In the wake of some extensive coverage of the efforts of the political and community organizations, a group of homeless agreed to meet with the Press-Banner on Tuesday, Oct. 8 to share their own experiences of being homeless in Felton.
“I never dreamed I’d be homeless,” said Jonney Hughes, a woman in her early fifties who described herself as being retired and on disability. “There’s all kinds of reasons people are out here.”
Hughes said that she found herself without a home in 2003, when she was suddenly widowed.
For the next five years, she said, she camped in many different places in the Santa Cruz Mountains and found herself accepted into what she described as a tight-knit family of fellow homeless people.
“They took care of me,” Hughes said. “You just don’t have any of the things you need to have, so everybody looks out for everybody.”
Hughes said that while she has lived in a fifth-wheel camper since 2008, she still maintains regular ties with her homeless friends.
“I still come here every day,” she said. “I love these people.”
Linda Miller, 54, originally hails from Virginia, but has lived in the Felton area for the past 9 years, living with her boyfriend, Rob Ropes, in his recreational vehicle — parking it wherever he can find a safe place.
Miller, a retired nursing assistant, said that she is currently on disability and found herself homeless 20 years ago in the wake of a messy divorce.
David Paul, an unemployed woodworker, has camped in the Felton wilderness since early August. He said he had been living with his brother — who has a home in the area — for several months after moving from Colorado in search of work.
While he has not been homeless in the area as long as the others, it is not his first time being homeless, either.
“I’ve done it before in Colorado,” he said. “I’ve gone through this before.”
‘One of these days, they could be right where we’re at.’
All of the homeless people interviewed said that they are all too aware of the spotlight cast on them, and negative reputation associated with them, in recent months.
Many said that they feel as though they are being unfairly assigned blame for issues raised by the community — such as littering, drug abuse, and aggressive panhandling.
Often, they said, issues arise when mentally ill people from local treatment facilities are mistaken for homeless people, or new — often younger — homeless people come to the area and do not understand the rules followed by the established homeless community.
“We try to police our own people,” Hughes said. “You’ve got a lot more younger (homeless), and it’s up to the older ones to teach the younger ones.”
Ropes said that most of the homeless in the area are just trying to eke out a living, and described the idea of drug abuse as “ludicrous.”
Ari Stines, a younger homeless man agreed.
“Most of the people who can afford drugs are in downtown (Santa Cruz),” he said.
Hughes said that, as far as littering goes, recycling is often the primary source of income for homeless people, and they “recycle everything they can get a hold of.”
Ropes, who has to frequently move his recreational vehicle due to lack of a legal place to park it, said he is often harassed — even when the RV was parked at an auto shop with a work order invoice attached to it.
“We don’t do drugs, we don’t panhandle, and we don’t beg,” Ropes said. “All I want to do is be left alone.”
While Paul acknowledged that a few bad apples occasionally appear, he said that most homeless people are just trying to make the most of a bad situation and the spotlight falls on the homeless because “you’re so much in the open here.”
“The people that are willing to help themselves aren’t the problem,” Paul said. “(The ones that aren’t), they just get to a point where they just go underground.”
Miller said that she was often upset by what she sees as a lack of communication and understanding between the homeless and the community.
“It really upsets me,” she said. “One of these days, they could be right where we’re at.”
‘I wish we could find a place’
The reality of the situation in Felton, Hughes said, is that with crackdowns on camping on private property, such as the closure of the Felton Meadow property by Mount Hermon, have concentrated the homeless into a few places.
“The bottom line is, where do they want the homeless to go?” she said.
Paul, who is a member of the Felton Reboot group working to clean up downtown Felton, said that he and other homeless were trying to get involved in dialogue with community members.
“Some of us are trying to do some outreach,” he said. “We’re trying to put our best foot forward.”
He said that the homeless needed to acknowledge the community’s concerns as much as vice versa.
“They have valid concerns,” Paul said. “You can’t discount people — otherwise, it’s just a wall between us.”
Ropes said that he, and others, have paid rent to down-on-their-luck homeowners who are willing to let homeless camp on their property, but that always comes with the fear of bringing a red tag down from the county.
“I paid $10,000 for this RV,” he said. “I have some money; I’d be happy to pay rent.”
Hughes, who herself lives in a fifth-wheel trailer, said that one day, she’d like to see a place set aside for homeless people to camp, and not put homeowners at risk by renting to homeless.
“We’re worried we’re going to get (the homeowners) in trouble,” Hughes said. “I wish I could find a place where homeless could go.”
- To comment, email reporter Joe Shreve at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 438-2500 or post a comment at www.pressbanner.com.