Bay Area Proud

Friendship Between Retiree and Palo Alto Homeless Man Changes Both Lives for the Better

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It was on University Avenue in Palo Alto in May of 2019 when Scott Kuczmarski decided to try a little experiment in human decency. Kuczmarski, who had retired from a successful career in the insurance industry, was visiting his son from his home in Rhode Island.

Kuczmarski had recently read a book written by the Dalai Lama that had made a great impact on him. He wanted to put some of the teachings he learned into practice.

"I'm going to do something I would never do. I'm going to engage the homeless," Kuczmarski said. "I'm just going to hand them water and see what happens."

Kuczmarski said his first interactions with homeless people he met were pleasant but generally fleeting. Until, that is, one encounter in particular, right in the middle of the street.

"I see this guy, obviously in distress in some ways, but smiling ear to ear riding his bike with all his stuff and he pulls into this coffee shop. I said, 'I got to meet this guy,'" Kuczmarski said.

So, Kuczmarski invites the man, whose name he later learned was Robert Pineda, to get coffee with him. Pineda, who had been living on the streets for the past 30 years, agreed.

Pineda did not generally trust strangers but said there was something about Kuczmarski that he immediately connected with. The feeling was mutual.

"We really formed a bond," Kuczmarski said.

The two met for breakfast every day for weeks.

They shared their life experiences – Kuczmarski even spending a night sleeping on the street alongside Pineda to see what it was like.

Most importantly, though, Kuczmarski connected Pineda with services and a medication, Aristada, that helped him manage his schizophrenia. Finally, Pineda was in a situation where he was ready for housing.

But where?

Kuczmarski had an idea.

"Once you open your heart and see the people and empathize with what they're going through, it's impossible to look away," he said. "I could not possibly leave him there without trying to help."

Kuczmarski found a small cabin for sale a few miles from his home in Rhode Island and purchased it for Pineda.

"It was like no other opportunity in the world," Pineda said. "Scott saved my life."

The pair are now best friends, seeing each other a few times a week, both thanking the other one for changing his life.

"Don't ever give up," Pineda said. "Because you never know who you're going to meet, who's in your corner."

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