Many of us carry a memento that is personal to us – a picture of someone we care about, a piece of jewelry, or maybe a Twain quote folded up in our wallets. Possessions tell us a lot about a person – what they value and who they love. But if all you own is what you can carry – as is the case with the homeless in Durango – the meaning of those possessions carries a bit more weight.
[image:3] Steve’s novels
Steve was sitting on the corner of 18th Street and Main Avenue. He wore a crisp blue button-up with a pack of Eagle 20’s in the left pocket, a fresh white bandanna over his long hair, and has a cobra tattoo on his forearm.
“I tell it to you how it is and if you don’t like it, that’s not about me, it’s about you,” he said. The Army vet from Fort Worth, Texas, said he’s been unlucky, or as he put it, “some people have one foot on a banana peel and one in the grave.”
He was diagnosed with PTSD and has struggled with narcotics addiction, but has been sober for five months. He admitted he chronically relapses, but it seems, at least right now, that he wants nothing to do with drugs. He shrugged off a man who was pumping gas nearby and offered him a ride and some weed.
“I’ve made a lot of poor choices, (but) I feel like I’m overpaying for what I’ve done,” Steve said. Instances where he’s been kicked out of shelters for smoking cigarettes in his room, while drug deals are happening outside the shelter door, display his bad luck.
He’s been talking to a woman he met online and, even though they haven’t met, their relationship has been keeping his hopes up. He doesn’t currently own a phone to talk to her – or his 90-year-old mother. What he does have are a few novels by his favorite author, Tom Clancy. He drops a few titles – “Rainbow Six,” “Point of Contact,” and “Grand Authority.”
“I was doing what he writes about in his books,” he said. Steve said he had high security clearance in the military. His time in the service created strong personal opinions about America.
He knows his political history and researches before he takes a stance on an issue. “I make sure I have my homework done,” he said.
There is a noticeable anger when he talks about how the U.S. cares – or doesn’t care – for veterans. He isn’t satisfied with a handshake and “thank you for your service” as payment for the sacrifice.
“I do not exist,” he said.
He compared vets to the dirt on the bottom of his shoe, which are much different from the ones he wore in the military. He said his boots were so shiny you could shave in the reflection.
“Steven Seagal said it best,” Steve said, quoting the 1992 film “Under Siege.” “The master is an ungrateful bastard.”
Clinton’s guitar Clinton was hanging out in Schneider Park at 7:30 a.m., standing near a bench and listening to fuzzy classic country music play over a portable red speaker.
He carries a few things that are meaningful to him, but it’s his guitar, a charming Fender Malibu Alkaline Trio edition he calls Chelsea, that’s his pride and joy.
“I felt obligated to look after it,” he said. “Chelsea is a complicated lady.”
He named the guitar after the woman whom it belonged to. Clinton had eight guitars back in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he is from, but he said he would let them all burn. Not this one.
Chelsea grew up in a poor “hillbilly family” in Western Pennsylvania. “She has an interesting, colorful family history,” Clinton said.
Despite her upbringing, Chelsea was determined and hardworking. She put herself through business school and owned two restaurants before graduating college. She later got into drugs, and by the time Clinton met her, all she had was a car and her dog.
He was immediately captured by this woman who he said, “might be a butterfly, but was made of iron.”
She wore horn-rimmed glasses and looked like a middle school girl, he said. In reality, she was in her late-20s. He described her like the guitar: small and fragile with a short neck.
The two became friends by going on long walks together. She was whip-smart and insightful, and once told him, “I’ve never met anyone like me.”
“I had to agree,” Clinton said.
Clinton and Chelsea understood each other because both were victims of childhood sexual abuse.
“I grew up with a vicious mother. She grew up with an inattentive mother,” he said.
Clinton has a daughter that he hasn’t seen since she was 5 years old. This is part of the reason he felt he had to look after Chelsea, because she was like his daughter. Even though she was strong, Clinton compared Chelsea to a baby sitting in the middle of traffic, with cars speeding by in both directions.
“I know there are bad people. They wouldn’t see Chelsea as someone to be protected,” he said. “Predatory herds prey on the elderly, the weak, the sick, and the young.”
He called these predators the wolf pack. The wolf pack would eat anything they had the chance to devour, he said. He wanted to save Chelsea from being eaten by the wolves, but he couldn’t.
“Bozeman, Montana,” Clinton said. “Something happened to her there and I can’t tell you what.”
After Montana, Chelsea began unraveling. She told him she was there for two or three days, when in reality she had been there for three weeks.
“She is truly a mental case,” Clinton said. “She is going through a breakdown, a delusional psychosis.”
He keeps a note Chelsea left on a piece of Bible paper, on the back of Malachi 3-4. She wrote: “Everyone is pregnant with me. I mean absolutely everyone!… Loosen your belts men and desperate housewives. Birth in August.”
Chelsea firmly believed she was Eve and she needed to save the world. It was around this time she became suspicious of Clinton.
He went away for a couple days to work, and when he came back Chelsea accused him of stealing from her. Clinton said he cared for her, bought her food, and would never take anything from her. The last time he saw her, she placed a note on the door that told him to put her stuff on the curb. It’s been over a year since then. Last he heard, she was somewhere in San Diego.
“ I want to know she’s OK,” he said.
Clinton said a man he met in an alley once told him the name Clinton means a settlement on a hill – a protective place. And that’s how Clinton views himself.
“I can’t walk past the baby on the freeway,” he said.
Lynn’s dogLynn isn’t homeless. He has a roof over his head, three dogs, and $746 dollars in disability each month, $600 of which goes to his rent. That’s why he panhandles three to four times per week, he said, for food for him and his dogs. He often brings his dog, Tara, who is named after his ex-girlfriend, with him.
His dog loves people but hates other dogs. Lynn held her in a headlock as mutts on leashes passed by, but left her alone as a little girl stopped to give her a yogurt-covered bone.
Dogs are unendingly loyal and their love is unconditional, he said.
Other than Tara, Lynn typically carries a 50-cent piece stamped on his birthday that his father gave him in a blue Velcro wallet. Lynn’s father is dead, along with the other family members he likes. He said he wouldn’t piss on the rest if they were on fire.
He used to work construction jobs and at printing presses in Salt Lake City, where he’s from. Now he can’t stand more for an hour without passing out. Doctors are not sure what is wrong with him. So these days, he has to sit for hours a day, but he doesn’t mind being bored.
Lynn would rather be bored than “be ran down like I do.” People spit on him often, but he will continue to show up on Main Avenue because there is nothing else he can do, he said.
“I can’t just lay down and die.”
Loree’s whistleLoree has been homeless since last August. She recently got a landscaping job, but doesn’t have an ID. She drinks to cope with life on the streets.
“You gotta drink to be OK with this,” she said.
It’s difficult to get out of being homeless once you’re in it. Loree said Manna Soup Kitchen in Durango only allows people to stay for six weeks. Without an ID, it’s hard to get a job. She said the homeless camp was moved to a place where there is no shade.
“It’s on top of a trash dump,” she said.
Loree said they will soon not be able to panhandle on Main Avenue, and a district worker constantly reminds her of that.
“They are trying to run us out of here,” she said.
The homeless community looks out for each other, but there are rotten apples who make the rest of them look bad. Some people are dangerous.
“I’m not of the faint of heart,” she said, “but it’s scary.”
She has been assaulted multiple times and was almost beaten to death over half of a cheeseburger.
“I’ve been raped before but don’t want to be again,” she said.
She carries a whistle made out of a deer antler around her neck, along with a rosary. She calls it her rape whistle. It was given to her by her friend, Winter Eagle.
“He is my street brother,” she said.
To protect herself Loree is never alone, and is often with her friend Kerby, who she said saved her.
Kerby used to steal a lot, and then one day, out of nowhere, he heard God tell him, “What are you doing? I will provide for you.”
Since that day, Kerby hasn’t stolen anything and has never gone without, and has never gone hungry.
“It might take all day, but it happens,” he said.
Kerby told Loree about God one night as they watched the stars, and that’s why she said he saved her. Along with whistle, Loree always carries a Bible with her.
“(Kerby) helped me find my smile,” she said. “I was soul sick. I know I needed to find God.”