Bernard “Chino” Dean Jr, Navy veteran and cartoonist, dies at 46
New Jersey native Bernard “Chino” Dean Jr. died under a Macy’s awning on 12th Street between and G and H Streets NW on Aug. 25, 2019. He was 46 years old and would have turned 47 in September.. Chino was a former Street Sense Media vendor who, according to Executive Director Brian Carome, had been a vendor when Carome arrived at Street Sense in 2011. Carome recalls that, most of the time, Chino was charming and had a great sense of humor. Carome also recalls Chino’s untreated mental illness and substance abuse issues and blames the District’s “failed behavioral health services” for his early death.
“He deserved treatment and housing because his disabling health conditions made him vulnerable and placed him at high risk for death that eventually claimed his life,” Carome said.
Chino was a veteran who served in the Navy. According to Frederic John, an acquaintance of Chino’s and fellow Street Sense Media vendor and artist, it is from his time in the Navy that Chino learned the rugged survival skills that enabled him to live on the street for as long as he did. John recalls betting three dollars in the Race to Riches lottery and winning $36. He gave Chino $10 and it brought tears of gratitude to his eyes.
According to John, Chino had a difficult life and battled with alcohol addiction. John recalls that some members of Macy’s staff would help Chino out financially as they could. However, according to him, many Macy’s staff members who helped Chino moved on from that store and he lost a support system. John speculates that malnutrition played a role in his passing. According to James Davis, another Street Sense Media artist and vendor, Chino was good-hearted but didn’t socialize well with other people and kept to himself.
“He had various issues like a lot of people experiencing homelessness do,” Davis said.
Chino apparently declined housing opportunities because of his paranoia. He did have housing for a brief period of time but lost it. He also worked for a while as a dishwasher at Brasserie Beck on K Street NW but could not hold the job long-term.
According to Davis, Chino owed child support and lived in fear that the police were going to arrest him. Davis recalls that Chino was committed to making comics and always wanted to make sure he put in time to do what he loved, especially during the holidays. Chino published multiple pieces of art through Street Sense Media. He also played for the National Street Soccer Team and was pretty good. According to Davis, everything is a chore when you’re homeless; using the bathroom and taking a shower — things others take for granted — are labor-intensive. The businesses around Chino’s spot on 12th Street knew him and allowed him to use their bathroom facilities.
Macy’s makeup artist Kimberly Mitchell recalls how she started parking on the 12th Street side of Macy’s and would walk past Chino every day.
“Chino probably reached out first by saying good morning,” she remembers. She says he was quite positive and understood the positivity in building a relationship. Mitchell didn’t mind giving him a dollar when he asked. “He was homeless, but Macy’s was his home and Macy’s staff were his neighbors,” she recalls.
According to Mitchell, Chino would have “off days” but had lots of friends at Macy’s.
Somebody else has since moved into Chino’s space under the Macy’s awning. “That’s somebody visiting [Chino’s] home because the Macy’s awning will always be his space,” she says. “He was human, he was just like anybody else.”
Mitchell recalls that Chino always groomed himself well, despite sleeping on the streets. “He could’ve been me and I could’ve been him in a homeless situation.”
Rev. Linda Kaufman says she tried to engage with Chino while he was homeless and she was head of homeless services for the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District. But she could never get him to talk. “He was a really challenging person to try and get connected with,” she says.
Kaufman recalls sometimes calling the police when Chino was “out of control.” He would apparently calm down as soon as they arrived and “would be perfectly sane and reasonable.”
The reverend led a memorial service for Chino at his space under the awning on the morning of Sept. 5 that was attended by office workers in the area, outreach and service workers, Mitchell, and many others. “We failed him. We couldn’t get him a place of his own.” Kaufman calls for access to low-barrier housing for people in Chino’s situation.
Kristal DeKleer knew Chino for over a decade. DeKleer recalls that for about two years he would greet her as she came above ground from the Metro. She says, “He was always upbeat and cheerful and I really appreciated him.” Chino stayed with DeKleer for a short time while she helped find him a job. “But it didn’t last.” DeKleer says, “Chino should not have died on a sidewalk. Let’s find a solution, for Chino’s sake.”