Eduardo Jimenez, 22, always smiling, not always comprehending, and his brother Juan, 19, quick and bright, crossed the Mexican border near Yuma, Ariz., in mid-1982. They have been on the run ever since, riding the rails in search of fun, adventure and money.
They exude charm, they are willing to work, and they have rarely lacked for kindness from strangers. They would not have had to resort to spending a few nights in the Depot if they hadn't forgotten their manners and smuggled some alcohol into the home of the "Christian family" in Los Angeles where they were staying.
"They didn't want anybody to drink," said Juan, smiling. Eduardo hands a reporter a small book of Bible verses in English and tries to follow the conversation. He did not bother to take language classes with his brother when they arrived, so Juan has become his interpreter.
Despite the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens thought to be living in Los Angeles, relatively few are found in homeless shelters. HUD investigator Jack Underhill said they appear to find space by "doubling up" with other Latino families, although this "may have a bumping effect on other people."
The Jimenez brothers have worked as carpenters, gardeners and farm hands. They have traveled to Fresno, San Bernadino, Riverside and Pomona. In their first six months, they found good jobs at a plastic tubing plant and sent $1,200 home to their parents on the farm in Guadalajara.
Good jobs have been harder to find since. Eduardo was caught and deported once but crossed the border again within five days. Churches have helped them. One church worker directed them to the Depot when they lost their place to stay. "I feel bad" about using a shelter, Juan said, "but at the same time I don't rip off anybody or take anything . . . . We got a couple more days here, then we'll go somewhere else."