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

Monday, November 19, 2012

ANNA FREEMAN - "She has absolutely no one..."

     On the same, rainy Saturday Morning that I interviewed Jay Smith, Jay pointed out a much younger woman who was sitting on the other side of the room and asked me, "Have you interviewed Anna Freeman yet?"
     "No," I answered. "I’ve never seen here before today."
     "Well, you really should interview Anna," Jay says. "Her parents are dead, and she has no family around here. She has absolutely no one around here who can help her."
     I made a point of meeting and interviewing Anna before the morning was over.
     She is twenty-four years old, and has been homeless, off and on, for a little more than a year.
     She first moved up to the Auburn area with her fiancé. They had a place to stay, with some friends of her fiance.
     But an agreement was made that Anna and her fiancé would have to find full-time jobs within a month, or else they would have to move out.
     Anna was unable to obtain a full-time job (she was working part-time at McDonalds). So, after a month, her fiance’s friends kicked her out.
     But they allowed her fiancé to stay, in spite of the fact that he had been unable to obtain any employment at all.
     Anna says that her fiance’s friends didn’t like her, and that they eventually turned her fiancé against her as well. This led to she and her fiancé breaking up.
     She stayed with some friends for a few days. Then, she stayed for a time with the Lazarus Project. But she couldn’t stand the stress of working at McDonalds, so she lost her job at McDonalds, and had to leave the Lazarus Project when she couldn’t pay her rent there.
     She did some seasonal work at Macy’s. She was able to stay with Macy’s until March. But when Macy’s finally laid her off, she had no money to pay rent, and she had no where to go.
     She ended up sleeping at the Gathering Inn.
     But then, she started to have seizures. She went to the hospital, and discovered that she had a growth in her brain that was causing the seizures.
     The people at the Gathering Inn told her that she couldn’t stay with them any longer, because they were not a hospital and they simply were not equipped to handle her seizures.
     From there, she stayed briefly with her grandparents, and then was in and out of a series of her friends’ homes.
     Now, she is homeless.
     Her medical condition has improved. She has medication for her seizures, and as long as she stays on the medication, she doesn’t have seizures.
     Because her medical problem is resolved, she has been allowed to return to sleeping at the Gathering Inn.
     I asked Anna what is the hardest part of being homeless for her.
     "No love," she answers. "And being angry so much of the time.
     "I’ve learned now that as long as my most basic needs are provided, I can survive.
     "But... there’s something about having a place that you can go to and call your home.
     "I have no place I can go to where I can just lay down my head, and really rest.
     "I mean, sure, I can go to the Gathering Inn, and I can get a night of sleep. But when I wake up in the morning, I’m not really rested. It’s hard to sleep at the Gathering Inn. There are so many people there. With all those people comes all of their drama. I don’t like drama.
     "If you try to rest in a park, the cops come and hassle you.
     "It’s weird. It’s almost as if we have some kind of a sign on our backs that says, ‘Homeless.’ I mean, how do the cops know that we are homeless?
     "Before I became homeless, I could hang out in the park all day long, and the cops would never say a word to me.
     "But... as soon as I became homeless, the cops just seemed to know that I was homeless. Now, if I go to the park, I’m going to get hassled.
     "There’s also the dangers that come from the other homeless people. I’d be scared to death to be out here, if I didn’t at least have a cell phone, so that I can call for help, if I need it.
     "When you’re homeless, you’re always worried. You’re always looking over your shoulder.
     "You would think that homeless people would be more considerate of each other, because all of us have so little. But, as soon as you have anything that someone else might want, there is always someone else around who is going to say, ‘I want it.’
     "Material wealth means nothing to me now. It will never mean the same to me again.
     "When ever you have something of value out here, you feel like a deer, when the huntsman comes.
     "You can’t stop running. The huntsman is coming for you. So, you have to keep moving, all the time.
     "If you stop, the huntsman will get you.
     "I can’t trust people any more."
     If Anna had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be doing?
     "Most people would want to be rich," Anna says.
     "I actually want very little.
     "I’d take the basics.
     "I’d like to have a full-time, minimum-wage job, and a studio apartment where I could lay down my head and rest.
     "I’d like just enough income to get by.
     "I’d like to have my boyfriend back from Florida.
     "And I’d like to have just enough to be comfortable."
     I ask Anna if she has a message for the world.
     Before Anna answers, she gives the question some long, careful thought.
     Finally, she says, "Basically, just look around you before you judge. A lot of people don’t think about the situations of the people around them.
     "Up until a few months ago, I had a job, and I had a place of my own.
     "Be careful when you sit there and turn your nose up at me.
     "With the way that things are with the economy right now, most people are just one or two paychecks away from ending up homeless, just like me.
     "If you turn your nose up at me, a few days later, I might find you, living in a cardboard box in some back alley.
     "If I do find you living in a cardboard box, I’ll ask you if you need some food, or some help.
     "Nothing in life is a sure thing.
     "If you turn your nose up at me, you clearly don’t appreciate what you have.
     "What would your life be like, if you lost it all?
     "If you were out here, I would help you.
     I ask Anna what she believes it is about her that makes her special and unique in the world.
     "I’ve been told by many people that I shine.... My smile.
     "When I walk into a room, I effect the whole room. If I’m happy and smiling, I brighten the whole room. And when I’m sad, or angry, the mood of the room goes down.
     "I’m a writer. And I love people, and different cultures."
     I remember seeing Anna across the room earlier in the day.
     It’s true.
     For what ever reason, she really does have the power to either light up a room with happiness, or to bring the mood down.
     I tell her this.
     I tell her that this is a great gift that she has been given.
     I tell her that it is a great power. And with great power comes great responsibility. I ask her to work hard to bring a smile and happiness, instead of anger or sorrow, to as many rooms in her life as possible.
     She smiles, and nods. "I try to always do that. Life is a story. I try to write a happy story. I try to make people laugh, and to smile.
     "Love is the greatest thing out there," she says.
     "When I love, I love like nobody understands." She says this with great power in her voice.
     "I try to love everybody.
     "I don’t know how to hate people. I could be mad at you, but I could never hate.
     "Right now, I need love.
     "I don’t mean the romantic kind of love. I mean... just... that other kind of love."
     I tell Anna that I know what kind of love she means. Some people call it Agape love.
     Anna tells me the Bible story about Peter, when he passes the beggar at the gate. The beggar asks Peter for money. But Peter says, "I have no money to give you. But I give you something of far greater value. I give you Christ’s love. Rise up, and walk."
     "Love is the greatest gift that you could ever give to anybody," Anna says.
     We end the interview on that note.
     At the end of the morning, I see Anna one more time.
     As I am leaving the church building, I see an older homeless man who has become one of my friends. He is standing underneath the awning that is just outside the door to the church kitchen, where they serve the free breakfast. I noticed that he has been standing there for a long time. He is soaking wet, and almost blue from the cold.
     I ask him if he is standing there just to get in out of the rain.
     He nods.
     I suggest that he go inside, where they are conducting the church service. If he went inside, he could be warm, and dry.
     He thanks me for the suggestion. But he doesn’t want to go inside. He feels too wet and dirty.
     As we stand there, talking, Anna comes out of the building, and walks past us.
     Anna is much shorter than either one of us. And she is young enough to be the daughter of either one of us.
     She hesitates at the edge of the awning, just before she goes out into the pouring rain.
     She turns back to the two of us, and says, "I hate to ask you this silly question, but, do either on of you happen to have anything that I might be able to put over my head? I mean, an old beanie, or anything? I’m so dumb. I came out into this pouring rain, and I have nothing that I can put over my head."
     Earlier in the morning, I had been passing out dry socks. Maybe that is why Anna thought that I might have some hats as well.
     But I have nothing that could be used as a hat. I try to think of something. But I have nothing.
     The older, soaking-wet homeless man who is standing next to me is bare-headed. He is almost shivering from the cold, and his long, stringy hair is soaking wet.
     Nevertheless, he looks at this much-younger woman and simply smiles. Then, without saying a word, he reaches into his coat pocket, and pulls out a gray wool beanie.
     He hands the beanie to Anna.
     Anna smiles, and thanks him.
     She pulls the beanie down over her ears, and then walks out into the pouring rain.
     I look at my older, homeless friend. I have known him for about two weeks now. And I’m pretty sure that he has just given away his only hat.
     I look into his eyes, wanting to ask him if that was his only hat.
     But I don’t have to ask.
     The answer is already there, in his eyes.
     He just looks at me, and smiles.

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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

CAROLYN HUDGINS - "I help people."

     Carolyn Hudgins is obsessed with protecting children from abuse. She has approached me several times to talk to me about various aspects of protecting children from sexual abuse and abduction. One time, when she spoke to me about this, she was in tears.
     I have known Carolyn for several months now. She was always willing to talk to me, and often approached me to tell me about events that were occurring in the lives of the homeless people around her.      
     But she was never willing to be interviewed.
     Until now.
     Today, Carolyn was willing to be interviewed because she needed some money to resolve a problem with her storage unit.
     The mystery about Carolyn is why a woman who is obsessed with the protection of children would spend so much of her time hanging out with registered sex offenders.
     Carolyn is forty-six years old. She has been homeless, off and on, for the past five years.
     The first time she became homeless, she gave up her apartment to "hang out" with a homeless registered sex offender by the name of Matty Templeton. She says that Matty was a very smart man, and that his parents were rich.
     During that time, Carolyn used to get so depressed that she’d go down to the irrigation canal and just sit by the water, because it seemed to be peaceful near the water.
     She was paying $1,200 a month for an apartment that she had to share with two other people.
     Also, she felt stuck in the little town of Colfax.
     So, she moved out of her apartment, to hang out with Matty Templeton.
     Her first experiences with being homeless caused her to be afraid a lot of the time.
     When she couldn’t handle being homeless any more, she managed to get together a little bit of money, and rent a room at the Foothills Hotel.
     After a month, she ran out of money, and she became homeless again.
     She went back to her old haunts, looking for Matty.
     But the other homeless people told her that Matty was dead. His body was found floating in the irrigation canal.
     Carolyn changed the subject, and tells me about another homeless friend who recently died... a man named Shilo. Shilo died two months ago, after along struggle with prostate cancer.
     Shilo used to work with kids. But he went to prison after he stabbed a man.
     Shilo died right by the Raley’s... where the tree used to be. He was about 76 years old.
     Carolyn says that Shilo taught her a lot.
     "He taught me how to just sit there, and be quiet, and watch people," Carolyn says.
     "We help a lot of kids get free," she says. "We work with Amber Alert.
     We find a lot of kids who have been abducted, but then run away from their captors.
     Any child who has been abducted will run away from their abductors the first chance they get.
     "We all have kids. We always have to remember these kids."
     Carolyn says that the hardest part about being homeless is the winter.
     "Being wet. Being cold. Being harassed by the cops. I don’t set up a tent. Because as soon as you set up a tent, the cops run you out."
     "But... if you don’t even have a tent," I ask Carolyn, "Then, where do you stay during the times like today, when it’s pouring down rain?"
     "Anyplace where I can stay dry," Carolyn answers.
     "I don’t recommend being homeless to anyone."
     If Carolyn had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be doing?
     "I’d go back to school," Carolyn says.
     "First, I’d get my G.E.D.
     "Then, if I could afford it, I’d learn a trade, and I’d get a better-paying job.
     "I’d like to have a job that paid five to ten thousand dollars a month."
     As I hear her say this, I am thinking to myself that five to ten thousand dollars a month is a lot of money.
     But my thinking must have shown on my face, because next, Carolyn asks me,
     "That’s not being too unreasonable, is it? To ask for a job that pays five to ten thousand a month?"
     I shake my head. "No. It’s not unreasonable. And you know that you could do it, if you really wanted too. You’re one of the toughest people out here. And I’ve seen you demonstrate your natural leadership abilities with the other homeless people."
     Carolyn looks a bit surprised for a moment. But then, she nods. She knows that she can do it.
     "I’ve learned a lot from all these people out here," she says. "When I first came out here, I had never even camped out before. I had never cooked on a wood fire. I used to burn a lot of the things that I tried to cook.
     "Now, I’ve learned how to camp, and how to survive. I’ve become a pretty good cook, and I know how to cook on a wood fire. We have barbeques in the park. I cook all kinds of delicious things that the other people just love to eat. Sometimes, I come over here to the garden, and pick up some zuchini, and combine it with some garlic, and an onion. It’s really delicious.
     "I’ve had a lot of good times out here.
     "But you know... once I got back inside, I’d never go back out again."
     I ask Carolyn if she has a message for the world.
     "Yes. Always trust in the Lord.
     "Be good to one another.
     "Don’t be stupid. Don’t do stupid things.
     "There’s always somebody out there who cares, and who wants to help. So, don’t be afraid, or too proud to look for and to accept a little help, now and then.
     I ask Carolyn what makes her special and unique in the world.
     "I’m a helper," she says. "I’ve got to help. I love to help people. Just... helping people."
     I ask Carolyn if there is anything else that she would want people to know about her life.
     "Yes. Here’s the reason why I want to get off the street so badly right now: this last Summer, we took a little vacation. We went to Stinson Beach. And I just loved it.
     "Later, we took another vacation. We went to San Francisco, to Pier 39, and then to Petaluma. It’s so pretty there. While we were there, we drove way out to this place where you can see a lighthouse. And it was so pretty. It made me so happy.
     "I told my friend,’I’m going to get off the street."
     "Next month, my friend and I will pool our money and we’ll get a room. And I intend to stay off the street for as long as I possibly can.
     "Have faith," Carolyn says.
     "Take a little vacation. Go and do something that makes you happy, and remember what it’s like to be happy.
     "I used to do little things that made me happy like that all the time.
     "Remembering what it’s like to be happy gives you the incentive to get your life going again, and to get off the street."

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

JAY SMITH - "I'm not afraid of being homeless any more.


     Jay Smith grew up in New Jersey. His father died while he was still very young, and Jay attributes some of his problems to the fact that he grew up without a father figure.
     But even without a father figure, Jay had a lot of advantages while growing up. He went to a private school. Then he went to college at Randolph Macon on a football scholarship. He was a place kicker.
     Jay is forty nine years old. He’s been homeless for about a month now.
     He had been working at Walmart, and living with an elderly lady who had alzheimer’s disease. But one night, the elderly lady freaked out in the middle of the night. She forgot that she had rented a room to Jay, and called the police.
     The police asked Jay to move out. But they were able to get his rent money back for him.
     Jay lost his job at Walmart.
     A local man allowed him to stay in an old shack, in exchange for labor.
     For fourteen months, Jay worked about forty hours a week, with no pay, other than the privilege of sleeping in a drafty old shack that wasn’t legal for occupancy.
     When Jay finally couldn’t take it any more, he left.
     So, Jay says that at the moment, he’s actually homeless by choice.
     Jay admits that at times, he has had a bit of a drinking problem. He doesn’t do any drugs, and he has never been in any serious trouble with the law.
     He says that these days, he is not a heavy drinker... drinking only a couple of beers a day.
     "I put up with working for this other guy, in exchange for a shack to live in, because I was so afraid of being homeless.
     "Fear is the most powerful emotion.
     "Now, I’m homeless, and I’m happy.
     "I’ve been looking for work, but it’s really hard.
     "There’s a one-stop career center that has been a big help to me. It’s behind the Dodge Dealership.
     "Anybody who is serious about looking for a job should go there. Because it’s a great resource.
     "Of all the people who are at the Gathering Inn right now, there are only about three people who are honestly looking for work."
     Jay points to his friend, Wayne. "Wayne is one of them," Jay says. "And so am I."
     When I interviewed Jay’s friend, Wayne, about two weeks earlier, Wayne was trying to get a job as a bagger at Safeway. That job hasn’t come through for him. So Wayne is still trying to find a job.
     Wayne and Jay are both Christians, and they are both very spiritual.
     "The Lord must have felt that I needed some more humbling," Jay says. "Because here I am... homeless. But I’m not scared of being homeless any more."
     Jay has been married twice, and divorced twice. He has two children: a son, age 21, and a daughter age 22. Jay has never seen his daughter. His son lives near enough that he could see his son. But right now, his son doesn’t like him.
     The hardest part about being homeless for Jay is getting the time to do all the things that you need to do.
     "We homeless people spend most of our time standing in lines, just trying to get out of the cold," Jay says.
     "They give you one hour a day to work on a compute. But it isn’t enough time if you need to write up a good resume, or search for job openings. But I keep trying. I’m willing to walk three or four miles a day to get help with finding a job."
     If Jay had a magic wand, so that he could be or do anything, what would he be or do?
     "I’d like to go on a church mission, and travel around the world helping people. I could travel now, because I don’t have any ties here any more.
     "God has given me so many gifts. I can’t feel sorry for myself."
I ask Jay what gifts he would use if he were on a church mission.
     "My education, my computer training, my empathy. I’m good at working with senior citizens, and cancer patients.
     "I had a job for a while delivering equipment and supplies to Hospice Patients. Sometimes, I’d go into a person’s home, and while I was setting up the equipment for a person, I’d kind of get to know them. It’d be a nice guy, or a nice woman. So, I’d set up their equipment, like, maybe breathing equipment. And then, I’d leave.
     "But the very next day, that same person would be dead.
     "We’d go back to pick up the equipment, and sometimes, the person who died hadn’t lived long enough to even use the equipment.
     "They were alive one day, and I’d be talking to them, and the very next day, they were dead.
     "It hit me as a cold, hard fact that we’re not immortal. It was real. It wasn’t fantasy like the movies. It was death, and it was real."
     I ask Jay if he has a message for the world.
     "Be kind to others. It always comes back to you. It may not come back to you immediately. But it comes.
     "But when you do something good for someone else, don’t do it expecting a return. Because doing it that way is not Christ-like."
      I ask Jay what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "Insight. I have the ability to see the truth... to see over fantasy, and into reality.
     "I can see people’s needs.
     "It sucks, not being able to help people when you see their needs.
     "When you are in this homeless situation, things don’t happen as quickly as you’d like. But I’m still working hard to get my life going again, and to get off the streets.
     "So far, I’ve submitted over a hundred job applications.
     "I don’t consider this to be a bad thing. The way that I look at it, for some reason that I don’t understand, this is a part of God’s plan for my life. Somehow, in some way, this will all end up being good for me."
     The day that I interviewed Jay was the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
     Jay says that he and his sister will be serving Thanksgiving Dinner to the homeless at one of the local churches. He’s really looking forward to it.

Monday, November 5, 2012


HAYLEY LEGENDRY - So sweet, and so young, to be homeless

Young Hayley Legendry is probably the most beautiful homeless woman that I have interviewed.

But I can’t be fully objective about that. Because she reminds me of someone else... of a dark-haired, young, hippy girl that I loved and lost, a long time ago.

She has that same youthful innocence... that same fresh, young, soft, sweet naive way about her... even though I know that after being homeless three different times, she isn’t really that naive any more.

Hayley is twenty-one years old. But she seems more like an eighteen-year-old.

She tells me that she moved from one group home to another when she was younger.

Her parents went through one divorce, then remarried each other, but then divorced again.

Hayley ended up in a group home because her mother took too much percoset and oxycontin.

When Hayley turned eighteen, she moved to Pahoa, Hawaii. She loved Hawaii.

But she moved back to the mainland when she was twenty. She moved because she had a boyfriend at that time who had substance abuse issues. Her boyfriend kept falling in with the wrong crowd in Hawaii. So, they moved to Blue Ridge, Georgia.

Hayley finally broke up with that boyfriend. He went to prison because of his drug problems. He had been on heroin, on and off, since he was thirteen years old.

"I just can’t deal with that," Hayley says.

"I told him that I’d support him anyway that I can, as long as he’s clean and sober. But...he can’t get himself sober.

"Besides, I was much younger then," Hayley says. "And I didn’t know any better than to put up with some things from him that I should never have put up with.

"For example, he used to hit me. And I’d just let him.

"But I would never put up with that from my boyfriend now."

Hayley has a new boyfriend now - a homeless young man who seems to be nice enough. He talks about setting up small booths at hippy festivals, and selling clothing made out of hemp. Hayley and her new boyfriend worked in Nevada County for the past two and a half months. But their jobs in Nevada County were only seasonal. About a week ago, when their Summer jobs ended, they moved down the hill to Auburn.

Hayley says that the hardest part about being homeless for her is being in between... in between one place and another... in between one job and another... in between one kind of life and another.

"It’s also hard to be sleeping outside when it’s raining, and to be freezing cold at night.

"But the worst part is the way that people treat you.

"When you are homeless, people give you evil looks.

"No one wants to help you.

"Last week, I had no shoes for two days.

"I was walking around barefoot. It was cold outside, and people would stare at me like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you wearing any shoes?’

"Well, I’m sorry. But my shoes broke, and I have no money. So, for two days, I had no shoes.

"It’s really sad, the way that people stare at you. Or else, they pretend not to see you at all.

"I try to smile at everybody... just because I think that’s what I should do.

"But being homeless, when I smile at people, they usually don’t smile back.

"Instead, they look at you like you’re some kind of a drug addict, or a criminal. And that really hurts.

"Everybody out here just needs some kind of help."

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

"I’d be back in Hawaii.

"When I was in Hawaii, I met a lot of young transients who really wanted to find work. But there was no work for them in Hawaii.

"So, if I could afford it, I’d buy a big, organic WOOFER farm. And I’d give all of those young transients a place where they could work in exchange for food and a place to sleep."

I ask Hayley what a WOOFER farm is, because I’ve never heard that term before.

She tells me that it’s actually an acronym for something. But she can’t remember what. She tells me that I can find it on the internet.

I ask Hayley if she has a message for the world.

"Yes. Always remember to put yourself in other peoples’ shoes, because you never know where you’re going to end up. Everyone goes through their periods of ups and downs."

I ask Hayley what she believes makes her special and unique in the world.

Hayley isn’t sure what to say, at first. So, she looks over at her boyfriend.

Her boyfriend smiles at her with loving eyes and says, "She may be crazy, but she’s got the purest heart I’ve ever seen."

Hayley smiles back at her boyfriend.

Then, she says, "Kindness. I always try to treat everybody with kindness, and not judgment. And I share what little I have with others. I think we should all be treated equal.

Hayley and her boyfriend start telling me how friendly and helpful the other homeless people in the Auburn area have been. Hayley says that she was still without shoes when they first met the homeless man who is known around here as Cowboy (Erik Parks).

Cowboy tried to take the shoes right off of his own feet and give them to Hayley.

But Hayley wouldn’t take Cowboy’s shoes.

I can see Cowboy trying to give away his shoes to this sweet young girl. The thought of it makes me smile. Chivalry of the Old West.

I ask Hayley if there is anything else that she would like to tell me before we conclude our interview.

"Yes. There is something that you can do to make homeless people feel better, even if you don’t want to give them money, or if you aren’t able to help them in any other way.

"When a homeless person smiles at you, just smile back.

"When that happens to me, it gives me a warm feeling inside. And it makes me feel better... even when I’m having a really tough day.

Before I leave Hayley and her boyfriend, I ask Hayley’s boyfriend if he would mind hearing a bit of coaching from an old man.

He smiles and says, "Sure."

"Once, for a short period of time when I was a very young man, I had a girlfriend who was a lot like Hayley.

"But I let her get away.

"Girls like Hayley are very special and very rare.

"So, you take good care of her.

"And don’t let her get away, if you can help it.

"If you manage to hold onto her, then years later, when you are an old man like me, you won’t have regrets."

The young man smiles. He wraps Hayley in his arms, and tells me that he will take good care of her.

But he is so young... and... he talks about clothing made out of hemp.

I hope that he can be strong, and smart, and gentle... and that he can take care of Hayley.

But I’ll probably never get to know how things work out between these two young lovers.

I find myself wondering, for a moment, if my Hayley is still out there, somewhere.

I haven’t seen or heard from her in many years.

I didn’t tell Hayley’s boyfriend the whole story, as the story unfolded for me.

Losing my dark-haired, hippy beauty broke my heart at the time.  But it turned out to be the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. Because I later married the blond-haired love of my life - Suzi. And we have been married for almost forty-two years.

When I finish my interview with Hayley, I get in my car and drive across the K-Mart parking lot, headed toward the Bel Air Market.

I see a gray-bearded, shaggy-looking homeless man sitting on the corner curb, near the CVS Pharmacy.

Thinking about what Hayley said, I smile and wave at the old man as I drive past him.

To my surprise and delight, he gets all excited. He flashes me big, toothless smile, stands halfway up off the curb, and he waves back at me.

I can still see that smile. It makes me feel all warm inside.

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

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"I'd Be Working."

Inez Martinez-Thompson.  "You get situated some place.  But then, you lose everything."

Inez Martinez-Thompson is Shelby Thompson’s wife. She is a wonderful, cheerful person. At the age of 39, she is a little older than Shelby.

She and Shelby have been homeless for about two years, this time. But this is the third time that they have been homeless.

"The first time, it was all beers and tears," Inez says. "But after awhile, you sort of get used to it. Then, you don’t get as upset about it any more."

"The hardest part is that you get all situated some place. You get a place to live. You get a small loan. You get a car.

"But then, you lose your jobs, and you lose everything.

"It just brings tears to my eyes, every time. I can see why some people just give up, eventually."

Inez says that the hardest part of being homeless for her is not being able to get a shower every day.

"That, and seeing my adult son, here in town. When I see him, or call him, I don’t like having him see me as a homeless person.

"My mother lives here in town too. She knows that I’m homeless. It makes me sad for her to see me this way.

"My parents expect more from me. They don’t understand how we could have ended up being homeless.

"My mom is like that. When ever we see my parents, they say things like, ‘I wish you would have done this,’ or, ‘I wish you would have tried that."

"Well, we did do all of those things. It’s just that for us, none of those things worked.

"But my parents just don’t understand.

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

"I’d be working," she says. "I’d have completed my college degree, and I’d be working at a good job."

Does Inez have a message for the world?

"Yes. We find strength and unity in being more than one... in being together. We struggle a lot. But we have each other.

I ask Inez what she believes makes her special and unique in the world.

"I’m driven," she says.

But then, she laughs, and says, "And I have a great personality."

"That’s true," I tell her. "You really do have a great personality."

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





Shelby Thompson is one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.

He and his Hispanic wife, Inez, are homeless. They became homeless when they both lost their jobs in the same month.

Then, someone stole their car and wrecked it. They found themselves homeless, and on foot.

Shelby is thirty-four years old.

He looked familiar to me. I remembered where I had seen him before when he told me where he used to work. For seven years, he worked at Speedy Oil Change & Tune Up.

But then, he lost his job.

Within about a month, his wife, Inez, lost her job as well. She was working as an office temp for Placer County, and also for a privately-owned telephone answering service.

Before Shelby and Inez lost their jobs, they were also students at Sierra College, working on earning college degrees. But they’ve been unable to attend college for the last two semesters because of their homeless situation.

When I first saw Shelby on the day that I interviewed him, I had to wonder if he had just been in some kind of brawl. His face was covered with nasty-looking scratches.

But Shelby is no brawler. His facial scratches are from crashing while riding a bicycle. Homeless people often get from place to place on bicycles... when they can get one.

Shelby and Inez are eating the free breakfast for the homeless at the Seventh Day Adventist Church while I interview them.

They have a nice-looking ten-year-old boy with them.

I ask them if the boy is their son.

They tell me know no. The boy is the son of one of their relatives, and they are looking after the boy for the day.

The boy is very fond of Shelby and Inez, and they treat the boy as if they were his loving parents.

When I ask Shelby what is the hardest part about being homeless, he looks over to his wife, to see what she thinks.

The way that Shelby and Inez look into each other’s eyes makes it obvious that they love each other very much, and that they have loved each other, through good times and bad, for a long time.

It’s easy to see why Shelby loves Inez so much. She is one of those brightly-lighted souls. She laughs a lot. She is filled with kindness. When she speaks, she is very straight-forward. And in spite of being homeless, she seems filled with a deep sense of inner peace, and a cheerful optimism.

Shelby says that the hardest part about being homeless is having no stability.

"Before we became homeless, we had our own home, and we had dinner together every night. Then, we’d sit together and watch some TV.

"For Inez, the hardest part about being homeless is not being able to have a shower every day. She just has to have her shower every day."

When he says that, Inez laughs, and nods. "Thank you for saying that," she says.

This is actually the third time that Inez and Shelby have become homeless because of financial set backs.
"The first time we became homeless, we argued a lot," Inez says. But now, we have so little that there
doesn’t seem to be anything left to argue about."

I ask Inez whether they used to argue about money. Money is one of the top two things that married couples most frequently argue about.

Inez says yes, they did used to argue about money.

"At first, when the money started to get really tight, things got so bad that you didn’t want to share even a five-dollar bill," Inez laughs.

"But we don’t argue much about anything, any more."

Shelby and Inez have a total of nine children. Inez has four children who were born before her marriage to Shelby. Shelby has four of his own children. And Shelby and Inez had one child together.

None of their children are living with them now.

Shelby’s first four children are living with his ex-wife.

They lost two of their children to what they call "the system" because of their homeless situation.

Two of Inez’s children live with her ex-husband, in Riverside, California.

Shelby and Inez have a twenty-two-year-old son who is employed here in Auburn. They do see him, from time to time.

But Inez hasn’t seen any of her other children for about four years.

This really hurts her.

Before she and Shelby became homeless, their children used visit them on the weekends.

But now, there is no place for the children to come and visit.

Shelby hasn’t seen any of his children for about a year.

Shelby says that now, it’s tough for him to call his children and talk to them on the phone.

"Your kids get mad at you for not coming to see them enough," he says.

"Your kids get mad at you for not calling them often enough.

"Your kids get mad at you for not having enough money to take them any place, or to buy them anything.

"It’s tough calling your kids when you know that all you’re going to hear from them is how mad they are at you."

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

"Yes. Don’t take life for granted. Live life to the fullest. You don’t really appreciate what you have until after you lose it all."

When Shelby says this, I think about the dinner that I had, just the night before, with two young Russian immigrants who earlier were students in my business law class at Sierra College.

These two young immigrants now own their own business, and are spectacularly successful.

They have worked very hard to build their own version of the American Dream.

They have taken nothing for granted.

If America does have an economic future, it probably lies in the hands of people like those two young, Russian immigrants.

It certainly doesn’t lie in the hands of millions of young, couch-potato, video-gaming, young Americans who, in spite of their cynical criticism of everything around them, still seem to be stupid enough to believe that a benevolent government will always take care of them, no matter what happens.

I wish that I could introduce every one of those young Americans to Shelby and Inez.

Shelby and Inez are the harsh reality with regard to how well your benevolent government will take care of you.

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

Shelby doesn’t know what to say, at first. So, he looks over at Inez.

Inez says, "I’d say that it’s the ability to go without anything, and yet, not complain."

Then, she laughs and says, "Well, you might complain to me a little bit. But other than that, you hardly ever have any complaints about anything."

Shelby nods. "I’m pretty strong-willed," he says.

Then, he adds, "You know, my family is from Louisiana. And I’ve lived in several other States, and this is the third time that we’ve been homeless. But the people here in the State of California help homeless people more than the people in any other State that I’ve seen."

Shelby adds that the homeless people in this area are also very helpful. The other homeless people have helped he and Inez a great deal, even giving them blankets, and dry clothing.

"Our friends have probably helped us out more than our own families have helped us," Shelby says. "But of course, my family is all poor. So, they wouldn’t be able to help us out much, even if they wanted too."

Shelby is unhappy about one thing: He says that his wife, Inez, gets treated unfairly sometimes because she is both homeless and a Hispanic minority.

Inez doesn’t see it that way. She doesn’t feel that she has experienced any ethnic discrimination.

As we conclude the interview, I tell Shelby and Inez that I can see how much they love each other. And that as long as they have each other, they are far richer than most people I know.

I tell them that I know a lot of wealthy people who are miserably unhappy because they do not have the one great treasure that Shelby and Inez have, which is somebody to love, and somebody who loves you.

"Because you two have this great love for each other, you are among the most richly blessed, and the richest people in the world," I tell them.

Shelby and Inez just smile and nod.

They enjoyed hearing me tell them this.

But they didn’t need me to tell them.

They already know.

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

Saturday, November 3, 2012




I found David Buchanan sitting in the shade of a tree behind the Burger King on the corner of Highway 49 and Bell Road. He is twenty-seven years old, and has been homeless, on and off, for about five years.

Every time I meet a young homeless man like David, it touches my heart. David is about the same age as one of my sons, or many of my students at Sierra College.

Before becoming homeless, David says he had a really good job selling insulation. But when the economy went bad, the company he was working for fizzled out, and he lost his job.

David grew up in New Mexico, then moved to Austin, Texas. He moved to the Colfax area about three months ago, looking for a place to start his new business.

David is an uncertified nutritionist. His new business, which he says that he developed with the help of a licensed physician, is a weight loss and nutritional program.

David tells me that he used to weigh more than 300 pounds. But he now weighs between 165 and 170.

David claims that his nutrition program can also cure childhood diabetes, and some forms of cancer. He says that his nutritional program involves eating only the kinds of food that Jesus ate, and eliminating all artificial and man-made foods.

As we talk, David pulls a whole cucumber out of his backpack. He bites into the raw cucumber, and begins to eat it in much the same way as other people would eat an apple.

What is the hardest part about being homeless for David?

"Transportation. When you don’t have a car, you find yourself walking a lot. Like, I just found out that around here, the buses don’t run on Saturday and Sunday. So today, I have already walked about twenty miles. I walked all the way to this spot in Auburn from Colfax.

"And not having enough blankets when it’s pouring down rain and freezing cold."

I met David a day or two after the first big rain of the winter season. One the night of the first big rain, I couldn’t sleep. I laid there, wondering how my homeless friends were surviving, outside in their tents. Some of them don’t even have a tent.

I asked David how he fared in the rain.

"I almost got pneumonia," he said. "My blankets were soaked. And my toes froze.

"The problem was that the weatherman predicted that the rain wasn’t going to hit here until the next day. But the rain came a day early. So, when it hit, I wasn’t prepared for it."

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

"I’d be giving massive presentations about my nutrition program in front of large groups of people. I’d be curing childhood diabetes and cancer.

"You know, one out of three kids born in this country after the year 2000 are going to get diabetes by the time they reach the age of twelve. That’s terrible. And the worst thing about it is that it’s all reversible. It takes about a three to four month program to do it, but it is reversible.

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

"Yes. If you’re going to help homeless people, the main thing is organization. Because a lot of people really do want to help.

Some of the churches could be used as sanctuaries... as God intended for them to be. Churches all across the country could become sanctuaries for the homeless.

"The world needs more people who really want to help," David says. Then, he nods toward me, and says, "The world could use a lot more people like you, my friend."

I ask David what he believes makes him special and unique in this world.

"Seeing things outside the box," he answers. "My Mom always told me that I tend to see things a bit differently from the way that everyone else sees them."

"Not every single homeless person is a bad person," David says.

"Not every single homeless person is a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or a criminal.

"Some of them are just going through a tough spot in life. And they could use a little help."

I met David on a weekend afternoon. David offered to call me at my office on Monday or Tuesday, and give me an introduction to his nutritional program. He promised me that his program would help me lose weight. He offered to give me coaching on his nutritional program for no charge, saying that he worked only for donations.

At the time, I was struggling to lose weight. So, I looked at this 165 pound young man who used to weigh more than 300 pounds, and I was open-minded about maybe giving his nutritional program a try.

I gave David my office phone number, wondering if running into him might have been one of those accidental meetings that is arranged by God.

I told David that if his program worked, I would be more than happy to pay him for his coaching.
For the next two weeks, as I drove around town doing errands, I would see David walking here and there on the streets of Auburn.

But... he never called.

This is the ninety-third in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by Auburn, California attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

The first ninety-one articles were originally posted on the Auburn Journal Newspaper blogsite.
But when the newspaper closed their blogsite, the continuing articles were transferred to this blogsite.

Eventually, the earlier articles may also be posted on this blogsite. But for now, the plan is to complete originally-planned one hundred interviews of Auburn-area homeless people.

It will take a few more than one-hundred articles to complete the planned one-hundred interviews, because some of the initial articles in the series were not interviews, but rather, were about a documentary film that was made about the Auburn-area homeless.



I interviewed Carolyn Schenck when the sun came out after the first big rain of the winter season.

She is a beautiful woman, with sandy blond hair.

But she begged me not to photograph her on that day. Her hair was disheveled, and she felt self-conscious about the way that she looked. She promised me that I could come back and photograph her on some other day, when she had herself more together.

Carolyn is approaching her fiftieth birthday. She has been homeless for about fifteen months.

She raised her daughter as a single mom on welfare, living in low-income, Section 8 housing.

Her daughter is now living with her brother and her sister-in-law, who live up in the Grass Valley area. Carolyn says that her daughter was an excellent child. Carolyn is so happy that her daughter’s grades are improving, now that she is living with her brother.

I ask Carolyn if she gets to see her daughter very often.

"Well, I can see her whenever I want to," Carolyn says. "But I don’t see her as often as I would like. My sister-in-law doesn’t care for me very much. She doesn’t like my boyfriend, either. I have a drug problem. And my boyfriend is in jail."

Carolyn looks off into the distance for a long moment. Then, she says, "I really wish that I’d never smoked pot when I was fourteen. It really is a gateway drug.

Carolyn grew up in Ohio. She proudly tells me that three generations of her family before her graduated from Michigan State University.

Carolyn has eight years of higher education. She has a film degree from U.C. Santa Barbara, with a minor in art history.

Carolyn spent about ten years living in Section 8 low income housing. Her last home was in the low income apartments that are behind Rite Aid. She finally got evicted from that apartment for having too many visitors who were on drugs.

"People who are on meth tend to get into fights, and to make a lot of noise," she says.

"So, I lost my apartment. But the police have allowed me to camp out in a place that is near to where my apartment was. So, I haven’t been forced to move very far away.

"Being kicked out of my home for being rowdy has enabled me to do something that my father was always saying that he wanted me to do, which is to face up to taking care of myself. My father was a successful journalist, and a publisher. He was an amazing man."

Carolyn then lists several of her family members who are remarkably accomplished figures in business and even in our national government.

Eventually, the question in my mind grows so large that it just has to be asked.

"Carolyn, you have all of these relatives who are remarkably accomplished people, and you yourself have eight years of higher education. You are a smart, charming, beautiful woman. And yet, here you are... unemployed and homeless?"

Carolyn nods to indicate that she understands what I am saying.

"Well, I have a little drug problem," she says.

"But I’m lucky, even in that," she says. "Because I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke pot. At least I’m still healthy. A lot of the people out here who are alcoholics have a rapidly-progressing disease that will kill them pretty quickly. Alcoholism is a rapidly-progressing disease."

In my mind, I try to see the logic of her rationalization that she is in less danger doing meth than the danger that someone is in for doing alcohol or pot. But trying to see that logic is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

"I’m a photographer by trade," Carolyn says. "But I’d like to be a writer. I’d like to write children’s stories.
"I still have hope," Carolyn says. "I’m actually looking forward to my fiftieth birthday, because I have so many great ideas for my future."

I ask Carolyn what’s the hardest part about being homeless.

"Having to shed a part of your ego," she says. "To be shunned is really awful. People look at me, when I’m all dissheviled like this, and they assume that I’m a panhandler, and that I’m going to ask them for money, or that I’m some kind of a criminal, and I’m up to no good.

"The other day, I was just walking past some people on the sidewalk, and they were so afraid of me that they pulled their dog away from me before I even got close to them.

"That really hurt.

"I don’t panhandle.

"I don’t smoke pot.

"I’d like to join a band, and do some singing, someday.

"One thing about being out here on the streets is that you realize that it’s not easy to die. It’s not easy to kill yourself. On the bad days, I guess there’s a certain amount of co-dependency.

"Also, it’s sort of like the field of dreams... secretly wanting to be wealthy.

"Some people out here... people I love... they’re down-trodden, and have progressive alcoholism or drug addictions, and they’re going to die some time soon.

"They have no hope.

"I do."

If Carolyn had a magic wand, so that she could be or do anything, what would she be?

"I’d be a famous writer. I’d rub shoulders with famous people.

"I’d see the wonders of the world.

"I’d love to meet some of the famous writers from the past.

"Then, I’d like to go to heaven. I’m afraid of death. But I’m not afraid to go to heaven."

I ask Carolyn why she is afraid of death.

"Because it’s the end of life.

"I had to do the eulogy for a young man who died, recently. He died in a car crash in Applegate. Death is just so cold, and clammy to me. I really don’t like to go into mortuaries. I don’t even like to go into churches any more, because I usually only go there for funerals, and for me, churches are a lot like mortuaries."

I ask Carolyn if she has a message for the world.

"Love yourself," she says. "Love others, and know that people are good."

Carolyn complains that just the other day, she was brushing her teeth in a bathroom in a MacDonald’s restaurant. One of the employees came into the bathroom, and told her that she was not allowed to brush her teeth in the restaurant bathroom.

"That woman made some bad assumptions about me," Carolyn said. "She shouldn’t have bothered me just because I was brushing me teeth. She wouldn’t have done that, if she hadn’t made some assumptions about who I am.

"It’s a good world, not a bad world.

"People often ask me if I feel safe out here. I feel very safe out here. I believe that this is the safest place in the world. The homeless people around here have been very good to me.

"We all live like kings and queens. We have enough food, enough clothing, enough shelter. And it’s a beautiful, sunny day.

"We Americans are spoiled rotten.

"When my dad left, I took care of my mother for twenty-seven years. She had a drinking problem. And when she walked, she dragged one of her legs from a health problem caused by her drinking.

"We actually took care of each other."

Carolyn tells me some very clever ideas that she has for writing some children’s books.

"But it’s rough, trying to get back on your feet, when you don’t have any credit," Carolyn says. "And you don’t have a co-signer.

"I’ve never had a credit card in my life," Carolyn says.

I think about the slavery that most of the rest of us have to credit card debt, and I have to grin.
I say to Carolyn, "If you’ve really never had a credit card in your entire life, then maybe you really do live like a queen."

I ask Carolyn what she believes makes her special and unique in the world.

"I’m optimistic," she says.

"My dad used to call me a tiger. He called me Sunshine, and he called me Tiger.

"You’re a giver, not a taker," he used to tell me. "Avoid the takers."

"I love people. And I love the earth.

"I’ve grown a lot, since I’ve been homeless.

"I’m pleasant to everybody."

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