Sunday, November 4, 2012





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.


  1. Well he is known for that, yes, this man is my dad, and he is true to his word we are poor and we did want to help him, but we never got enough money too. My whole family is mad at him for not showing up often but im fine with it my whole childhood i didn't get too see him often so im used to it. he still loves us and we love him no matter how poor or homeless he is.