Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Many will recognize the line from the Lord’s Prayer, an oft-memorized and highly-regarded prayer said to have been taught by Christ to summarize the gospel’s messages. Do with that as you will but believers will tell you the prayer has to be felt in one’s heart, rather than simply being recited.
Our Daily Bread Ministries has helped countless people in countless ways, and remains a visible and active presence when it comes to meeting the basic and immediate needs of homeless people in Del Norte County. One of those people is Jesse, 62, who now works at the ministry, passing on the help that was given to him.
A tall man wearing a clean buttoned shirt and a Panama hat, Jessie said he has been homeless in Crescent City several times in the 30 or so months he’s been here. He said after a breakup with his wife, some jail time, a fall from the wagon and a recent heart attack, he’s committed to helping others through the one local institution that has consistently and actively been there for him — Our Daily Bread Ministries.
“I have been (homeless) here for about 2 years,” he said, noting he came from Butte County. His trip into homelessness, began when his wife left him, he ended up in jail. They later reunited and later caught a bus to Del Norte County.
“When I got up here, I got back in the drug scene,” he said, listing meth in particular. “I wasn’t doing good at all. We were living by South Beach and we got flooded out two or three times.”
He said while they lost and later regained all their possessions, drugs took a greater toll.
“The drug scene’s what did it,” he said. “I lost all my self esteem and didn’t have a reason to live. We were fighting and almost killed each other behind the drugs.”
He said they were able to secure a small trailer at an area he called “the swamps.” Locally referred to as the Ruth Compound, the off-grid area is hidden in deep trees off Elk Valley Road and accessible by dirt roads that turn to deep mud trenches in the winter.
Saying he was beaten up and run out of the swamps after an argument with her, Jesse came to ODB, “on death’s doorstep,” so weak he had to be helped to function and even use the restroom.
“They gave me a place,” he said of ODB. “They showed me love and they showed me kindness and showed me there’s a better way than the drugs.”
Jesse said he was able to stay clean for seven months but relapsed when his friend died in the bed next to him.
ODB has ground rules, one of which is guests may not use or be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“I took it real hard and I went out and used,” he said, “but the people here hunted me down to bring me back. That’s the kind of people they are. They’ll give you the shirt off their back and that’s what people need here, more reason to live.”
Praising ODB’s generosity and involvement in his life, Jesse disclosed he had suffered a heart attack a couple months ago and had to be flown to a Redding hospital.
“They came and got me and brought me back here,” he said. “People have a lot of bad things to say about Our Daily Bread but I’ll tell you what — I can’t say anything but good.”
Jesse has since become a disciple at the ministry and its rescue mission, where he cooks and serves meals, washes clothes, cleans and makes beds, while sharing the word of God.
“We’re all one big family,” he said. “We love each other, we work for each other and we take care of each other, and we love taking care of the homeless,” he said, pausing. “Well, I don’t want to call them homeless, I’d say less fortunate. When you say homeless, you put them all in a category that they’re worthless. That’s the way it is but they need to pull up out of it.”
He said his experience with ODB has shown him love and caring, and has given him purpose.
“This is the best way I know,” he said of ODB. “There are people who really care here. When you walk through this door, you can feel the love. When we open that (food) window there and see the smiling faces, I know almost all of them because I have been out there with them. I try to show by example that ‘You don’t have to live in that hole. You can pull yourself out,’ but the only way they can is with our help.”
He said ODB staff do the best they can, working solely on donations.
“That’s the only way we can do it,” he said. “We need more support from the community. We’re trying to put 40 more beds in here, and that will be (open) seven days.”
Jesse praised ODB managers Daphne Cortese-Dean and Mike Justice and others, saying that while they have a heart and want to help but sometimes have no choice but to turn people away.
“We’ve had it where people are sleeping on the floors in here, just to get them out of the rain. We’re working so hard to get this place together. As you can see, we need work done,” he said, pointing at water leak stains on the ceiling and a stack of unfinished bed frames, “but we work with it.”
Jesse said the ministry feeds people Wednesday and Friday nights, as well as Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
“Everyone thinks this is a for-profit place,” he said. “There’s no profit here. Everything that comes in goes through the building and goes to the food and whatever. It takes a lot to keep this place going, electricity, cooking, all this stuff has to be paid for. We get a lot of donations of food but... the problem is that we need more money.”
From the swamps
Based on his own knowledge, Jesse estimated the recent Point in Time Count results that just under 200 adults homeless in Del Norte County is low.
“Just out in the swamps at the Ruth Compound, there’s at least 150 there,” he said. “Then you have by Walmart and on the other side of Walmart, and you have the beaches... I’d estimate, and it’s a rough estimate, that there’s about 500 to 600. A lot of the people are hiding out, or whatever. A lot of people don’t want to talk and when they see officials, they’re gone.”
Jesse estimated about 140 juveniles are homeless in various ways, from couch-surfing to living in garages and cars.
Asked what he’d like to be doing in a year to 10 years, Jesse said he would love to be able to talk to youth about his experiences in the hopes none will venture down the paths he’s taken.
Saying he came from a rough background, Jesse disclosed he has been in prison for over half of his life and shot up drugs for as long or more.
Sometimes the bad things he’s done still haunt him but he knows he would not have done them if not for the drugs. He said he’s even stolen shopping carts full of food to get by.
“It’s nothing I’m proud of but it’s how I survived,” he said. “It’s how a lot of people out here survive. If it wasn’t for ODB opening their doors, there would be a lot more crime and people going through dumpsters. You gotta live. You gotta survive.”
He said he’s not fond of the word homeless, as it’s become a way of making people seem less than human.
“It’s never too late to get out of that hole,” he said. “I still have some years in me...”
Jesse said he’s been told by doctors that he will need an operation following his heart attack, which can’t be done for about a year, if he lives that long.
“I got news for them,” he said. “There ain’t no toe tag on me and as long as I can get up and move, I’ll share the love. I’ve been blessed so much.”
Jesse speculated many addicted homeless feel hopeless and rely on drugs.
“Drugs are the only way for them to escape reality,” he said, “and the reality is that if they don’t get away from that stuff, there is no life.”
He said since the staff at ODB brought him back from the hospital, he has been clean and intends to stay that way.
A call out
Jesse called on public officials to step up and help those who need it.
“Imagine going months without a shower, or toothpaste or food, living in the mud in the swamps,” he said. “How can you possibly feel good about yourself? This community needs to open centers where they can go. Give them something to show that they are loved and that they are worth it.”
Showers would be a positive step in that direction, he suggested.
Jesse also called on homeless people to get out of their situation.
“You don’t have to be there,” he said. “Stop letting society knock you down. I know it’s really hard to have pride in yourself... all it takes is respect and letting people know you are worth it.”
He said the life he’s led has changed him but it took help.
“I used to be the one to look down on those people and say, ‘Get a job,’ but now I look at it in a different way,” he said. “Help me get a job.”
He said he has attended meetings where officials discuss homeless issues, saying he feels like people are being swept under the rug.
“They talk about five years down the line, 10 years down the line,” he said. “How many people have to die in that five to 10 years?”
Jesse said people are dying in the camps all the time.
“I’d challenge all those public officials to step down for a day, or a month, and go out to live in the swamps like those people,” he said. “Then, come back and make your votes.”
They choose it
Responding to those who have said homeless people choose the life they’re living, Jesse shook his head.
“Some do choose that life but most of them don’t,” he said. “It’s just that they have had something happen that took it out from under them. The same people who (say that) should stop and think ‘what if my job quit,’ or ‘what if I get sick and can’t work anymore?’ Where would you be?
“You would lose your house and your home and everything. When you lose all of that stuff, nature’s out there, because it’s the only place you can survive,” he said.
“Most don’t want that life but they don’t know how to get out of it. We need to stop stepping on people and start picking them up. Reach down and have a heart for these people. Next time you reach in your pocket, throw a buck or two at those people or someone who can help them.”