[Hpn] The case of the homeless dot-commer - there's something fishy in San Jose

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 19 Jun 2001 13:33:22 -0700


Please refer to this url for the Associated Press story the article below
refers to:

http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com:80/cgi-bin/texis/web/vortex/displa
y?slug=homeless16&date=20010616

==========================================================

http://www.salon.com:80/tech/log/2001/06/19/sacrosante/index.html

salon.com

The case of the homeless dot-commer

John Sacrosante says he went from six figures to a shelter. His friends say
there's something fishy in San Jose.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Damien Cave

June 19, 2001 | John Sacrosante's story sounded too sad to be true. How
could a database engineer go from making more than $100,000 a year to living
in a San Jose, Calif., homeless shelter? Did he lose all his money in bad
investments? Did he burn his cash to stay warm, or squander it on a regular
diet of beluga caviar and high-priced champagne? Where did Sacrosante go
wrong? 

The June 15 Associated Press wire story that quoted Sacrosante failed to
give us the juicy details, but it had enough. With the headline "Dot-Com
Bust Creating More Homeless," it described a homeless shelter in San Jose
where some 30 tech workers -- some former earners of six-figure Silicon
Valley salaries -- had joined the ranks of the jobless and destitute.

It was an improbable story, but Sacrosante and his ilk seemed to personify
the extreme absurdity of the dot-com rise and fall, and so we believed it.
Perhaps the boom, with its instant wealth and lavish lifestyles, had indeed
turned into a scene from a John Steinbeck novel, filled with the
down-and-out, washed-up victims of a localized, new-economy depression.

In fact, Sacrosante's story was too sad, too perfectly iconic, to be true.
Sacrosante didn't return calls for comment, but several of his former
colleagues argue that Sacrosante is no symbol of the dot-com boom gone bad,
he's just a quirky programmer -- one with a penchant for drifting in and out
of jobs and cities on a moment's notice.

"He had huge fears of commitment," says Bruce Griffin, a programmer who has
known Sacrosante since 1998 and who worked with him last year at Garrett
Aviation in Phoenix. "He was always renting cars month to month and didn't
even have a home phone, even though he lived here for six months."

Long before he ended up homeless, Sacrosante made impulsive decisions,
Griffin and others say. His five-page résumé, faxed by Griffin, reveals that
he had at least 11 jobs after leaving the Army in 1985, many of them for
less than a year. Sacrosante ended up in California after hastily leaving
Phoenix, says Rick Beach of Yo Consulting, the firm that placed Sacrosante
at Garrett. He took off in January, and didn't leave a forwarding address.

"We received his W2 form and never knew where to send it to," Beach says.
"Everybody [at Yo] was trying to track him down. Our employee [who worked
with Sacrosante at Garrett] said he disappeared 'like a wisp of smoke.'"

"One day he came in and just said, 'I'm outta here, goodbye,'" says Hans
Boon, another Garrett employee who worked with Sacrosante. "He quit, walked
out with no notice in the middle of a project, to go to Los Angeles and work
for Toyota on a $130,000 [contract] for a six-month project."

Sacrosante tried to get Boon to go with him, but Boon refused. They parted
without hard feelings; Sacrosante had spent Thanksgiving with Boon, and they
expected to keep in touch.

In March, Sacrosante returned to Phoenix, claiming that the Toyota job
wasn't for him. He quickly contacted Boon. "John said he was working on a
contract and he asked to borrow my laptop," Boon says. "I didn't think much
of it." 

Griffin says he also "didn't think much of it" when Sacrosante asked him for
a $1,000 loan a few weeks later. Griffin had worked as a contractor for
years, so he knew that free agents sometimes need help from friends. Plus,
he'd let Sacrosante borrow money before and "John always paid it back," he
says. 

But then Sacrosante pulled another disappearing act. In early May, Boon and
Griffin started to wonder if something had happened to him. Sacrosante
didn't return calls to his cellphone and didn't respond to e-mails.

Boon and Griffin decided to stop by the Phoenix apartment where he was
staying. No one answered the bell, but the landlord's number was posted.
They called and after getting the landlady's permission, entered the
unlocked apartment.

"All that was left was the kitchen table," Griffin says.

"He just disappeared," adds Lori Alyea, his landlord. "He was there and then
he was gone. He didn't even leave a note."

Knowing Sacrosante's habits, Griffin and Boon assumed he had moved on for
good. For tax purposes, they researched ways to write off the loss of the
money and the computer -- which was worth about $3,000 -- and never expected
to hear from Sacrosante again. But they kept looking and even created a Web
page seeking information on Sacrosante's whereabouts. Then the AP story
broke. Boon read the article in Salon, then picked up a copy of the Arizona
Republic, which ran the same story, along with a photograph of Sacrosante.
Neither Boon nor Griffin could believe it.

"We were jolted," Griffin says.

The entire story caught them off guard. Both Griffin and Boon, who are
considering paying a visit to Sacrosante in the homeless shelter, say they
were surprised to see their former friend held up as a symbol of the
boom-and-bust cycle. He's no martyr of new-economy squalor, they say.

Only Sacrosante really knows what landed this former six-figure-earning
database engineer in a homeless shelter. But whatever the circumstances, his
story and the public's willingness to believe it shine a spotlight on
America's sudden obsession with high-tech failure and appetite for images of
it. But if the stories sound too good or too bad to be true, they probably
are. 

- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writer
Damien Cave is a staff writer for Salon Technology.

Copyright 2001 Salon.com

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