Tuesday, January 1, 2013

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!

1 comment:

  1. I have begun a page devoted to video documentation of the many brutal homeless camp clearings in California.

    California Homelessness Reporter

    Please let me know if you hear of any others!