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Country Cowboy

“I never saw myself smoking crack, doing anything I couldn’t put down when I wanted,” said 48-year-old South Los Angeles resident “Country Cowboy.”

Originally from the southern United States, “Country” moved to California in 1990 to escape a decade-long addiction to crack cocaine. For seven years, he stayed sober and held a steady job at a post office, but his demons caught up with him in 2000.

“Imagine that,” he said, amazed that after 25 years of battling the drug, he still finds himself on the streets and using.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2011 Greater LA Homeless Count, approximately 34 percent of the homeless population in Los Angeles County struggles with substance abuse.

The low price of crack, at $5 a rock, makes the drug one of the most widely used substances on the streets of South Los Angeles, but according to “Country,” it isn’t as easy to find as it used to be.

“You have to walk a damn mile to get it, that’s what’s slowed me down,” he said.

Like many addicts, “Country” supports his habit by recycling cans, earning anywhere between $7 and $10 daily. Without financial assistance in the form of General Relief or Social Security, it is his only source of income.

Though he wants to get his life on track, “Country” says that nearly three decades of addiction have made him pessimistic about the success of an exit strategy.

“You hit rock bottom, but then there’s a trap door. Once you get your foot in that door, you . . . sort of lose confidence in yourself [and] say you’re going to fuck it up.”

He still hopes that he’ll be able to break away from the lifestyle and leave the streets, but he says that he doesn’t know when he’ll be ready to make that leap.

“I know the first step is mine,” he said. “I haven’t really given up on myself yet.”

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