By Jill Allen
I am asked why we at Dorothy’s Place continue to work in the largest encampment in the County when it’s often dangerous. Those that support our efforts read about criminal or tragic happenings here and worry about us. Sometimes we’ll see a person, a potential donor perhaps, drive up to Dorothy’s Place, park across the street, look around, and immediately pull out and leave, too cautious to get out of their car. The public often gets an incomplete impression of our Chinatown area in Salinas.
Not to say that everything is completely safe, and that there isn’t a significant amount of violence here occasionally. There’s no denying that. Desperate people do crazy things. But I like to inform the public with a balanced perspective, and there is much more to our neighborhood than violence and despair. There is love and true friendship here. We see it every day.
I think of Dwayne and Bob. They were true friends and protected each other daily. They had a lot in common – they loved music, small animals, and their families, whether related to each other or pulled together by shared experience. They’d both lived hard, all their lives. Neither wanted to go back to prison. They both had difficult, chronic health conditions.
Bob had advanced liver disease. He didn’t talk about it much. He knew it would kill him. This was before the days of a cure for Hepatitis C. The disease caused him a lot of pain. He’d go to the hospital to get the pressure from accumulating fluid relieved, also painful because of the long needle needed to aspirate. Dwayne would take him to the hospital and be waiting for him when he returned. Dwayne had a beat-up RV that he lived in, which he shared with his son, and Bob. Often Bob was too weak to get out of bed and needed exceptional care. Dwayne brought Bob his meals, and cleaned up after him as best he could, but Bob was increasingly incontinent and Dwayne felt very bad that he had to ask his friend to sleep elsewhere. Bob moved into a tent on the sidewalk near the RV. It was a wet winter, and Dwayne worried. He contacted me and asked what could be done about a safe place for Bob. I couldn’t find a local resource that would take care of Bob, but instead found a friend that was willing to care for him. Bob died a couple weeks later.
Soon after, Dwayne found that he had cancer. He went through chemo but the cancer was aggressive and took him faster than we expected. Before he died, he made sure to let me know how much he appreciated that I had found a place for Bob to pass away in dignity.
Thomas, unsheltered on-and-off for eleven years, was already a resident at House of Peace Transitional Living program when Julieta entered the House. Thomas suffered from tachyarrhythmia and soon after he came into the program, had a defibrillator/pacemaker placed in his chest. This was quite a risk for Thomas and the House, since we have no medical professionals on staff. I remember Thomas telling me about the first time the defibrillator went off. He felt like he’d been struck by lightning, knocking him to his knees. Then it shocked him again (attempting to correct his faulty heart rhythm) and he just lay there and shook. It was terrifying. He didn’t know what to do. In the place where he thought he’d be safe and cared for, he felt totally alone.
Julieta spent a lot of time volunteering in our Kitchen, far exceeding the program requirements, and she was very good at her new job. But when she heard what Thomas had been through, she reduced her hours so that she could make sure that Thomas had the attention and help he needed. She insisted that he rest and recover, brought him meals and checked on him constantly, even staying with him until he went to sleep at night. Thomas slowly recovered and never forgot her kindness. Julieta advanced quickly through the House of Peace program and became the first resident to graduate into permanent housing within four month’s time. Thomas remained a while longer, getting back in shape to work again. Both continued to volunteer in the Kitchen after they graduated and remain good friends. Julieta is now on the staff team, a Kitchen Manager. Thomas is a facility assistant at the new showers at the Salinas Warming Shelter and is looking forward to applying for a trucking job soon.
There are many here that “run the streets”, living dangerous lives, working in a dangerous business. The violence that happens here is almost always directed within this loose community of dealers. They have a code of respect. They may not be friends, but they generally respect the code. If they don’t, they are dealt with from within their alliances.
Tommy and Dee Dee were friends, and I’m sure, business associates as well. They both knew how to be hard. They both knew how to be soft. They walked the line between friend and associate by holding each other in deep respect. When one was in trouble, the other was there. I don’t know much about their business dealings, but I was able to be there for their personal difficulties from time to time. I felt their kindness and respect for me, for which I’m very grateful. In Tommy’s last days, as he stumbled, Dee Dee was there to pick him up and get him to the doctor. I can’t imagine what she felt when she heard that he passed. I need to find her and see if she needs help with her grief. I know that I do.
With love, respect and compassion, Dorothy’s Place provides essential services, transitional support and housing assistance to people experiencing the injustice of homelessness and extreme poverty.
Without your financial support, our work doesn’t happen. Join us! Stand with us as we assist people from street life to home life. Your solidarity is humbly and gratefully received.