Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.
Tim and Patty, a heartfelt couple who often finish each other’s sentences, spoke with me at the Loaves & Fishes library about their experiences living in Stockton, California as a homeless couple and how they came to relocate to Sacramento.
Patty began to tell me the story of how they lost many of their belongings. Caltrans, along with Stockton Police Department, did a massive clean-up in Stockton a few months back. During the clean-up, Caltrans threw away tents, medications, and other valuable items. As Patty explained to me, certain items might not seem valuable to a person with a home, but to someone who is homeless, those items do have value and can be hard to get. Patty explained to me that this wasn’t the first “clean-up” done by Caltrans and Stockton PD and won’t be their last. As Patty speaks of their experience, Tim speaks up, “One time I was going through the alley with all my stuff on my cart in the Slough where we stayed and Caltrans wouldn’t let me out of the Slough and they said the only way I could get out of the Slough was to leave all my stuff behind. All my belongings: 2 bikes, my cart, the dog food for our dog (a 160 pound Rottweiler) and they wouldn’t let us walk out of there. Everyone’s stuff was just piled high.”
After this Caltrans event, Tim and Patty left Stockton and the Slough and moved up to Sacramento to live near the River, and to help out one of their children while waiting for their SSI and GA to start. Tim and Patty have extremely unique and creative ideas about how to help homeless people and their community. Patty has talked to city council, the Sacramento mayor and has spoken in other venues to try and get their message heard.
Patty looks up from the brown Formica library table where we are talking and looks me in the eye, “Most of the people out there are like us. Waiting for our SSI and certain things to happen. One minute you are way up here (she raises her slender hand above her head and makes it dance), the next minute you are living paycheck to paycheck and the next minute you are living in a tent”. Tim breaks in, “We both come from good places. I use to own houses, buy houses and flip houses and she was a secretary since she graduated high school, a legal secretary, and now we are homeless living in a tent.”
Patty chimes in, “[This is currently] by choice because we won’t live with relatives, where we have certain rules, not at our age, and that’s our own thing but when people think of homeless they think of mental health patients and mental health [care] failed a long time ago. It’s just us out there.”
Tim kicks down, his work-worn hand tapping the table, “We help out the community more than anything because if it wasn’t for us, a lot of the cans and a lot of the bottles and a lot of the other materials that people who do have homes throw out as waste.” He’s speaking about garbage that gets tossed out on a daily basis from residential homes. “They [people who do have homes] worry about a lot of us going through their garbage but we are going through their garbage because we know what’s in there that could be recycled and it’s not just always cans. There’s lighters, toilet paper, there are so many different things that we can recycle as a homeless person.”
Tim goes on to talk about the importance of trust, “We want more of the community to have more trust with the homeless. If they come up and ask for a job, or if they ask you ‘can I get a peach off your tree?’ or ‘can I do some yard work for you?’ at least they are not trying to take it from you. They are trying to earn it.”
Patty’s and Tim’s ideas are innovative. “We want to start a temporary employment service that hire homeless to small business and in-home care.” Patty is speaking of tent-care when she speaks of in-home care. She presented her ideas to a local small business association. “The small business association loved the idea and there is so much potential [for homeless workers] to make money and to make a difference in the homeless community. There are many people who need in-home care right here in their tent and they still get SSI and why not get a [qualified and able] homeless person? This way you could pair up disabled people with health care workers, because we we’re doing it already out there, and we had a circle that we kept, very tight knit, with people who are compatible. Hey, you are homeless, and you are homeless and now we are both out here homeless [so let’s help out our homeless community].”
Patty goes on to say, “Some of them die because they need in-home care and people out here who are already homeless are out here doing it and they are not getting paid for it.” The reality is that if they were in a home, they would be paid. “Small businesses were asking what would work.”
Patty’s hopeful in her ideas, “Teaching people how to work in employment with skills they already know how to do, getting a contractor to let another person work under them that did it themselves before so they can get back to work. When you go back to work again, there’s nothing like making your own money when someone hands it to you, a paycheck, it gives you self-worth. [It adds] a value to your life and you feel good and that will put you back up on top. Just that feeling alone will give you the confidence to be able to do anything.”
“I told Tim when we met one small success at a time and you’ll be able to achieve anything,” concludes Patty.