The homeless spectrum of VC
From the seemingly hopeless to the abundance of hope
By Danielle Brubaker 06/27/2013
A lot of grunting and fluttering of hands are two things that make Juanita Doe such a unique character. Known to most as Lucy, she was found at age 14 in Port Hueneme, carrying only a backpack with baby shoes inside.
Now, 29 years later, the 43-year-old has drifted to the streets of Santa Paula, but is still homeless and a challenge to the community, not only because of her various misdemeanors but also because she is difficult to connect with. Lucy is deaf and, although she does not know ASL, she communicates in “street signs.”
Kay Wilson-Bolton, head of Santa Paula’s homeless shelter, met Lucy four years ago and has been in constant communication and companionship with her since.
She considers Lucy to be very bright, resourceful and funny. Those attributes, however, don’t seem to outweigh the harsh reality that is Lucy’s life.
“Her boyfriend Leo is hooked on drugs and she’s hooked on him. They go around literally begging for money and food. It’s just a really bad situation all around,” Wilson-Bolton said.
Lucy can also be combative and aggressive, which causes her trouble and occasionally even a little bit of jail time.
“I’m really worried about her,” Wilson-Bolton said. “I honestly don’t know how much longer she will be alive.”
Wilson-Bolton has tried to connect to Lucy, with much success. But being there for her when she gets sent to the hospital for a cut foot doesn’t make Lucy’s problems disappear.
“If we can come to understand [Lucy’s situation], maybe we can solve it,” Wilson-Bolton said.
Wilson-Bolton is requesting the help of the public to find the family of Lucy Doe; contact Kay Wilson-Bolton at 340-5025.
Rob Orth, director of social services at the Salvation Army in Ventura, believes that people’s futures strongly depend on their willingness to turn their lives around.
“They have to want to change. It won’t matter if they qualify for certain state disability benefits; if they don’t care enough, it won’t make a bit of difference,” Orth said.
In the past year, Orth has helped to find housing for 87 chronically homeless people, all different ages and all with various forms of challenges: mental illness, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, broken family or, in the case of Lucy, deafness.
“Usually, being homeless is the least of someone’s problems. Their life is made worse by whatever other issues they have,” Orth said. “If they aren’t connected to the community and aren’t dealing with their other problems, it makes the situation, and their future, significantly more complicated.”
Although Lucy’s future appears to be imminently bleak, hope is not lost for all who wander the streets.
On the other side of the spectrum, Khadijah Williams, a former homeless woman, recently graduated from Harvard University with an A.B. in sociology.
Since the age of 6, Williams had drifted from shelter to shelter. She lived on the street and under bridges and in alleys, among drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps. Williams struggled not only to survive, but also to take care of her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia.
Sinead Chilton, marketing consultant for School on Wheels, met Williams seven years ago, when Williams was at the Lighthouse shelter in Oxnard. Williams was very focused on learning, reading newspapers and books and even nutrition charts or street signs.
“Khadijah immediately struck me as a very smart and determined girl who loved school and wanted to do well in it,” Chilton said.
School on Wheels had a learning center on Skid Row, so Williams came there every day after school to go on the computer and to do her homework. She insisted on getting a tutor to help her with calculus and algebra.
“She didn’t let her homelessness define her or limit her intellectual abilities,” Chilton said. “She knew what she wanted and she was willing to make that happen.”
With 101 active tutors and 1,000 throughout Southern California, School on Wheels is the only organization that focuses on helping homeless children with their education and provides them with practical tools they can use for the rest of their lives.
Chilton believes the best way out of homelessness and poverty is through education.
“Once a kid has an education, that is one thing that can’t be taken away from them,” Chilton said.
Living at Harvard was the longest she had ever lived anywhere, a total of four years. College was a very eye-opening experience for her.
“It’s been quite overwhelming for her because she’s always moved from place to place, and has never had to make friends or build relationships.”
Since Williams’ mother died in 2010, she has become very close to her “campus mom” at Harvard. She is currently taking some time to reflect on the past few years and to figure out her future, which now is looking much brighter than it did when she was 6. From hardship to Harvard, Khadijah finally has a home.