Talking homelessness yields no easy answers

I gave her some money and asked her, ‘What brings you to Highway 41 and Shaw?’

Have you had any contact with our homeless population in the valley?

Years ago, I had the privilege of directing a homeless (Rescue  Mission) men’s choir for over 10 years.  During that time, Dennis Jordan, our accompanist, and myself, went all over  California with the men’s chorus.

Interestingly  enough, we had a world class soloist, Ellis Patterson, who could mesmerize an audience.  Actually all 12 men could sing — well almost all!

When the men weren’t on drugs or alcohol, they were fun to hang out with.  Dennis and I actually made lifelong friendships with  several men over the 10-year period.

Thus, I have been frustrated over the years that I have had no insight  into how to solve the  “homeless problem” in Merced or the valley.

I decided to not only give money to some homeless person but engage in a long conversation with a homeless man or woman, should I get the chance.  I thought that the conversation  might shed light on the problem and provide a possible solution.

Today, I saw a young lady holding a sign requesting money for food, sitting on her belongings on the off ramp island on Highway 41 and Shaw in Fresno.

I parked on a side street and went back to the island and asked the woman if she would talk to me for a small donation.

Gina replied, “Cash up front!” — which I took as an affirmative answer. Smart cookie, I said to myself.

I gave her some money and asked her, “What brings you to Highway 41 and Shaw?”

Here is a summary of her story:

Gina is 40 years old.  She appears well-dressed, and is polite and articulate.  She has a bachelor’s degree from California State University Bakersfield, majoring in Clinical Psychology, with a minor in English Literature. Aside from academic credentials, she has an inactive CDL, allowing her to drive 18 wheelers.

Gina’s world fell apart when her son was kidnapped in 2014 and shortly thereafter murdered.  Her husband, within several weeks of the murder, left her, never to return.  Gina told me that since 2014 she has never held a steady job.  She suffers from “seizures” although does not seek regular treatment.  She hallucinates on occasion.

Gina showed me her blanket that is her home.  She sleeps under her blanket under the bushes on different off-ramps. She doesn’t stay in one particular location because of being robbed multiple times.  Gina makes less than $40 a day seeking money.  She told me that a Fresno agency would be able to place her in a day job paying minimal wages. She can’t get hired on unless  she has a pair of tennis shoes.

Her shoes that she wears are straight from Goodwill at best.  She claims that money received during the day goes for groceries she buys at a local grocery store.  Unfortunately, Gina has no real friends, probably no friends at all.  Gina claims  that the Fresno shelters are full, although she has tried to stay there. I am guessing that Gina does not want the restrictions that are imposed.

Eventually, Gina got tired of answering my questions, and said she was going to Walmart to get some tennis shoes with the money I gave her.  I said thank you  and off she went.

I see no solution for helping Gina extricate herself from her downward spiral.  Granted, the information regarding Gina is minimal.  Gina has mental issues, admittedly but her intellect is way above average. Homeless for eight years has got to be horrible.  Multiply her condition by 1,000 times and you have  the “homeless crisis.”

What would you suggest to help Gina lead a more normal life?

Bob Quall is a a former Merced County Superior Court judge and current resident of Merced. You can email him with comments or suggestions at:

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