The blast of rain cleared up early this week, replaced by sunshine and cold wind midweek, then gray skies Friday and who knows what the next week will hold.
With the unpredictable coastal weather in mind, imagine not being able to come inside for weeks, months, even years. Imagine packing all your belongings inside a tent in a muddy, smelly, polluted clearing back in the trees where they will likely get stolen, soaked or destroyed anyway. Imagine walking or bicycling a mile to town to collect food stamps, to the store to get groceries that you will have to carry back by hand. Imagine not having a bathroom, but a five-gallon bucket, which you then dump in a communal area near makeshift shelters that have been erected between car-size piles of trash.
Take a moment to think about what that would be like and then imagine doing it while eight-months pregnant.
Escorted into some of the more isolated homeless camps Thursday by Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bill Steven, I met Kelly and Shane, a couple of about a year, who have been homeless for two months, during some of this year’s worst weather. Steven told those we contacted he was not there to make them leave or enforce anything but to check in and see if they have adequate food, shelter and medical resources.
Kelly is visibly pregnant and was cooking canned food over an open fire next to her tent. She defined herself as “not really homeless,” saying she could probably stay with family if needed.
Shane said three circumstances converged to leave him homeless, which were the loss of his job, his father’s death and eviction from his local home after his landlord sold it.
“I never appreciated the ‘one check away from homelessness (adage) until now,” he said, “because it happened just that quick.”
Shane said upon finding himself homeless, he had to sell all his belongings and move into the tent.
“Everything is a thousand times harder,” Shane said, noting that finding a place to take a shower is almost impossible.
Saying he works in construction, Shane said they hope to be in an apartment and working again soon.
When asked how he thinks the general public regards him as a homeless person, Shane replied, “about like you’d think they do.”
“I think it’s embarrassing,” Kelly added. “That’s why I don’t want people to see me coming out of the bushes. I wait until it’s dark.”
Kelly said she takes prenatal vitamins, has medical care and receives food stamps. They each have EBT, which pays for most of their food, and they also accept local food boxes from Rural Human Services. They said they don’t panhandle or use drugs or alcohol.
As they are camped about a mile from the city limits, Shane said they use bicycles to get back and forth to town. However, keeping bicycles and other needed items from being stolen is a constant struggle, they said.
Asked how she plans to have the baby and care for it after it’s born, Kelly said she may return to a residence where she was staying.
“So I’m not technically necessarily homeless,” she said. “I’m sacrificing for a bit right now to give us some time...” Shane interjected that the two have some plans and are hoping they come through before the baby is born.
As for when she goes into labor, Kelly said she does have means to contact the hospital and has no intention to give birth in her tent.
Shane said being homeless is made a bit easier by being with Kelly, as they compile resources and look out for each other.
Steven asked the two if they want to continue being homeless.
“In a way, it’s fun, it’s like camping,” Kelly said, “but at the end of the day, everyone wants to go home and take a shower. I don’t want to be homeless.”
“Have you taken any steps or programs, or have you reached out to anyone to change that?” Steven asked.
“In the back of my head, I guess I always assumed I can go home,” she replied. “Not everything happens the way I planned or wanted it to. There’s people out here that really don’t, can’t and wish they did... I can go home and I probably should...”
“You hope...” Shane interjected.
“If I didn’t have a home, I could go to my mom’s. I don’t have to be sacrificing but I guess I am for another person,” she continued. “Maybe I’m making it worse, though.”
Shane’s expression seemed to betray struggling emotions as he listened, and it appeared he was about to break down at times.
“No, I don’t think so,” he told her. “I think part of you somewhat likes it and some of you doesn’t.”
“I just know everything’s easier when you have a bathroom,” she replied, “especially if you have a baby...”
Asked what they would say to public officials or the general public, Kelly said she often wonders how a city can have so many unused buildings while so many sleep in the trees.
“It seems like they could have more of a Harrington House kind of thing, not just for women, but for people that are homeless,” she said.
Asked if they use the services offered by Our Daily Bread Ministries, Kelly said no and Shane said he had eaten there before. Kelly suggested a day shelter could prove useful to those looking for work who don’t have access to computers, internet service or job counseling.
One would think a pregnant woman living in a homeless camp in Crescent City might be an anomaly, Steven and I were both surprised when the very next subject we encountered said she, too, was eight months along.
We found Athena, 46, rummaging through trash left at a former homeless camp area near U.S. 101 and Washington Boulevard for anything she could use.
Athena affirmed she is homeless but is hoping to get back together with her husband soon.
Asked how she became homeless, she said she has been off and on her entire life.
From there, her answers became disjointed and hard to follow. She said she sleeps in a couple of locations around the city and tries to stay near food service locations.
“It’s like, which way do you turn?” she said. “You gotta run away from the enemy — you gotta go to one town or another country, it’s like, stressed out.”
Athena said she has received food stamps and that hers were stolen early in the month. She said she tried to reapply but ran into issues.
“It’s like, hey look, I’m hungry, I’m pregnant, with twins,” she said, pointing at her belly. “This one’s doing a karate chop and this one’s doing a boop boop boop...”
While she did not appear pregnant in the way Kelly does, I asked where she plans to have her babies.
“Not sure yet,” she replied, adding she sleeps about a mile from the hospital. She added she has had a heart pump for about 20 years.
When asked by Steven, she said she sometimes gets enough to eat and manages to stay warm at night. She said she has spoken to medical professionals and she stopped taking prenatal vitamins, citing possible allergies. “I took some and it just made me nauseous,” she said.
She also said “no” when Steven asked if she wants to remain homeless.
Repeating that she intends to get back together with her husband, Athena said she plans to live with him after the babies are born. Steven asked if she has a place to go.
“I just can’t remember where the house is because we’ve been to so many houses,” she replied laughing.
Asked to describe the hardest parts about living homeless, Athena said it was the cold and the fleas. She said a public shower would be much appreciated and added that she would use it every day.
Asked if she would like to pass a message on to the public, Athena said, “It’s just, we need more help for homeless people.”
I think because I had Steven with me, some subjects were a bit more hesitant to talk candidly with me, and instead, spoke in short answers to some questions.
From the doorway of her makeshift tarp and stick tent, Marie, 40, answered with short answers while alluding to her male partner, who she said was away at the time. She said she is not using drugs.
Asked how long she had been there, she replied, “A while...”
She said she is a long-time resident of the area, originally from Klamath, and has been homeless about nine years. She said her homelessness began when her mother died, leaving her with no family to stay with.
She said she receives only food stamps, which are her primary source of food. She said she does odd jobs to get other supplies and gets around by bicycle.
Asked if she’s getting enough to eat, Marie replied, “Sometimes, and sometimes we have hard days, you know.”
Asked what’s hardest about her life currently, she said the cold hurts her arthritic hands.
When I asked if she is receiving any medical care, she simply said, “I don’t like doctors.”
Asked what she would like to tell the community, Marie put in a request for better homeless resources, namely showers. She said even if there was just one community shower location, anywhere in the city, she would make the trip daily to use it.
Like with the others, Steven asked Marie if she likes being homeless and wants to remain so. She responded quickly to say no.
“I challenge you then, to walk into the local social services office and say, ‘I’ve been homeless for nine years and I don’t want to be anymore,’ and ask what they can do,” Steven told her. While she didn’t appear to accept his challenge, she smiled and politely returned to her tent.
Altogether Thursday, Steven and I spoke to five women and one man. Two of the women didn’t want to speak to the press and it was apparent that our visit woke them as they were sleeping in their tents. Steven later said he found it surprising that we encountered so many women and that they were living in such conditions.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking to police about the issues they face related to local homelessness and property owners on whose land homeless people are camping.