• Homeless man embraces life of simplicity and peace, but accepts whatever comes

    by Erika Fiske

    The weather has been cold lately,with icy winds, dark clouds and lots of rain. Those with warm houses and cars run from one door to another, wrapped in coats and scarves. The homeless, however, stand in the elements, wet and cold to the bone. They crawl into wet tents with damp feet that never seem to warm. Some just turn their backs to the wind, while others look for a tree to lean on for protection.

    Monday is one of those gray, wet days. A group of homeless men are gathered under trees by Lake El Estero, their dogs wearing T-shirts for warmth. Two homeless men and a woman try to stay dry under a large cedar tree across the street, at Window on the Bay. A few feet away are two empty police cars in the parking lot. Beneath some eucalyptus trees, by a picnic table, officers approach a homeless man and ask his name. He is placed in handcuffs and into one of the cars.

    So it goes, as another homeless person is taken away to jail, an all too common scene these days on the Monterey Peninsula. But it’s a fitting aftermath to an interview at this very spot just a day earlier, when a homeless man talked of a war on the homeless.

    It might also be called a war on the helpless, and the voiceless.

    Seagulls were gliding by storm clouds and blackened waters the day before, a chilly Sunday afternoon. Standing by a wooden fence at the beach was Dave. He resembled an oriental wise man, with a long, thin, braided beard and piercing blue eyes. Dave’s loose clothing blew in the wind. He wore a warm wool cap, but was barefoot in his sandals.

    Parked close by was his bicycle, with dozens of items packed over the rear tire and hanging from the handle bars. Dave was ready to bike on to warmer temperatures to the south, just as soon as the rain stopped. But first the 58-year-old shared some of his thoughts about the homeless and the community so many of them call home.

    Pointing to large, barren areas covered by bushes and plants a few weeks ago, he notes these areas gave the homeless a place to put a tent from time to time, and stay out of the public eye. But not now. City workers removed the plants, resulting in damage to some irrigation lines, and put up “Stay off the fence” signs on a stretch of fencing closer to the water, by the giant eucalyptus trees. Homeless often met there for conversation and a meal.
    Although wood fences were there to protect sandy areas of native plants, Dave pointed to swaths of those plants cut down by city workers to prevent the homeless from hiding belongings among them. Yet walking inside the fence can result in a $500 fine, he noted.
    Over recent months, Dave watched the homeless ticketed, jailed, rousted from sleep in the middle of the night, kept away from food in dumpsters, prevented from turning in recyclables for money and just plain harassed.

    At the same time, others in the community stepped up efforts to provide food, clothing and shelter from recent rains. After being pushed around for weeks, one such group was finally given a permanent place to provide breakfast and other necessities to the needy Saturday mornings at Lake El Estero, in a parking area by the cemetery.
    Although he strives to be quiet and out of sight, even Dave has experienced bullying of sorts.

    He recalled one day when an officer thought he was holding a bottle. Finding it was only a plastic container, the officer then ordered Dave, a nonsmoker, to pick up cigarette butts, something other homeless have complained of in recent weeks. “He was very aggressive,” Dave said.
    But Dave is not a troublemaker. He’s a thoughtful man who finds joy in living simply, in nature. He’s experienced in martial arts and has no desire to work three jobs just to keep a roof over his head, as so many must do today. Dave is free to think and read and just “be.”
    “I like to read escapist fiction,” Dave said, listing off a half dozen authors. But he chooses to read under the open sky, and not in a shelter for the homeless, where residents are often treated like children.

    “All shelter programs look like jail to me,” he noted.

    For food, he’s able to get food stamps, or just fly a sign on a street corner, waiting for a kind motorist to share some change. Someday he’d like to get a fishing pole. “I prefer a life that’s soft and easy,” he said, smiling. “I don’t worry about food or money.”
    Dave has no phone, no computer. “I’m not really part of that world. I’m not interested in being at people’s beck and call,” he said, adding that someday he might get a notebook.

    Dave understands that not everyone is as invisible as he. “Some of the homeless are drunk and belligerent. They’re self-destructive,” he said, describing this problem as “wet brain behavior.” And all the homeless pay the price for this behavior, performed by a few. A good example, he says, is San Francisco, where “The whole town smells like urine.”

    A well-spoken, older homeless woman sat down on the fence and agreed with Dave. Although she has no problems with alcohol or drugs, she has been harassed by officers over the months as she has tried to find places to park her van and sleep. She spends a lot of time on computers at a senior center and in libraries during the day, educating herself on a host of issues, and her rights as a citizen.

    The sun peeked from behind dark clouds, and Dave continued with his observations. It has become harder to stay warm since the crackdown by the city. While visitors make fires along the beach at night for warmth and roasting marshmallows, one resident at a nearby condo watches constantly for any fires by the homeless, or tents erected by them. He reports them immediately.
    “If the homeless have a fire, the police come right away. And the fire department comes and puts it out, Dave said. He recalled one homeless man who had a Weber grill going when a large fire truck arrived to put it out. Sometimes even tourists are treated this way when mistaken for homeless.
    Dave recalled one night when he was rousted from his tent in the middle of the night.

    So where does he sleep these days? “You’ve got to be creative,” he said, and learn to sleep with one eye open. “I can hear a mouse come into my tent.”
    Dave also was familiar with measures taken against homeless in one high-end area, Del Monte Shopping Center, where Whole Foods recently locked its dumpsters; crates used for seating were removed from the city park out back, a recycle truck was taken away from behind Whole Foods, and tents used by the homeless on hills across Highway 1 were removed by Pebble Beach Company.

    The homeless are used to moving on, and Dave has been living this life for a long time. He would prefer the homeless be left alone, of course, but accepts what life brings. Born in Connecticut, he grew up in Southern California, spent years surfing, and earned a GED and later a certificate in computer assisted drafting.

    “But I’ve been homeless for years and years,” he said. “And I try to be very peaceful.”
    He likes this life of little. “I like it because I’m free; it’s an intense life and there are good times and bad times,” he said. “Ninety-nine out of 100 nights, I can sleep on the beach.”

    Looking off toward the condos, he continued. “To me most people are insane. They spend all their money on clothes and dressing up,” he said. “They hate us because they look at us and see a shadow of themselves. They look at us and think if they slip just once at work, and say what they really think, they could become us.”

    Dave doesn’t think that would be such a bad thing.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on December 21, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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