“Nowhere else to go”
“In what fire did you lose your house? Dana translated.
“All,” Lupe replied in Spanish, laughing.
The laughter died out quickly. They were thinking of fires. They were thinking about life. Lupe returned to a pot of potatoes.
“We don’t like living here, but if we were on the streets we wouldn’t have this,” Dana said. “When we’re on the streets, we get kicked out of them.”
Dana has lived in the camp for six months. Before coming to the site, she lived in an RV – “a really good one too that I paid $1,100 for.”
A victim of domestic violence, this motorhome was her lifeline.
“But the police, they took him. I couldn’t even get my stuff out of it,” Dana said.
She didn’t know anyone when she walked to the camp. But soon she became friends with Lupe, Lucia and “Jaguar”.
“We feel like family,” Dana said. “Everyone here has their own story.”
Many, like Lupe, lost their homes in the fires and couldn’t recover. Other people in the camp struggle with mental or physical health issues and struggle to access the services or employment opportunities they need to stabilize.
“How do you hold down a job when you’re constantly covered in dirt?” asked Christophe, 33.
Originally from Oakland, Christopher came to Sonoma County hoping to find work and a better life for his family.
“Sonoma County. Now that’s where you want to be,” Christopher said. “But it’s harder to get here if you haven’t already come from something, you know?”
He has been living at the camp in his truck with his dog Butters for about 6 months. He lists his professional skills: carpenter, electrician, mechanic, “you name it, I can do it”.
“But there is a stigma when you are homeless. It’s so different here,” Christopher said. “In Oakland, the police deal with real gangs, you know? But here they have none of that, so the homeless are public enemy number one. They are the only people they deal with.
Getting by with a little help from a few friends
The camp is said to be self-sustaining. There are rules and they watch themselves, patrolling for individuals who steal from others.
“We take care of each other,” Dana said. “We must.”
But there are other issues, including hygiene and cleanliness. Dana says people are getting sick and drinking water is scarce. The October rains made everything worse.
“When the rains came it was like a derby in the mud,” Christopher said. “Everyone got stuck and all you heard was the diet for hours.”
Some members of the camp’s disabled community were unable to get out. But close neighbors came with girls and plywood to try to free the vehicles.
Few people were released. The bumpers fell off and the tires succumbed to the terrain. Dana’s car was a victim of mud.
“It was destroyed,” she said. “I had to quit my job because I couldn’t go anywhere. I was a boss. I am a great cook. I can make any Mexican dish you can think of.
While the inhabitants of the camp know each other, they also have outside hands to help them. Volunteers from nonprofit organizations like SAVS visit the site almost daily to check on community members.
Cheryl Rood is with SAVS and has visited the Old Stony Point camp almost daily.
“We bring in food and stuff that people just can’t bring in,” Rood said. “We connect them with services, which is the most important. That’s what money can’t buy.
There are things money can buy that SPACs and campers could use.
“We don’t want COVID to spread,” Christopher said. “Cleanliness is everything. We need those portable showers and port-a-potties. It would go a long way.
Rood said SAVS would like to be able to bring services to the area, but is waiting to hear from the developer and the city.
“We want to do it right, but we just need the money and we need the OK,” Rood said.
The February 9 hearing could be the deciding factor.
“These are people who don’t look like people think homeless people are,” Rood said. “These are people who cry like your family members. They are like everyone else. So think: where else do you put so many people? Rood asked. “There’s nowhere else to go for so many people.”
Amie can be reached at [email protected].
Kathleen Finigan contributed to this article.