Monday, December 31, 2012

TIM MARVIN - "I'm a free-born, natural man.  I'm NOT a person."

     Tim Marvin and his new traveling friend, Mark, tell me that it is no accident that these two Christian men have the names Mark and Timothy.
     Tim is single, has no children, and has never been married. He is 59 years old.
     It is December 29, 2012 when I ask Tim how long he has been homeless.
     He answers that yesterday was his first day of being homeless, this time.
     Tim has a 1988 Chevy Van that he uses to travel around to different construction jobs where he works. At times, he also lives in that van. But now, there is a big problem with Tim’s van.
     Last Summer, while Tim was traveling to Lake County to work on a construction job there, he apparently got hit with a traffic ticket from one of those new (and I argue un-Constitutional) traffic light cameras in Yuba County.
     Tim claims that he never received any notice that he had been given the traffic light ticket.
     It’s understandable that Tim never got any notice of the traffic ticket, given Tim’s wandering lifestyle.
     But now, Tim has received notice from the California Department of Motor Vehicles that his driver’s license has been suspended because of his failure to take care of the Yuba County traffic light ticket.
     Tim calls the suspension of his driver’s license without any prior notice a "Travesty of Justice."
     Now, for the first time in his life, Tim is forced to accept government assistance, in the form of food stamps, because he no longer has a means of transportation to get to work.
     At the time that Tim’s driver’s license was suspended because of an unpaid traffic light ticket, he had a completely clean DMV record.
     Because Tim can’t get to work, he has ended up jobless, and homeless.
     When I ask Tim what he is going to do next, he answers, "I don’t know."
     "It’s difficult, because the ticket was all the way down in Yuba County.
     "I avoided being homeless for a while by staying with my relatives. I’d spend a few days sleeping on the couch at one relative’s house, and then, I’d spend a few days at another relative’s house. But eventually, I wore out my welcome with all of my relatives. So, now, I’m homeless.
     "I talked to a lawyer about getting the traffic light ticket cleared up. But the lawyer wanted $400 to do that. I don’t have that kind of money.
     "I thought about trying to do the legal work myself, and to represent myself in court. But... the courts don’t have any respect for people who try to represent themselves.
     "I would like to find an attorney who could get this case dismissed, and get my license back, so that I can work again."
     I look at Tim, and I have to shake my head.
     I will try to find a lawyer who can help him with his unpaid traffic light ticket in Yuba County, but I don’t know many lawyers in Yuba County.
     In the mean time, here is one more example of a man who has been rendered homeless by corrupt California laws and incompetent or corrupt California legislators and judges.
     All it would take to put an end, once and for all, to these hated traffic light camera tickets, and the way that they are being used to gouge additional money from citizens for local governments and their private enterprise camera partners, would be for one judge to call these traffic light cameras what they really are...which is an unconstitutional.
     Charging an American Citizen with a crime without giving that citizen the right to confront and examine his accuser in court is a violation of one of our most basis and most important Constitutional rights.
     And yet, for whatever mysterious reason, we lack the judges with the Constitutional competence...or, the courage... to simply call these damned traffic light cameras what they really are.
     So now, Big Brother really is watching.
     And now that we have allowed our government to institute this form of Big Brother watching, it will grow into all other areas of our lives like an aggressive cancer.
     As for Tim’s loss of his license, and his resulting joblessness and homelessness, Tim says, "I’m not so angry about it, as much as I’m just in shock.
     "I’ve parked my van at my sister’s house, so that I don’t lose it to being impounded. And I’m out on the street.
     "It’s difficult for me to get around, and to get anything done, because I can’t get a free bus pass. And the buses around here don’t run very well anyway. I have to walk about ten miles a day just to do the things that I need to get done every day."
     If Tim had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be, or be doing?
     "I have this dream that I’ve had for many years," Tim says. "I’d find a piece of land in Nepal that had a hot springs on it, and that also had a view of the Himalayas. There, I’d build an orphanage, and a retreat center where people could come to find inner peace and healing.
     "I’m good at designing and building homes. So, I have all of the skills it would take to build an orphanage and a retreat center.
     "My lifestyle of being single has permitted me to do a lot of traveling, and to learn a lot of different construction skills.
     "I don’t consider myself unemployed. I work for a living. I just can’t get to any work right now."
     I ask Tim if he has a message for the world.
     He answers, "I guess I’d say something of inspiration that sets everybody right. I don’t know what that is. I guess I’d say, follow the message of Jesus."
     "I have a great hunger for knowledge. I’ve been called a walking encyclopedia, at times.
     "I have walked with paupers, and kings, and with Hollywood movie stars.
     "I’ve also spent weeks sleeping alone in the woods.
     "I would tell everyone to love knowledge, and to seek knowledge. For without knowledge, you and your people will perish.
     "I meet a lot of younger men, these days, who say, ‘I know what I know. And that’s all I need to know.’
     "That’s not a very healthy attitude toward learning. That kind of an attitude toward learning will cost those young men dearly."
     I ask Tim what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I am the first-born child, of the first-born child, of the first-born child for six generations," Tim says. "I am a free-born man of the soil.
     "I am NOT a person. You know why? Because a person, by law, is a corporation. And a corporation can be taxed. But a natural-born man cannot be taxed.
     "When Wesley Snipes went before the federal court for failure to pay his taxes, the federal judge asked him just one question. The judge asked him, ‘Are you a person?’
     "If Wesley Snipes would have answered no, then he would have gotten off. But as soon as Snipes answered that he was a person, then the court nailed him for all of those back taxes."
     Interesting legal theory that Tim has.
     It’s not a legal theory that I was taught in law school.
     But then again, I guess it makes about as much sense as allowing a camera to charge an American Citizen with a crime without giving that citizen any right to confront and examine his accuser in court.
     It certainly makes as much sense as suspending a citizen’s driver’s license without first making any proof that the citizen was ever given any notice of the traffic light camera ticket in the first place.
     But hey, when it comes down to generating a little extra income for municipalities to keep government bureaucrats fully employed, an American Citizen’s Constitutional rights are just a minor formality, right?
     Happy New Year... in the New America. Good luck. Happy Hiking.

     This is the one-hundred-and-thirteenth in a series of articles written about Auburn-area homeless people by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

MARK CHADWICK - Says being homeless is just a title.
     Mark Chadwick is interested that I’m writing a book. He says that he and his friend, Tim, are literal scholars.
     I ask him if he means literary scholars, and he says yes.
     I tell Mark that he sounds like he is highly educated, and I ask him if he has a college degree.
     He says, "No. I’m auto-pedantic."
     Mark Chadwick is forty-two years old. He has been homeless, this time, since 2009.   
     Prior to becoming homeless, Mark was doing contract work for the Department of Defense at Los Alamos.
     He lost his job. Then, he lost his house.
     "The housing bubble got me," he says. "That, and a little bit of cannabis."
     Mark just recently came to the Auburn area, coming here from Austin, Texas. He intends to mine for gold here.
     "This is not just a wild pipedream for me," he says. "I come from three generations of miners. I know how to mine."
     I tell Mark that he is one of the last four interviews that I need to do to finish the 100 interviews for my book.
     He grins. "As always, I’m just through the door."
     He tells me that just before I showed up, offering a twenty-dollar interview fee, he and his friend, Tim, had been worrying about how they were going to get a little bit of expense money to help them make it through the next day or two.
     What’s the hardest part about being homeless for Mark?
     "Terror of being arrested," he answers. "Incarceration is terrifying to me. I fear the police."
     I ask Mark if he has been arrested in the past.
     "I’ve been arrested once or twice in the past," he says. "But it was for minor things, and I was usually in and out in a day. They have always been easy on me, because I kept my mouth shut."
     My interview with Mark was on December 29th. So, I asked him what it was like to be out on the street during Christmas.
     "Actually, it wasn’t too bad," he answers. "I was fed. I was clothed. People were relatively nice to me.
     "This is the warmest city that I’ve been in during the past five years. And during those five years, I’ve traveled all over the country.
     "I’ve had a lot of short-term jobs as I traveled around. But the truth is that in my heart, I’ve felt homeless for the past fifteen years - every since we left New Mexico when I was seven years old."
     If Mark had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be, or be doing?
     "I’d be a miner somewhere... either out in the desert, on up in the high mountains."
     I ask Mark if he has a message for the world.
     "Yes," he says. "Wake up!
     "You did it all to yourself. Now, learn.
     "It’s not punishment. It’s just data.
     "We never complain while we’re happy," Mark says. "Except for the spoiled ones. That’s why we call them spoiled.
     "I just learned that. It took me a whole, long lifetime just to learn that much."
     I ask Mark what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I don’t want to say that I’m a messenger of God," Mark says, "But I am one of His messengers.
     "I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve learned a lot. If other people want to hear it, I give it to them.
     "Anything that gives you pleasure comes at a price," he says.
     "I’m not really homeless," Mark says. "I was born here. I’m going to live here. I’m going to die here. This is my home.
     "The only thing about me and being homeless is the title. And there are plenty of my ancestors back in my family line who have lots of fancy titles. So, don’t try to tell me that a title means anything.
     "It’s beautiful here," Mark says. "But you know, you don’t get to really see it until you have to stop and really look at it."

     This is the one-hundred-and-twelfth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

JASON FITZGERALD - Homeless, Car-less, Dog-less, and the victim of an unskilled photographer.


     Jason Fitzgerald is twenty-three years old. He has been homeless for about a year.
     "I was living with my parents," Jason says. "But things got a little too crowded. So, my mom asked me to leave. There were seven of us living in a single-wide mobile home. So, it was pretty crowded.
     "But while I was growing up, there were seven of us living in a twenty-nine-foot fifth-wheel trailer. So, I was used to being crowded.
     "We all got along pretty good."
     I ask Jason what’s the hardest part about being homeless for him.
     "Giving up my dog," he answers.
     "I had my dog for about seven years. But he was just too old to live out here. So, I gave him to my mom. He’s living at my mom’s house now.
     "I had my dog out here with me for the first four months. I still had a car at that time, and my dog slept mostly in my car.
     "But then, the motor blew up. After that, I was on foot."
     This is a pattern that I have seen with a lot of homeless people. First, they lose their job. Then, they lose their home. After that, at least they still have their car to sleep in, for a while.
     But when their car breaks down, they cannot afford to pay for the repairs.
     So then, they end up at the final and worst stage of being homeless, which is being on foot.
     It seems to me that if we really wanted to help the poor and the homeless, we might set up some kind of program in which local volunteers... like maybe the auto mechanic shop at a local high school or college, made free or low-cost auto repairs for the needy.
     I know of at least one Auburn auto repair shop where the mechanics already do free or low-cost auto repairs for needy people. They even restore, and then give away an old car to a needy person, from time to time.
     But what they do is not a part of an organized program. It’s a thing that they can only afford to do from time to time, out of the goodness of their hearts.
     Without some kind of organized program, no single auto repair shop could meet all of the needs of Auburn’s poor, while California’s economy is more broken than a car with a blown engine.
     If Jason had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be, or do?
     "I’d make people treat everybody the way that I’d want to be treated... and not steal from everybody."
     I ask Jason if he has a message for the world.
     "Life can be great, if you don’t weaken. Don’t let the bad things in your life get you down."
     I ask Jason what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I’m a problem solver. I can figure out a solution to just about anything... at the drop of a hat."
     I ask Jason if there is anything else that he would like people to know.
     "Don’t judge me if you don’t know me," Jason says. "There are two sides to every story."

     This is the one-hundred-and-eleventh in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.
TAMMY RODRIGUEZ - "My life is not really that bad.  I just don't have a roof."

     Tammy Rodriguez is David Elliott’s girlfriend. She is thirty-seven years old.
     David is only twenty-four.
     But they are both old souls.
     They are wiser than most other people that I’ve met. And when I say that, I’m not just talking about the homeless people I’ve met. I’m talking about everybody I’ve met.
     Tammy has been homeless for about seven months.
     I interviewed Tammy’s boyfriend, David, just before interviewing Tammy. So I knew that Tammy and David both became homeless at the same time.
     I told Tammy that I have interviewed a number of homeless women who voluntarily became homeless to follow their boyfriends out onto the streets when their boyfriends became homeless.
     But Tammy tells me that is not what happened in her case.
     She didn’t follow David into homelessness. In fact, it was David who followed Tammy into homelessness.
     Tammy had been in an abusive relationship with another man. She became homeless when she left that abusive relationship.
     When Tammy left the abusive man and became homeless, David followed her into homelessness.
     I ask Tammy what is the hardest part about being homeless for her.
     "Not being able to spend more time with my daughter," she says.
     Tammy has a twelve-year-old daughter, who lives with her father.
     I ask Tammy if her daughter’s father is the same man who had been abusive to Tammy.
Tammy tells me no. The abusive relationship that she was in was with a different man, and occurred after she separated from her daughter’s father.
     "I see my daughter all the time," Tammy says. "But not as much as I’d like."
     Tammy tells me that she and David have been friends for about five years.
     I ask Tammy if it is difficult to hold a romantic relationship together, while struggling to survive all of the stresses of being homeless.
     Tammy says, "Not really. Once you accept the fact that you’re homeless, it’s not as hard."
     If Tammy had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be, or be doing?
     "Just a job," Tammy says. "Any job.
     "I’d like to be working.
     "I’ve done fast food, or retail in the past."
     But... if Tammy could have her choice of any kind of work, what kind of work would she prefer to be doing?
     "I’d be working with people who have psychiatric problems," she says.
     Why people who have psychiatric problems?
     "Because, even when my life seems bad, there’s always someone else who has it worse.
     "My own life is not really that bad. I just don’t have a roof."
     I ask Tammy if she has a message for the world.
     "Stop feeling sorry for yourself," Tammy says.
     I wait for a moment, to see if Tammy has anything more to add to that.
     She says nothing more.
     "That’s a very powerful statement," I tell her. "I don’t think that I’ve heard a statement like that from any other homeless person that I’ve interviewed. And it seems to me to be a statement that everyone needs to hear."
     I am thinking about all of the bitching and whining and moaning that I have been hearing, lately, (not just from my homeless friends, but from nearly everyone around me) and I can’t help wondering how two people like David and Tammy, who have such powerful positive attitudes, can end up being homeless.
     I tell Tammy that I have a great deal of admiration for her, and for the powerful things that she says.
     Tammy smiles. "Well, as I got older, I gained some wisdom.
     "Being out there, I’ve seen a lot of people crying and whining about it. And when you’re just crying and whining about it, nothing’s going to get done.
     "You know, the day’s going to end, and everything will still be the same, unless you actually do something."
     I ask Tammy if there is anything else that she wants people to know, before we complete our interview.
     "They shouldn’t look at all homeless people as bad," she says.
     "Homeless doesn’t mean that we are not human."

     This is the one-hundred-and-tenth article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Monday, December 17, 2012

DAVID ELLIOTT - "The World is What You Make of It."

     David Elliott is twenty-four years old, and has been homeless for about seven months, this time. Actually, he’s been homeless, off and on, for about the past two and a half years.
     This last time, he became homeless after he was released from jail. When I ask him what he was in jail for, he volunteers only that he got picked up on a warrant.
     David has family in the Reno area. But he wanted to stay in the Auburn area because this is where is girlfriend lives. His girlfriend is Tammy Rodriguez, whom I interviewed next.
     When I ask David what is the hardest part about being homeless for him, he answers, "Being out here with a girlfriend, and making sure that she gets fed every night."
     "Also, keeping all of our stuff together, and not getting ripped off. This last week, we went out of town for a couple of days. When we got back, all of our stuff had been stolen. We lost two sleeping bags, and a lot of good stuff."
     "We’re not drinkers," David adds. "So, we don’t hang around with a lot of the other homeless people. We try to keep mostly to ourselves. That way, we also avoid any run-ins with the cops.
     "I try to earn money any way that I can," David says. "I do it the right way."
     If David had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be, or be doing?
     "I’d own my own business," David says. "I like doing tree work, so it would probably be a tree maintenance service. Or, maybe an all-around maintenance kind of business. Because I’m kind of an all-around maintenance guy."
     Does David have a message for the world?
     "I don’t know," David says. "I think that the world is fair.
     "It’s what you make of it.
     "If more people lived by that, then the world would be a better place.
     As David is talking, I am taking notes. But my ball-point pen runs dry.
     I reach into my pocket to pull out the spare pen that I always carry me when I go out to do interviews. But I feel pretty dumb when I realize that on this day, I have left my spare pen at home.
     I tell David that my first interview of the day may have to be my last, and I may not be able to complete the interview, because I have forgotten to bring a spare pen.
     A homeless woman by the name of Vicky is sitting nearby. When she hears me say this, she reaches into her backpack, pulls out a ball-point pen, and kindly hands it to me.
     I thank her, and continue the interview.
     It feels a little strange... finding myself in a position where one of the homeless people is helping me out, instead of the other way around.
     And yet, there is also something about being in that position that feels right.
     I am very grateful to Vicky for bailing me out.
     She knows it. And she feels good about it.
     After I think about it for a moment, so do I.
     I tell David about my belief that each and every person who is born into this world is born with something about him or her that makes him or her special and unique. I ask him what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "My ability to help others in any way that I can," David says. "Even in this position of being homeless, when I see an opportunity to help someone else, I do it.
     "Even though I’m homeless, whenever I am able to earn a few bucks, I send half of it to my mom.
     "I have a soft heart.
     I ask David if there is anything else that he wants people to know, before we complete the interview.
    "All homeless people aren’t the same," he says. "There are those out here who are trying to do what’s right.
     "We’re not all drunks.
     "There are a lot of good people out here."

     This is the one-hundred-and-ninth in a series of articles written about Auburn-area homeless people by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SCOTT ENGLISH - After a night of sleeping on a concrete slab in the freezing cold.

     I met Scott English and his girlfriend on a cold winter morning, after they’ve had a rough night. The ground outside was still wet from several days of heavy rain. But on that Friday Night, the sky cleared, and it got very cold.
     In order to prevent the ground moisture from soaking their sleeping bags, Scott and his girlfriend spent the night trying to sleep on a concrete slab, in the freezing cold.
     From the way that they looked on Saturday Morning, I don’t think either one of them had gotten much sleep.
     Scott is thirty-nine years old, but he looks younger than that. Although he was somewhat haggard on that morning, he is actually a very handsome man. He is an eloquent speaker, and very intelligent.
     When you talk to him, his facial expressions remind you of a famous actor. But that actor is not famous enough for me to remember his name.
     Scott tells me that he has been homeless for most of the past twenty-three years.
     He first became homeless by choice. He was tired of dealing with a working man’s life.
     "Back then," he says, "The economy was way better. And people just gave you money. So, I could get enough money to get drunk when ever I wanted, and I didn’t have to work to pay for the alcohol. So, for me, being homeless was great.
     "But that was a different time. Nowadays, being homeless is not so great."
     What is the hardest part about being homeless for Scott?
     "Staying sober. I’ve done a lot of drinking, and I’ve also done all kinds of drugs. But alcohol is my drug of choice.
     "Right now, I’ve got three days of being clean and sober.
     "I’d like to stay that way. But it’s really hard.
     "Like today, I am really wanting to drink."
     I ask Scott if he’s tried going to AA meetings, or getting into some kind of rehabilitation program.
     "Oh, yes. I’ve been to A.O.D (which I later learned stands for Alcohol Outpatient Drugs).
But all they do is tell you, go here, and then, go there. Those government employees get paid to run you around. It’s all just a big run around. It’s all B.S.
     "And by the way, the worst possible thing that you can do for a homeless person is to give him money. Because, most of the time, they use the money to buy drugs or alcohol.
     "So, the money that you give them feeds their addiction.
     "And if you keep feeding their addiction long enough, it just gets worse and worse, until eventually, they get crazy, and they hurt people to get what they need."
     If Scott had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what he be or do?
     "I would help out at a homeless shelter," Scott answers. "I want to help people who are in my position."
     I ask Scott if he has a message for the world.
     "Repent, or perish," Scott says. "One of these days, I’m going to get myself a big, wooden cross, and a long, white robe, and I’m going to carry that cross around, with a big sign that says, ‘Repent, or perish."
I ask Scott what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I know how to play a guitar for God," Scott says.
     "And I’m good at loving the loveless. Because I’ve been loveless a whole lot.
     "That’s it.
     "That’s all of it.
     "Just Jesus, and my Baby." He looks at his girlfriend, and smiles.
     Scott’s girlfriend, having just spent the night sleeping on a concrete slab in the freezing cold winter night, is feeling so poorly that she doesn’t feel up to doing an interview.
     Near the end of my interview with Scott, he says something about learning to live by faith that is so brilliant, and so eloquently stated that I can’t get it all written down.
     Instead, I tell Scott that while I was listening to him, I was wishing that I could speak that eloquently myself.
     I tell Scott that he is one of the most brilliant and eloquent men that I have ever encountered. I tell him that he has the power to make a positive difference in the lives of a lot of people. And if he doesn’t stay sober, and use his God-given talent to help other people, it will be a tragedy.
     "I fully intend to do just that," Scott says.
     Pastor Dan Appel comes in, and tells Scott about the new recovery program that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is holding at two o’clock on Saturday Afternoons. We ask Scott to come to the two o’clock meeting.
     Scott says that he and his girlfriend will be there.
    But, as it so often occurs in these kinds of stories, two o’clock on that Saturday Afternoon comes and goes, and this brilliant young alcoholic never shows up.

     This is the one-hundred-and-eighth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.
SELENA-ROSE LUCETI-HERNANDEZ  -  "It's not glamorous being homeless."

     Selena-Rose Luceti-Hernandez is twenty years old. She has been homeless for about six months now.
     Selena-Rose first became homeless when she decided to leave home and move down to Paso Robles with her boyfriend.
     But by the time they got to Paso Robles, her boyfriend had changed his mind about wanting to be with her. So, he left her at the bus station.
     She was stuck in Paso Robles until she was able to get enough money sent to her by her grandfather so that she could travel.
     In the mean time, she was broke, and homeless.
     There was a homeless man in Paso Robles, named Tim the Sailor, who helped Selena-Rose learn the ropes when she was first homeless. Selena-Rose says that Tim the Sailor treated her like she was his own daughter.
     She was stuck in Paso Robles for about two weeks.
     Then, she went up to Yuba City, trying to get into a shelter there. She needed to get into a shelter because her mother was not yet ready to take her back.
     Her best friend’s father gave her a ride to the Auburn area, so that she could get temporary shelter at The Gathering Inn.
     Guests of The Gathering Inn are only allowed to stay with The Gathering Inn at night for six months.
     When Selena-Rose had used up all of her six months of sleeping at The Gathering Inn, she was back out on the streets.
     From mid-July to early November, Selena-Rose slept in her mother’s garage. She was forced to sleep in the garage because her mother’s landlord would not allow Selena-Rose to move back into her mother’s house until her mother was able to come up with enough additional rent money to pay for the additional tenant.
     Selena-Rose finally got back into her mother’s home. But she has to pay a part of the rent.
     It’s difficult for Selena-Rose to come up with her share of the rent, because she is disabled. She has Rheumatoid Arthritis in her back and neck. She also has mental disorders.
     When I ask Selena-Rose if she is on medications, she says, "I only take the medications that are for the worst of the things that I have. I take the medications for my bi-polar, and for my depression. But I also have Asberger’s, and Turret’s Syndrome.
     I ask Selena-Rose if she was able to get her medications while she was homeless.
     "Well, I was on Medi-Cal," she answers. "So, I was able to get my medications. But I had trouble scheduling doctor’s appointments, because I don’t have a cell phone, and I couldn’t make the calls, and then get a call-back."
     What is the hardest thing about being homeless for Selena-Rose?
     "Getting food," she says. "Even when you can get to a food closet, you can only carry so much food. And a lot of times, that food is perishable. So, it doesn’t last very long.
     "Food stamps don’t buy much. One time, we calculated it out, and the value of the food stamps that you get for a month, if you divide it by the number of days in the month, comes out to about $6.25 per day. That’s doesn’t buy you enough food for one meal a day.
     "Another hard thing is trying to stay cool in the heat of Summer, and trying to stay warm in the Winter."
If Selena-Rose had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be doing?
     "I’d open up a shelter for the homeless. And it would be open to all homeless people, no matter what kind. Alcoholics would be welcome, drug addicts would be welcome, and stray animals too. Because I love animals. I want to become a Veterinary Technician someday.
     "In this shelter, there would be some real rehabilitation programs, too. There would be programs that really work for people... to help them get off of drugs and alcohol.
     "It wouldn’t be a place like The Gathering Inn. There would be no time limit on how long you could stay there.
     "And it wouldn’t involve getting dragged around from one church to another, night after night, like The Gathering Inn. It would be a permanent shelter, in a permanent building. And it would have a kitchen in it, so that we could feed people."
     Selena-Rose says that she grew up in the Bay Area, and there were a lot of homeless people down there. It really made her sad, because she couldn’t help them.
     Selena-Rose says that her dad was an alcoholic, and a drug abuser.
     Her mom only had Selena-Rose on certain days of the week, because she was working and going to school at the same time.
     On the other days, Selena-Rose stayed with her grandmother. Her grandmother was really nice. But she was also a binge drinker.
     When Selena-Rose was six years old, her grandmother died.
     Her grandfather, who was a dentist, remarried when Selena-Rose was eight.
     Selena-Rose says that her uncle owned Luceti’s Restaurant, a well-known Italian restaurant in the Bay Area. She says that all of the recipes used in the restaurant are her great-grandmother’s recipes.
     I ask Selena-Rose if she has a message for the world.
     "People need to treat others the way that they’d like to be treated.
     "We don’t treat the people we love like we love them.
     "And also, we need to treat this world with love and respect. Because it’s the only one that we have.
     "I’m the nicest person you’ll ever meet, unless you piss me off."
     I ask Selena-Rose what she believes makes her special and unique in the world.
     "It’s really hard for me to hate," she answers. "I should hate a lot of people. But I can’t. I should hate my ex-boyfriend who left me at the bus station. But I don’t.
     Selena-Rose has a new boyfriend now. He is sitting with her, and he seems like a nice young man. He and Selena have been friends for quite some time. But they’ve only been romantically involved for about three days
     "It’s not glamorous being homeless, like some people say," Selena-Rose says.
     "It’s really a struggle.
     "Just trying to stay out of trouble is a real struggle.
     "If you go to the hospital, they treat you badly. They treat you differently at the hospital, if they know that you’re homeless. They are rude.
     "One other thing that I’d tell people is, don’t go to Colfax.
     "I’ve lived there.
     "They do meth in the middle of the town, in Colfax.
     "The cops come by right while people are smoking it, and they don’t even care.
     "Sometimes, the homeless people break into the old school up there, and stay inside. And the cops don’t even bother to run them out."

     This is the one-hundred-and-seventh in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

ROLAND HERNANDEZ - "I know these things from personal experience."
"I have a bit of trouble managing my anger...."

     It’s humbling and awe-inspiring, during those rare moments when you catch the signs that God’s hand is guiding your daily life. I am only able to see those signs once in awhile. I wish that I was more awake, and that I had stronger faith. Because I believe that God’s hand is guiding my daily life all the time.      It’s just that much of the time, I’m not awake enough to realize it.
     There is no question that God has a terrific sense of humor. Here is a recent example:
     I’ve been angry, on and off, for two or three weeks. I’ve been angry about some things that happened in one of the service clubs I belong too. I’ve also been angry about the results of the recent State and National elections. I know that most of my grievances are relatively petty. But that doesn’t keep me from being angry.
     I try to just forget about it, and let it go.
     But I am an imperfect human being.
     So, at about 3:30 on this past Saturday Morning, I woke up, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I laid there in bed, being angry.
     At 7:00 A.M., it was time for me to drive down to the Seventh Day Adventist Church to interview homeless people. But, I didn’t want to go. I hadn’t slept enough. I was tired. And I was still angry.
     But I had to go and do the interviews. Because one of my young college students was going to meet me at the church, to meet some of the homeless people, and to observe the interviews.
     I was still angry and grumpy as I drove to the church.
     I wondered how I was going to conduct interviews with love in my heart, when all I really want to do was punch somebody in the mouth.
     I arrived at the church, and walked into the breakfast room.
     My college student had not yet arrived.
     I looked for someone to interview. It’s getting tougher for me to find someone to interview now, because I already know so many of the regulars.
     I spotted a small man with glasses whom I’ve never seen before. He was seated at a table near a far corner of the room.
     I introduced myself, and told him about my homeless book project.
     He agreed to be interviewed.
     His name is Roland Hernandez. He is fifty-six years old. He has been homeless, off and on, since 2009.
     I ask Roland how he became homeless.
     "I rented a room from a guy who became verbally abusive," Roland says. "I have anger issues. I have a bit of trouble managing my anger. I’m getting a little better at managing my anger, these days. But I finally just couldn’t deal with it from this guy any longer. So, I moved out.
     "My former roommate owns a restaurant here in Auburn. He is manipulative, and belittling. He used to hide the frying pay somewhere up high, so that I couldn’t cook anything. He’d hide the can opener up high too."
     When Roland starts our conversation by telling me that he has problems managing his anger, but that he is getting better at it, and I have to laugh.
     It’s a God thing, that I bump into Roland at this particular, angry moment in my life.
     I tell Roland that it’s a God thing, and explain to him that I’ve been having trouble managing my own anger, lately.
     Since Roland says that he’s been getting better at managing his anger, I ask him if he’d be willing to share what’s been working for him.
     "Think about positive things," Roland says. "When you first get up in the morning, think about something positive that you did yesterday, or think about something positive that you’re going to do today.
     "I have to maintain a positive attitude," Roland says. "Because if I don’t, I’m the type of person who likes to hurt people. I lose control completely.
     "One time, I got into a fight with a cop. I broke the cop’s jaw, and his arm.
     "They were trying to give me twenty years in jail for that.
     "But the cops had beaten the living tar out of me. I was black and blue all over. And because of the beating that the cops gave me, they dropped all of the charges against me.
     "I grew up in the Mission District of San Francisco. I was a thug. I learned how to use my hands and my feet.
     "I’m homeless right now, because I just can’t seem to find a good roommate. Since 2009, I’ve had eight different roommates. None of them worked out.
     The roommate that I had just before this one robbed me."
     Roland is a rather short man. In the past, I’ve know several short men who had problems with their temper. So, I ask Roland if he thinks one reason he may have trouble with his temper is because he is shorter than most men, and perhaps other people tend to pick on him because he is smaller than most other men.
     "No," Roland says. "I don’t think it has anything to do with my size....
     "But, it might have something to do with the fact that I’m in a wheelchair."
     Roland points to an electric wheelchair in a nearby corner of the room.
     Up until then, I had no idea that Roland needed a wheelchair to get around.
     Roland had already transferred himself from his wheelchair to a seat at one of the breakfast tables before I came into the room.
     I look at this homeless man’s wheelchair, and suddenly, all of my own complaints and grievances about life seem really, really petty... so tiny, in fact, that they fade into insignificance.
     Thank you for the reminder about how lucky I am, Lord.
     I’m sorry that I’ve been complaining. I’m sorry that I’ve been getting angry.
     Roland tells me that before he was crippled up with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and had to have a knee replacement, he was a general contractor. He also used to build custom cars.
     I look at Roland’s electric wheelchair, and I have to ask, "Gee, Roland. You don’t have a place to live. So, you don’t have any place to plug in your wheelchair to recharge the battery. How do you manage that?"
     "Oh, sometimes, I go to Burger King and buy a cup of coffee," Roland says. "And while I’m there, they let me plug in and recharge for awhile. Other times, I go over to the Placer County Welcome Center, and recharge there."
     I ask Roland what’s the hardest part about being homeless for him.
     "Being handicapped.
     "I receive $855 a month in Social Security Disability. But that’s hardly enough to pay for rent and food.
     "Also, it’s hard to get around, because I don’t have a car, and I can’t drive. But I use the bus a lot, and I can get around pretty good on the local buses.
     If Roland had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be doing?
     "I’d get rid of the homeless. I’d provide all of them with a place to live. Especially the older guys.
     "When you’re young, it’s kind of cool to be homeless... hopping the rails, and being totally free. But once you get older, being homeless is not so cool any more."
     We talk for a moment about the pain of sleeping on the cold, hard ground when your joints are already aching from old age.
     Roland nods that he knows that feeling. "And being homeless tends to age you pretty fast," he says. "After awhile, you spend a lot of your time just wondering - where’s my next meal going to come from?"
     When I ask Roland if he has any family, he tells me that he has two brothers who live in Oakland. But he doesn’t see them because he doesn’t like the city life any more.
     Does Roland have a message for the world?
     "Just love each other.
     "Instead of hating each other. There’s so much hate in this world. I’ve seen so much of it myself. Especially down in Latin America."
     Roland tells me that his mother was from Guatemala, and his father was from El Salvador. Back in the days when Roland was a general contractor, he used to work for about six months, and save up about $20,000. Then, he’d take about six months off, and go down into Latin America and live like a rich man, until his money began to run out. Then, he’d come back to the U.S. and go back to work again.
     During his trips to Latin America, Roland saw a lot of poverty, and suffering, and hate.
     I explain to Roland that I have this philosophy that each person who is born into this world has something about him that makes him special and unique in the world. I ask Roland what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I can teach people," Roland says. "I can sit down, and talk to people. I can take over a room. I’ve been told that I have charisma.
     "I used to talk to kids in schools about staying off of drugs and alcohol.
     "The kids would come up to me and say, ‘How would you know?"
     "And I’d tell them - I know these things from personal experience. I know about having yellowed, rotten teeth, and I know about losing your teeth from abusing drugs. And I know about getting Rheumatoid Arthritis in your joints, and getting crippled up by drugs.
     "I’d start to tell kids about my life, and then I’d ask them if they wanted to end up like me.
     "I’ve actually had kids stand up in the middle of one of my talks, and admit that they were using drugs, and ask for help with getting off of drugs.
     "I was a Youth Pastor at a church, for awhile," Roland says.
     "Dealing with kids is a special thing to do," he says. "You have to have the art. You have to have the patience. If you don’t have patience, you’re not going to get through to them."

     This is the one-hundred-and-sixth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Friday, December 7, 2012

LOUIS VERDUGO - "I didn't realize that this was going to happen to me."
     Louis Verdugo used to live in an apartment over on Pine Street, not far from Hilda’s Bakery, in Auburn.
     He was working for a contractor that specialized in jacking up old, historic houses and rebuilding their foundations. Louis was a waterproofing specialist. He was in training to become a journeyman carpenter, and then, to become a general contractor himself.
     But his contractor’s last job got red-tagged by a government inspector, and Louis got laid off.
     Then, he got evicted from his apartment.
     He’s been homeless for about three years now. He is fifty years old. He is part Native American, and part Spanish.
     Louis talks about reaching a point where all he had left was seventy-five dollars.
     "That’s when you really start budgeting," Louis says. "You watch every single nickel. For a long time, I lived on a Jumbo Jack (hamburger) that I could get for $1.75, and two tacos for 99 cents."
     What’s the hardest part about being homeless for Louis?
     "When you’re cold," he answers.
     "You have to forage for everything. Searching for food at places like churches, and food closets.
     "I once went without a shower for eight days," Louis says. "Then, I couldn’t take it no more. My skin started dying on my feet. And you start scratching yourself, all over.
     "I went to Dollar Tree. I took the money that I got from canning (collecting cans and bottles from trash cans to sell back for the deposit money), and bought some shampoo, and some dish soap for a dollar. I got some free plastic bags from a park. I put on my swim trucks, and found a water spigot. I took a plastic cup, and poured cold water over myself, washed myself off with dish soap, and then rinsed off.
     "Now that I know how to solve that shower problem, I feel more confident.
     "The more times that you are confronted with a problem, and you come up with a solution, the more confident you get.
     "I used to get depressed. But now, there’s no time for that. Now, my life is getting depressed, versus, where do I get a shower now?
     "And I don’t worry over any of the small stuff any more. I used to worry over little things like, should I buy Irish Spring, or Dove soap? Now, it’s just give me a bar of soap. I don’t care what kind."
If Louis had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be doing?
     "I’d be a rock and roll singer," he says. "Either that, or I’d have my own business."
     Does Louis have a message for the world?
     "It doesn’t matter what anyone else tells you. If you have love in your heart, you can do anything. You must stay confident. And you have to keep going forward."
     I ask Louis what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I have learned to be patient, to stay calm, and not to panic.
     "Also, I take pride in my work. You should always take pride in your work.
     "There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
     "I didn’t realize that this was going to happen to me."

     This is the one-hundred-and-fifth article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

JOE BETTERLY - A U.S. Army Veteran, Denied U.S. Citizenship and Benefits

     Joe Betterly is a sixty-six-year-old American. He is of Japanese descent, but he was adopted by Americans, and brought to America in 1958.
     When Joe grew up, he served in the United States Army. He has a California Identification Card, and a Social Security Card.
     But now that he needs help from the United States Government, our government denies that this homeless veteran is an American.
     Joe’s last job was working in a kitchen at a country club. But then, he had a stroke, and was unable to continue working.
     He applied for Social Security Disability.
     But the United States Government denied him benefits. They said that his immigration status was alien, and therefore, this U.S. Army veteran was not entitled to Social Security Benefits.
     As you might imagine, Joe is a little bitter about this.
     Joe has been homeless for about three months now. He had been living with his father. But when his father died, Joe had no place to go. And he couldn’t work because of his stroke.
     What is the hardest part about being homeless for Joe?
     "Asking for help," Joe says.
     "Today, it’s based upon who you are. If people like you, they’re going to help you. If not, then you don’t get any help."
     Joe seems to have the feeling that people just don’t like him.
     I don’t ask him if he thinks that it’s because he’s Japanese. I don’t ask him if he thinks that it’s because he’s old, and can no longer work.
     There are some things that you just don’t ask a man.
     "People are significantly changed, these days," Joe says.
     "People are less caring.
     "People have less respect.
     "People seem to be more self-centered.
     "It sucks.
     "The majority of people just don’t care any more.
     "One day, I was out on the street corner, flying a sign, and I counted the number of cars that went by me without offering me any kind of help. Do you know how many cars went by me before one car stopped? Five-hundred cars! Only one car out of five hundred cars cared enough to stop."
     If Joe had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be or do?
     "I’d be helping the homeless," Joe answers.
     "And I’d have enough money to help."
     I ask Joe if he has a message for the world.
     "I hope someday that the world will become more peaceful, and will get together and share feelings, and will become more responsive."
     I ask Joe what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "This is me. If I have something that can help someone else who is in need, I would help him. I would guide him. I would care for him. I would share my beliefs in God and in Jesus.
I ask Joe if he has anything else that he wants people to know about him, or about his life.
     "The struggle. The denial of what homeless people have to go through. Being unloved. People being uncaring.
     "I want people to know that homeless people are just as important as other people... especially those who fought for their Country. They deserve care. They deserve help. They deserve respect.
     "I’m not angry at anybody.
     "I can’t blame anyone.
     "Do you know what they do with homeless people in Japan? They help you."

     This is the one-hundred-and-fourth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

TAMMY BOTTO - A charming Southern Lady

     Tammy Botto is Doug Knapp’s fiancé. She is fifty-four years old.      She became homeless at the same time as Doug. She and Doug were living with Doug’s mother. But then, Doug’s mother sold her house and moved into an assisted living facility.
     What’s the hardest part about being homeless for Tammy?
     "Right now, it’s the rain. Just trying to stay dry.
     "We can’t put up a tent, because as soon as you put up a tent, the police come and run you out. So, we’ve been sleeping outside without even a tent.
     "We have a tarp. We tied the tarp up to a tree. We put our sleeping bags under the tarp, and that’s where we’ve been sleeping.
     "You learn a lot on the street.
     "The people that we’re living with... they’re thieves. They’re liars and thieves. This last week, one of them stole my purse.
     "I only looked away from it for just a second. There were three other homeless people who were sitting there. I turned away to put something into the trash. And when I looked back, my purse was gone, and so were all three of those people.
     "Another thing about the homeless people around here is that they’re filthy. Some of them don’t clean up their camps. They leave piles and piles of garbage in the places where they camp.
     "This is something that the sheriffs could do something about. There is no place where we homeless people can legally take our garbage to dump it. Instead of just running homeless people out of where they are camping, they should bring a dumptser to a place near the campsites and tell the homeless people that either they clean up their camps, or they have to get out."
     Tammy is upset about the loss of her purse. She had $250 in it that she had just received. She was planning to use that money to travel to Lake Tahoe, to see her first grandchild for the first time. But now, she doesn’t know how long it’s going to take her to get there.
     "Ninety-seven percent of the homeless people around here will steal from you," she says.
     "That’s just not right.
     "You’ve got to have the same morals and values that you were taught when you were young," she says.
     Tammy has a charming Southern accent. So, I ask her where she is from.
     "I grew up in northern Mississippi," she says. "Actually, it’s not far from Memphis, Tennessee.
     I smile and tell Tammy that it’s a small world. My mother was raised in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was the sheriff. He was shot and killed when my mother was just sixteen years old.
     I also spent some time stationed at Columbus Air Force Base, in Mississippi.
     I tell Tammy that I miss drinking banana daquiries, and she laughs.
     Then, we joke about drinking wine out of a paper bag that you have to hold under the table while eating dinner at a restaurant in one of Mississippi’s "dry" counties.
     "The first time I was married, I was still in Mississippi," Tammy says. "I was seventeen years old.
     "We were married for about two years. Then, my husband was in a car accident, and was paralized.
     "I had to make the decision to have his life support unplugged, and to let him die."
     I sit back in my chair. "Wow. That must have been a pretty tough thing for you to have to do, being only nineteen years old," I say.
     "It was hard," she says. "But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My husband and I have been fighting, and had been breaking up and then getting back together again, for several months before his accident. Besides that, he told me what he wanted to do. So, I did what he wanted.
     "The worst part was that my husband had been drinking when he crashed. He had been drinking because of a fight that we’d had."
     I ask Tammy, if she had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be doing?
     "I’d be doing drug and alcohol counseling," she answers. "Or I’d be doing life coaching.
I’m an excellent counselor. I have two AA degrees, and I have my certificate in drug and alcohol counseling."
     I ask Tammy why she isn’t counseling right now.
     "I have a bit of a drug problem," she says.
     I tell Tammy that since I began doing these interviews, I’ve met several people who were formerly drug and alcohol counselors, but who now have an alcohol or drug problem themselves. I ask Tammy how that happens.
     "Well," she says, "Back in about 1933 or 1939, the American Medical Association made the diagnosis that alcoholism is a form of disease. And some people have a genetic pre-disposition to becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
     "So, when you have that gene, like I do, when I took that very first pill, I was on my way to addiction.
     "My father was an alcoholic and my brother was an alcoholic. The addiction gene seems to run in my family.
     "My form of addiction was to prescription pain pills. I took Norco. It’s hydrocodone, which is the pain killer that they give almost everyone at the hospital.
     "The man that I married later was a doctor, and he’d prescribe it for me.
     "I was married to a doctor for eighteen years. And I had four children with him. But we eventually broke up because I couldn’t overcome my addiction to Norco.
     "I got arrested, and went to jail for drugs. I was sent to a prison that is located in the little town of Norco, California.
     I can’t help laughing when Tammy says, "I got sent to Norco for doing Norco. Go figure.
     "When I beat my addiction, I became a drug and alcohol counselor. And I was very good at it. Because I know all about it."
     But now, Tammy has a drug problem again.
     I ask her if she has a message for the world.
     "Be open-minded about things," she says.
     I ask Tammy what she believes makes her special and unique in the world.
     "When ever I walk into a room, I bring joy. I bring light. I bring laughter. I bring warmth, and energy. I am a very good person.
     "I have four beautiful children. And now, I have my first grandchild. I have four of the most beautiful children in all the world. And they’re not really my children. They’re actually God’s children.
     "Right now, my goal is to get to Lake Tahoe, to see my first grandchild. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but somehow, I’m going to get there. No matter what."

     A few days after interviewing Tammy, I hear that Tammy’s purse was found by a homeless man, who returned the purse to her.
     The contents of the purse had been scattered all over the ground. But when the purse was returned to Tammy, it still had one hundred and fifty dollars in it. That money was inside of a zippered pouch in the purse that had not been unzipped.
     When its raining down here in Auburn in the winter, it is usually snowing up at Lake Tahoe. And the roads are really bad. But I hope that Tammy makes it up to Lake Tahoe to see her first grandchild soon.
     There are few things in all the world that are quite so magical as seeing your first grandchild for the first time.

     The is the one-hundred-and-third article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.
DOUG KNAPP - Struggling to keep romance alive, while sleeping under a carport.

In the movies, love is romantic in the rain.
But in real life... not so much.

In the movies, maybe there’s a sudden cloudburst that chases the laughing young lovers into a hidden shelter, where they end up embracing and kissing.

In real life, when you are homeless and in love, and it’s been pouring down rain for about a week, and you are sleeping in a soaking wet tent, or in the back of a pickup truck, staying in love is a bit more difficult.

When I met Doug Knapp, it had been pouring down rain, on and off, for about a week. Another major downpour was expected that night. I met him on a Saturday Morning, at the free breakfast at the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

He was wet, and cold, and miserable.

His speech was not slurred, but it was a bit fuzzy... as if perhaps he was coming down from something. I don’t know from what, and I didn’t ask.

As we spoke, he rocked back and forth, ever-so-slightly. Maybe he was rocking because he was trying to get warm. Or, maybe he was rocking because of his physical and emotional pain.

Doug is a very nice man. He is very polite. His is fifty years old.

He begins telling me how grateful he is to the people of Auburn, and especially to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, for how much the church has helped him and his wife.

Doug says that he and his wife have been homeless for a little more than three months. Prior to becoming homeless, he and his wife had been staying at his elderly mother’s house.

But his mother sold her house and moved into an assisted living facility.

Doug and his wife had to move out. They became homeless during the middle of the August heat wave. Now, they are trying to survive the rain and the cold.

Usually, I interview homeless people by myself. But on this morning, I had a helper. A young student from one of my business law classes at the college has come with me. He wrote a paper about the homeless for one of his English classes. On this day, he is tagging along with me, so that he can meet some of my homeless friends face-to-face.

I’m sure that the young college student is wondering the same thing that I am wondering.

So, I ask our homeless friend, "Where is your wife right now?"

Doug gets a pained expression on his face, and shrugs. "I don’t know," he says. "I haven’t seen her for about three days.

"We had a fight, and we split up.

"We had been sleeping in the back of a pickup truck, to get out of the rain. But it was pretty rough in there, and she got... she just got... well, she got pretty frustrated.

"She isn’t really my wife. I just call her that. She’s actually my fiancé. We’ve been together for about four years now."

I ask Doug if he is still sleeping in the back of the pickup truck.

"No. Not since I split up with Tammy.

"Last night, I didn’t have any tent, or anywhere to go to get out of the rain. So, I ended up sneaking over to the apartments over in the greens. Those apartments have carports instead of garages. I sneaked under one of the carports, and hid behind a car, and slept there.

"I worried all night that someone might come out of the apartment and catch me there."

"You mean you didn’t know the people who lived in the apartment where you were sleeping?"

"No. I was just desperate to find someplace where I could get out of the rain, and get a little bit of sleep."

I am so grateful that my young college friend is with me to hear all of this. He is a fine young man, from a fine family. He is tall and good looking. He is on the basketball team at the college. He is an "A" student. He arrived at the church this morning in his newly-purchased BMW. Although he might still be too young to fully understand it yet, his life is richly blessed.

There is a good chance that the rest of this young man’s life will be changed by what he sees and hears on this morning.

Fortunately, this young man is wise enough to have known that before he came here. That’s why he came.
At that moment, our interview is interrupted.

Doug has been watching the door while we talk. Suddenly, he gets excited.

"My wife just came in," he says. He points to one of the women who has just come in. "That’s her, over there. I haven’t seen her for two or three days."

"Do you want to go over and see if she will talk to you?" I ask.


"Go ahead then, Doug. You go and do what you need to do. That’s more important than this. We can finish this interview some other time."

Doug nods and smiles. "I promise you that I’ll come back to finish it," he says.

"Don’t worry about it. Just go and see your wife."

Doug takes off to talk to his fiancé.

My young college friend and I conduct an interview with a different homeless man while Doug is gone.
About twenty minutes later, Doug comes back. He is smiling. He and his fiancé have reconciled. He wants to finish his interview before he and his fiancé leave together.

What is the hardest part about being homeless for Doug?

"No ability. Having no ability.

"The closeness. The being too crowed together all the time with other people. And all the drama and the bickering. And the tension.

"We get by every day. But... this should never have been. I never dreamed that I’d be homeless.

"It’s this economy.

"I have twenty years of experience as a line cook at restaurants.

But, I also have a felony on my record. So, even though I’ve been off of parole for quite some time, when I apply for a job, I don’t get it. My experience doesn’t count enough to overcome the fact that I have a felony on my record. And what bugs me the most about it is that the hiring people never even bother to ask what the felony was.

"It bothers me that I can’t be a better provider for Tammy.

"The best job that I ever had was back when I was working in the deli at Albertson’s as a meat slicer. That was good, steady pay, and good benefits.

If Doug had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be or do?

"I’d help everybody out. But... there’s so much to take care of. So many needs. And some people do get a bit greedy about what they need.

"But there are a lot of blessings in being out here too.

"Like, one day, there were four of us sitting together, and a lady drove by and stopped, and asked us if we were hungry. When we said yes, she went to Dennys, and bought all four of us a really nice lunch, in carry-out boxes, and gave it too us. It was really nice of her. She was a real blessing."

I ask Doug if he has a message for the world.

"Share the love," Doug says.

"Don’t turn away.

"Some people seem really embarrassed when we homeless people walk by. They don’t even want to look at us.

"I do panhandle, occasionally. But I don’t do it to everybody. I don’t do it to women."

I ask Doug what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.

"I’m compassionate. I’m polite. I have good manners. I’m consistent, and caring.

"Being homeless has opened my eyes to a few other things too. Now, I do want to get involved."

I ask Doug what it’s like trying to maintain a love relationship with Tammy while being jobless and homeless.

"I plan on being with my wife until the day that I die," Doug says.

"My wife is so beautiful.

"I... I want her to have a house.

Tears come into Doug’s eyes.

"We’re going to have a house, someday," Doug says.

There is a long, quiet moment, while Doug struggles to hold back his tears.

I reach across the table to touch him gently on his shoulder.

"We’ll say a prayer for you that someday, you’ll be able to make that happen for your wife," I say.

The young college man is watching. I don’t have to look at him. I can feel him. There is a sort of gush of compassion for Doug that is flowing out of the young man.

He really is a fine young man.

It is good for all three of us that he is here.

Doug nods, and says thank you.

Then, Doug stands up to leave. He says that he would like to stay and talk to us some more, but he is worried that his wife wants to leave. He doesn’t want her to leave without him.

This is the one-hundred and second article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I counted up the number of articles in this series that are actually interviews, instead of articles about related subjects. The total number of interviews is about ninety. But some are repeat interviews with the same homeless person. So, after this article, the number of additional interviews that I still need to complete to have interviews with one-hundred Auburn-area homeless people is about fourteen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

DEREK WAUTLET - Could easily be mistaken for an angel in disguise.


     Derek Wautlet is a remarkably good-looking man. He is about six feet, six inches tall. He has piercing blue eyes, and chiseled facial features.
     He looks straight at you, constantly and intently. If there were not so much kindness in his eyes, the intense way that he looks at you might be unsettling. But because of the kindness, the way that he looks at you is not unsettling. In fact, it’s sort of comforting.
     When a more imaginative person met Derek for the first time, that person might find himself wondering whether Derek is some sort of angel in disguise.
     Derek is twenty-eight years old. He is still a young man. But his extraordinary height, combined with the steadiness of his voice make him seem, at times, as if he is much older.
     In 2009, Derek was working for a local restaurant called Joe Carribe.
     He suffered a back injury, and could no longer work.
     He was on worker’s compensation for a while. But it didn’t pay him enough to pay his rent. So, he lost his apartment, and became homeless.
     Derek will tell you that his path to becoming homeless has been very special. To him, it has been a path of spiritual growth.
     He grew up here in Auburn, in a Catholic family. He went to St. Joseph’s.
     As he got older, he did a lot of spiritual study, and studied many different forms of religious beliefs.         Eventually, he converted to Mormonism, and joined the LDS church.
     Now, Derek is convinced that being homeless, here in Auburn, is exactly where God wants Derek to be.
     "The Lord wants me to be here," Derek says. "Working with the homeless, and helping them.
     "Materialism doesn’t work out for me. When I tried materialism, the only message I got was, ‘Go back to church.’ I went to church last Sunday.
     "I don’t feel a very strong connection to the people in my local church. But I do feel some.
     "I’ve been kind of living a double life. But I must choose one path or the other. I choose this path - to live out here, and to help the homeless people I meet. This is like a Mormon mission for me.
     "I asked about going on a regular Mormon mission. But I was told that I would have to be a regular member of the church for at least a year before I could go on a mission. I couldn’t wait that long.
     "I know how to help homeless people because I’ve been homeless myself.
     "Being homeless is sort of like falling into a vortex. Once you get sucked in, it’s really hard to leave.
     "Some homeless people think that all of the cards are stacked against them, and that they will never get out.
     "I’m here to tell them that it’s not that way. I’m here to tell them that they can find a way out, if they really want.
     "While I was studying all of those different forms of religious beliefs, I encountered a lot of obstacles to my faith.
     "But as soon as I was baptized, my faith became a snap. I just stopped worrying about it.
     "Now, every day, when I first get up in the morning, I say a little prayer and ask, ‘Lord, what have you got for me today?’
     What is the hardest part about being homeless for Derek?
     "The judgment that comes along with being homeless... the judgment that comes from people who are not homeless.
     "If you look like a homeless person, then other people pull away from you.
     "Why would people want to pull away from me? Back when I was in college, in Oregon, I was Phi Beta Kappa.
    "But when you’re homeless, you can’t get a shower as often as you would like. And then, you get dirt under your fingernails. And your clothing gets a little worn. And all of that sort of accumulates to make you look more and more like a homeless person.
     "You shouldn’t be judged on these things. You shouldn’t be judged by the way that you look. You should be judged on your heart, and by what you do.
     "Actually, you shouldn’t really be judged at all.
     "There’s a sort of irony, in this Country, with regard to the way that we treat our criminals, and the way that we treat our non-criminal homeless people. Today, it’s cold and raining outside. Those who have been convicted of crimes are over at the jail, where they have shelter from the rain, and a warm, dry bed, and they get fed regular meals. But the non-criminal homeless people are left out in the cold rain to starve.
     "This happens because the Country is capitalist. There’s money to be made in criminals. But there’s no money to be made with the homeless."
     If Derek had a magic wand, so that he could be or do anything, what would he be doing?
     "I’d be helping the homeless."
     Does Derek have a message for the world?
     "Yes. The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
     "Never discount anybody.
     "I’ve had some of the greatest spiritual lessons ever from homeless people. Sometimes, I meet another homeless person that you’d never expect to be a messenger through whom God, or Jesus, is trying to talk to you. But that is what happens.
     "Also, I know what it’s like to starve. I’ve gone for days without eating.
    "Now, I can’t stand to see others go hungry.
    "The heart is the mercy seat of the Lord.
     "Love without condition.
     "I think there is a new paradigm coming. I think that we are finally waking up. We can’t keep stepping on our brothers and our sisters."
     I ask Derek what he believes is special and unique about him. As I ask him this, I can’t help thinking about his piercing blue eyes. He is still looking right at me... right into my own eyes, and perhaps, right into my soul.
     Derek says, "It’s hard for me to answer that question. It makes me feel like I’m being prideful.
     "I care about everyone," he says. "I want to help them."
     "You will help them," I tell him. "You will be a great help to a lot of homeless people, because when you talk to them, you will look right at them, and you will really see them.
     "This is a great gift that you can give to them.
     "Because, as you know, most people are afraid of homeless people, and won’t even look at them. Homeless people become so accustomed to not being seen by others that, after a while, they begin to feel as if they are invisible.
     "It’s almost as if they have ceased to exist.
     "But when you look at them, you will really see them. They will know that they still exist, and that their lives still matter."
     Derek keeps looking right at me as I tell him this. But to my surprise, large tears come out of his eyes, and roll down his cheeks.
     He doesn’t say anything.
     But in this silence, his face reveals the most profound expression of compassion I have ever seen.
     This remarkably tall man could easily be mistaken for being an angel in disguise.
     Unless, of course, it is no mistake.

     This is the one hundred and first article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by Bob Litchfield.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

JOHN ELLSTROM - Have you ever dreamed about running away to join the circus?

                                                "You Get to Know People Real Quick."

     John Ellstrom is forty-five years old. He grew up in the small town of Otis Orchard, Washington. He has been homeless most of his adult life.      He left home when he was sixteen years old.
     "I didn’t feel loved by my family," he said. "I was an adopted child. "My parents were good people. They had kind of Victorian principles. Both of them were college-educated. They didn’t drink much.
     "When I was a little boy, my parents were pretty good to me. But when we turned teenagers (there were three of us, and we were all adopted), our adoptive parents just didn’t seem to want us any more.
     "I could see it coming when I was younger. My parents would make comments about how tough it was going to be for them, once we became teenagers.
     "Then, when I did become a teenager, it was like, my parents’ love for me just went away. Instead, my parents started asking, ‘When are you going to leave?’
     "So, one day, I just grabbed my coat, and the two dollars in my pocket, and I started walking down the road."
     I ask John if he ever went back.
     "No. I never went back.
     "I kept moving around, from job to job. I worked for a number of carnivals. Once in awhile, I’d get a pretty good job situation. But every time, something would go wrong, and I’d eventually lose my job.
     "I got arrested for possession of a controlled substance... I was doing speed at that time.
     "After I served my prison time, I was let out on parole. But, because I was chronically homeless, I kept leaving the place where I was supposed to serve my parole before completing my parole time.
     "I’d travel around for awhile. But eventually, some police officer would stop me for something, and run my name through the computer, and see that I was wanted for a parole violation. Then, I’d get hauled back to jail, and I’d have to serve another four to six months for parole violation.
     "This was a repeating pattern for me that went on for ten years. It took me ten years to finally complete my parole.
     "When I finally got off of parole, things were looking up for me. I was working for a carnival.
     "But then, I fell off of a carnival ride, and broke my hip.
     "Since the carnival had been paying me under the table, I had no health insurance, and I had no worker’s compensation.
     "So, since getting injured, I’ve been camping out, and flying a cardboard sign for handouts.
     "I do drink a bit, and I smoke some weed. But doing that helps to kill the pain. I’ve got physical pain in my hip, and emotional pain from being homeless, jobless, and crippled up.
     "I’ve applied for disability.
     "But the Social Security people said, ‘If you can still put a shoe into a box, then you are still well enough to work.’ Well, that’s easy for them to say. But I’ve got six screws in my leg. I sure can’t do the kind of work at the carnival that I used to do."
     What is the hardest part about being homeless for John?
     "Getting out of being homeless," John answers. "Once you become homeless, it’s very, very hard to get out of it.
     "Even if you stay completely sober, getting work, getting a place indoors to live, and getting transportation so that you can get to work, is very hard.
     If John had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be doing?
     "I’d continue my education. I’d get a college degree. Then, I’d like to build something, or invent something that would help the whole world.
     "I’m a very intelligent person. I just sometimes have a bit of a problem with being responsible, and with managing my money. I’d like to use the gifts that God gave me to do something good for the world."
    Does John have a message for the world?
   "Yes. Don’t group homeless people all in one category. We’re all out here for different reasons. We’re not all the same."
     I ask John what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I’m a caring person. I’m empathetic, and I’m intelligent.
     "Part of why I’m out here is just bad luck. Every time I get into something good, it gets all twisted. I’ve tried some group recovery programs. But even those attempts turned out bad for me. I’ve shot myself in the foot, a lot of times."
     I ask John is he has anything else that he would like people to know about him, or about his life.
     "If I have one thing to say," John answers, "it would be, hey, try it. Put two sets of clothing into a bag, or a backpack, and grab a few snacks, and just start walking down the road.
     "See what it’s like to be homeless. See what it’s like to have no bills to pay, no rent, no utility bill, and no job.
     "Come out here, and sit down with a few other homeless people, and drink a few beers with them, and find out what we’re really like.
     "That’s how you really get to know someone.
     "There’s good people out here, and there’s bad people.
     "If you come out here, it takes your blinders off, and you’re not seeing us through the blinders of society.
     "When you’re out here, and you need something to eat, you might not get anything to eat for quite some time.
     "When you meet someone out here, the person you meet could be a friend, or an enemy. He could be a robber, or even a molester. When you’re out here, you get to know people real quick."

     This is the one-hundredth article in the series of articles on Auburn-area homeless people.
     For those of you who have been with me for the whole series, thank you.
     As you already know, it has been an incredible spiritual journey and learning experience for me.
     The journey is not yet over.
     The initial goal was to interview one hundred Auburn-area homeless people. The one-hundredth article does not complete this project, because several of the early articles were not interviews of homeless people, but rather, were articles about Ryan Frew, the documentary film maker, or his film.
     So, there will be more interviews of homeless people posted on this blog, until I reach one hundred.
     I’m not sure how many more that will be. I've lost count of exactly how many interviews I've done. 
     Over this Holiday weekend, I will go back and count up how many interviews have been completed, and how many more are needed. When I get the count, I’ll let you know.
     I hope that you, and all of your loved ones have a wonderful, Happy Thanksgiving!
     Love and Many Blessings, Bob