Tuesday, January 1, 2013

KELLEY JONES - "I believe in everyone."

     I met Kelley Jones and his wife while they were sitting in the shade of the overhang at the end of the Ross Store Building.
     They had their possessions packed into three or four plastic garbage bags, packed into a shopping cart from the Target Store across the street.
     Kelley is 39 years old. He is a licensed building contractor. His business was destroyed by the downturn in the economy.
     He and his wife have been homeless for about fourteen months now. When they first became homeless, they were living in Key West, Florida. They just recently moved to the Auburn area.
     Before coming to Auburn, they had been living in the Grass Valley area. They left Grass Valley when they became disappointed with the way that homeless people were treated in the Grass Valley area.
     "There is a church up in the Grass Valley area that just received a million dollar government grant to help homeless people," Kelley says. "And yet, on Christmas Eve, a homeless man died of exposure, right behind the Grass Valley Post Office.
     "I think that if I was the federal government, and I had just given out a grant of a million dollars to help take care of homeless people, but a homeless man dies of exposure right behind the U.S. Post Office, I’d be a little bit upset about that," Kelley says.
     I ask Kelley what is the hardest part about being homeless for him.
     "Taking care of my wife," he says. "First and foremost, and from many different standpoints.
     "For example, I cannot go into a shelter where we will be separated, with the men sent to one part of the shelter, and the women sent to a different part.
     "This morning, we got up, and it was a fight just to get up. It was cold. Every day is a struggle. Each day, we have to struggle to find a place to get a shower, to get something to eat, and to find shelter.
     "The other day, we walked into MacDonald’s to get something to eat, and it was humiliating. People gave us dirty looks because of the way that we looked.
     "I wanted to go into MacDonald’s and get my wife some french fries. Because, you know... she wanted her french fries," Kelley grins for a moment.
     But then, his face turns serious. "But I had to stand there at the counter and be humiliated, because I only had one dollar left in my pocket, and the french fries cost a dollar and seventeen cents. I couldn’t get my wife her french fries, because I didn’t have seventeen cents."
     Kelley rambles a bit, at times. He talks fast. And sometimes, it’s hard to follow.
     "If you took away all the drug and alcohol abuse problems," Kelley says.
     "It’s ten degrees out here at night, and it’s only 30 degrees during the day.
     "If you asked me to take a breatholizer test, well, I’m sorry, but when it’s this cold, and I have to sleep outside, I’m going to the liquor store.
     "People look down on me, and keep asking me why I don’t just get to work, and pull myself out of gutter of being homeless. Well, the reason why I can’t get myself out of the gutter is because I’m stuck down here in the rut of being homeless.
     "As a Country, we’re going overseas, and helping people over there. So, why not here?
     "We have all this metal, and glass that we recycle. So, we go down the streets, and we go out into the woods, and we pick up all of the trash, and we recycle it.
     "But... when we do that, we leave behind the most important thing. We pick up the metal and the glass and we recycle that. But, why can’t we recycle people?
     "I got my teeth knocked out on Christmas Eve, while we were down in Sacramento. We got into a bad situation with two of the biggest guys that I have ever seen.
     "We spent the night, that night, at the Auburn Bus Station. Then, we got invited to a Christmas Dinner at the Baptist Church. That was really nice. They gave us some new coats. And we got to spend a night at the Elmwood Motel."
     For some people, getting the opportunity to spend just one night at the Elmwood Motel is a luxury.
     If you don’t know where the Elmwood Motel is, you should go by there some time, and see whether or not you would want to spend a night there.
     Kelley says that he would like to be a part of putting together a multi-county, regional homeless shelter. He believes that for a homeless shelter to be effective, it has to have resources like showers, laundry facilities, rehab programs, and government assistance all in one place. Because it’s so hard for homeless people to get around.
     "Don’t complain that a man stinks, when he has no place to take a shower," Kelley says.
     "Don’t complain that a man has dirty clothes, when he has no place to wash them."
     If Kelley had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be or do?
     Before Kelley can answer that question, a Placer County Deputy Sheriff pulls up in his patrol car. He gets out to talk to the four or five homeless people who are lingering at the end of the Ross Building. He starts at the other end of the sidewalk, and works his way toward us.
     The presence of the Deputy makes me a bit nervous, but there’s nothing that I can do about it.
     I ask Kelley if he needs to leave the area.
     Kelley says no. The officer knows them, and knows that they aren’t doing anything wrong by being there.
     When the deputy gets to us, he asks Kelley what we are doing. The young deputy is groomed and dressed very sharply. He looks to me to be younger than my own sons.
     Kelley explains to the officer that we are doing an interview for a book.
     The officer is very polite. But it’s not because I’m there. It is just this officer’s natural way of being.
     This officer is so polite to Kelley that it touches my heart.
     The deputy doesn’t have to be that polite, as I soon realize.
     He probably could have arrested Kelley, if he had wanted too.
     The officer tells Kelley that Kelley has to return the shopping cart (which was packed with Kelley’s possessions) to the Target Store across the street.
     Kelley promises the officer that he will return the shopping cart right away. He also tells the officer that it’s upsetting to him that someone has left some litter on the ground, and Kelley promises that he will pick up all of the litter in the area before he leaves.
     The young deputy is satisfied with that response.
     Before the deputy leaves, I tell him that we understand that he has a job to do, and that we appreciate the work that he does.
     He smiles, and nods to me. When he looks at me with appreciation and compassion in his eyes, it almost brings tears to my eyes.
     I don’t know all of the reasons why it affects me so deeply.
     One reason is because the deputy seems so young, but also so well trained, and so compassionate.
     Another reason is because I have already seen way too much suffering on this morning.
     Little Nicky - the drug-addicted young homeless girl who suffered sexual abuse as a child, showed up at the church this morning. She arrived too late to get the free breakfast. She appeared to be strung out on something, and really upset.
     She told us that her nine-year-old daughter had just been shot and killed.
     She was worried that the girl’s father would not allow Nicky to come into the Catholic Church in Richmond where the little girl’s memorial service was to be held, because Nicky had nothing to wear but the muddy jeans that she had on.
     There is a tall, angelic woman named Kendall who runs the homeless outreach program at the church. I watched, as Kendall took little Nicky into her arms, and assured her that the church would find some better clothes for Nicky to wear to her daughter’s funeral.
     Kendall is so tall, and Nicky is so tiny that when Kendall hugs Nicky, it looks like a mother hugging her ten-year-old daughter.
     There are very few people that I have ever seen, in all my life, who have a bigger heart, or more compassion, than this tall woman named Kendall.
     There are very few people that I have ever seen who have suffered more than this tiny woman named Nicky.
     More about Nicky at some other time.
     The deputy who was talking to Kelley gets back into his patrol car and drives away.
     Kelley and I get back to our interview.
     If Kelley had a magic wand, "I would be the CEO of "Love Works." That’s a charitable shelter for the homeless that I know could be built.
     "We’re going to learn how to love again," Kelley says.
     "I should be dead by now, given everything that I’ve been through.
     "So I’d like to be a part of helping other homeless people.
     "I could be good at it, too.
     "I believe in everyone.
     "Even if you are a really bad person... you know what, I still believe in you.
     I ask Kelley if he has a message for the world.
     "Jeremiah 29:11," he answers. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
     Kelley tells me that he has led Bible Studies in the past.
     I ask Kelley what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I don’t know," he says. But then, he says, "I do know. That God has intended my life to be a tool for His greater purpose."

     This is the one-hundred-and-fifteenth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.
     It’s also my one-hundredth interview with an Auburn-area homeless person. My plan is to take these one-hundred interviews and make them into a book, and to use all of the profits from the book to help the homeless.
     Ideally, the profits from the book would generate enough money to build a homeless shelter. But even if the book never generated one cent of profits, there would be another good reason for publishing the book: so many of the homeless people whom I’ve interviewed, and whom I’ve come to love, have told me that they would really like to see themselves, and their stories, in a book. I feel a certain sense of duty to fulfill that wish for them, if I can.
     But I’m not sure what is the best way to accomplish this.
     So, I am asking for your advice.
     First of all, I doubt if I can find a commercial publisher for this book.
     So, my initial thought is to self-publish this book.
     But there’s a problem with self-publishing. This book requires the inclusion a lot of photographs. A book with a lot of photographs can be very expensive to self-publish.
     I might be able to reduce that cost by using a print-on-demand publisher. But I don’t know much about the new print-on-demand processes. And also, it seems to me that the use of a print-on-demand publisher would make it more difficult to market the book as a fund-raiser to help the homeless.
     Another possibility might be to skip the printed book completely, and just re-post all of the prior articles on this blogsite, hoping that I can make some money for the homeless by selling advertising on the blogsite.        
     But once again, this blogsite advertising business is all new and unknown territory for me.
     If you have any thoughts on how I might print this book at an affordable price, and/or use these articles to generate the maximum possible amount of revenue for assisting the Auburn-area homeless, I would love to hear from you.
Happy New Year!
Love, and Many Blessings, Bob Litchfield
CATRINA REYNOLDS - You might have seen her while you were Christmas Shopping.

     If Catrina Williams looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you saw her for a few minutes, while you were rushing around doing your last-minute Christmas shopping.
     She looked familiar to me too.
     Then, when Catrina told me where she works, I remembered.
     Catrina works part-time at the Dollar Store.
     I remembered seeing her there, because she was clerk who was so exceptionally sweet to me. And she seems to be that way with everyone. She is a kind and sweet and caring person. Always alert, always looking for ways to be helpful to others.
     Catrina is twenty-five years old. She has been homeless, off and on, for about three years.
     Catrina followed the classic American pattern in becoming homeless. First, she lost her full-time job.        
     Then, she lost her car. Then, she was unable to pay her rent, and she lost her home.
     "I went through a series of bad financial events," she says.
     "Once you’re homeless, a lot of your friends, and even your relatives, start to look down on you. They judge you for not pulling yourself out of your homeless situation. And they don’t want to help. But they just don’t understand how difficult it is to pull yourself back out of homelessness, once you’ve fallen into it.
     "No one should ever have to be homeless. Especially in the winter."
     What’s the hardest part about being homeless for Catrina?
     "I have a job," she says. "I work part-time at the Dollar Store. The hardest part is not always being able to get a shower. I have to somehow make myself look presentable enough to go to work, when I have been sleeping in a tent.
     "I don’t want to lose my job, because my job is my only source of hope, at this time.
     "Also, I have a dog. But, because I’m homeless, when I go to work, I have no safe place leave my dog.
     "It’s also painful being judged, just because I’m homeless."
     It was December the 29th when I interviewed Catrina. So, I asked her what it was like to be homeless at Christmas time.
     "It’s really hard," she says. "I had no money. There was no Christmas Dinner. I ran out of cigarettes. It was cold. I had no family to be with.
     "I broke down and cried several times.
     "It was by far the worst Christmas I’ve ever had.
     "It’s hard, when everyone else is celebrating, and I had nothing whatsoever to celebrate.
     "I just wanted it to be over."
     If Catrina had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be, or do?
     "I would be a veterinarian," she says. "With a stable house, and a stable car, so that I’d be able to work."
     I ask Catrina if she has a New Years resolution for 2013.
     "Just to keep working. To keep making steps forward. And to get a car.
     "People have so much more than what they need. And others don’t have enough. They really need to wake up. If they were in this situation, they would want someone to help them.
     "I’m sure they would.
     "This world is just too judgmental.
     I ask Catrina if she has a message for the world (in addition to the powerful statement that she just made).
     "I would say what I just said, and when people read this book, I want them to understand that what we need, all across this Country, are more shelters. We need more shelters for men. We need more shelters for women. AND we need more shelters for our animals.
     "Our animals are our most-valued companions. We homeless people really need our animals. Most of the time, we homeless people take even better care of our animals than house pets. Because our animals are so important to us.
     I ask Catrina what she believes makes her special and unique in the world.
     "I’m smart," she says. "With the right education, I could definitely donate some good ideas to somebody."
     Catrina is right. She is smart.
     And she may not realize it yet, but she is already making significant contributions to others.
     I saw her going out of her way to help other people at the Dollar Store... including me.
     Besides that, just getting a chance to meet Catrina, and to see how determined she is to make a better life for herself, is a major contribution to my life. Catrina is an inspiration to me.
     I ask Catrina if she has anything else that she wants people to know, before we conclude our interview.
     "People make mistakes," she says. "You shouldn’t judge them forever by the mistakes that they’ve made in the past.
     "Everyone deserves a second chance.
     "Being homeless is really hard. I’ve been sleeping in a tent. Then, I have to get myself up, without being able to shower, and somehow make myself presentable enough to go to work. And then, I have to walk to work, even when it’s cold, or raining. It’s not easy."
     I look at Catrina, and I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for her to go to work under those conditions.
     And yet, she keeps on doing it.
     She keeps on doing it.
     And as I walk away, she wishes me luck with my book, and she calls me, "Darlin," in the same, sweet, simple way that she tends to refer to everyone.

     This is the one-hundred-and-fourteenth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.
     Just one more article to go, and I believe that I will have completed the one-hundredth interview. Happy New Year!