• No rest for the greybeards, no bed for the Hopi

    by Erika Fiske

    Camille, a Hopi Native American, sits on the ground beneath a tree and smiles widely, stroking her dog and speaking quietly. It’s a sunny, chilly morning. She’s with a small group of homeless people, also seated on the ground behind Whole Foods. Nearby are two older men she refers to as the Greybeards, one with a parrot on his shoulder, and using a bucket for a chair, the other on a tree stump, with a dog chained by him. Under a nearby tree, another young man sleeps in the sun, his face partially hidden by the hood of his jacket.

    “The Greybeards are the leaders of the people,” Camille says, as if speaking to a hushed circle of tribesmen. “They make sure we keep the area clean.”

    Most of these homeless slept in tents on the hillsides across Highway One until recently, when they were moved out by the property owners. Gathering up their few belongings, they moved to another area within walking distance of Del Monte Shopping Center.

    Things changed behind Whole Foods as well. The crates everyone sat on were taken away, and the homeless were warned they’d be fined $1,500 if they sat on them again. Brush was cleared away, and the homeless were told to keep the area clean. A recycle truck that gave them spending money was moved away, and in its place was parked a police car. Every day the empty patrol car has its camera pointed toward the homeless, seated by the trees behind Whole Foods.

    Similar changes are occurring at Window on the Bay, where many attractive plantings are being removed, eliminating places where the homeless once erected small tents out of sight of passersby, or took an afternoon nap.

    Back at the lot behind Whole Foods, a rake leans on the trunk of a large tree, and small piles of soil, leaves and debris await removal from the area. Camille sits near the rake. Although she claims to be 32, the Hopi woman looks much younger. She’s short, with golden brown skin and dark brown eyes and hair. As she talks, Camille constantly veers off into her own world, and comes back to where she is only when stopped in mid-sentence and asked another question.

    It’s clear why Camille is homeless. She refers to this ground where she sits as being “holy as Thailand.” She speaks of “expressing and using the power of the emeralds,” and “coming back lifetime after lifetime.” Camille stops a moment and adds, “Fingerprints are the same every lifetime.” When asked about the campsite she was forced to abandon, Camille talks of the “minerals there that are supposed to go to Pebble Beach [Company],” and the fact that the company is “harvesting diamonds right now.”

    Much of her conversation makes no sense, but she talks on as if what she says is common knowledge and easily understood. Camille says her father was born in Persia and moved to Tibet, while her mother was born in Germany and moved to the Himalayan mountains. She says they were Hopis who married and came to the U.S., settling at a monastery in Carmel Valley.

    “The last time I saw them I was 10 years old,” she notes. Camille hopes talking about her life might somehow reunite her with her family. She then goes on about “working for the Sultan,” and other random thoughts that don’t quite come together.

    Camille was born in Monterey and grew up in Salinas, graduating from Salinas High School in 1995 and earning an Associate’s degree in general studies from Hartnell College. She joined the U.S. Air Force, but was asked to leave while in boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

    “I was commanded to leave, because I would not kill,” she says. “I was sent back here.”

    Suddenly Camille jumps to the topic of battered woman syndrome, saying she was once beaten by someone. “The church said I suffered from battered woman syndrome,” she explains matter-of-factly. “The Nazarene church told me that.”

    When asked for clarification, Camille smiles and replies, “Ask Christ anything about me.”

    As she continues on, the Greybeard with a parrot moves to the corner, by the traffic light, and holds a sign seeking financial help from passing motorists. He’s wearing new running shoes, as is Camille. They explain that a local store gave them to the homeless.

    Camille smiles at the Greybeard. She seems so happy, but admits to suffering from bipolar disorder. She doesn’t notice her other problem—the jumbled thoughts.

    “I’ve been a musician my whole life. I play the piano, drums and guitar,” she says. But her jobs have been less colorful, from file clerk at the courthouse in Salinas, to serving customers at Weinerschnitzel and various flower shops.

    Camille says she’s not working now, in part because of back problems, but she receives disability. She’s been homeless since January, moving from place to place as she and other homeless have been told to move on. One of those places was Veterans Memorial Park. “Do you know the people with Occupation?” she asks with anticipation in her voice, as if she might learn of their whereabouts and find another nice campground, with friendly faces and good food.

    The Occupation encampment was closed many months ago by the City of Monterey, right after Occupiers protested at local banks. People like Camille had to move on and find another place for their sleeping bags— and another, and another.

    It doesn’t seem to bother Camille that she’s not among her people, the Hopis. But then she remembers, the Hopi are here— across the street, at the Crazy Horse Restaurant, where she says there’s been a Hopi exhibit.

    When asked what she wants out of life, Camille is quick to answer. “I want a home really bad, and a car, and a husband,” she says. “I know I’ve been preserved for him.”

    Camille stares off into the distance and then brings her eyes back to the people around her, the people who have so little. “I asked God why we’re homeless,” she explains.

    Camille is still waiting for an answer.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 16, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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