state. But when she abandoned Morales and their 9-year-old son in 1975, he was forced to move to Puerto Rico. There his parents could help watch the boy, although work in his field was hard to find.
In December he received what he thought was a job offer from a community organization in East Los Angeles. When he arrived Jan. 7, the organizer was out of town and did not return until Morales was down to his last dollar. The man dismissed him with a curt, "I don't owe nothing to nobody," and Morales was on the streets.
Other job offers evaporated, he said, because he had no fixed address. A job placement counselor in Pasadena told him about the Depot, the barren shelter that caused him to wonder, "How far down can a man go?" A friendly man in the neighborhood offered to share his apartment and then he found that he could afford his own, at least temporarily, through part-time work as a warehouseman, a telephone solicitor and a recreation leader. But the counseling jobs he wanted seemed gone.
"I blame the president directly for his cuts," Morales said. "He may be considered the greatest president the states have ever had . . . but I cannot work because he has literally cut out all the sources of income for sociologists and social workers."