HOMELESS IN SANTA BARBARA
The beaches along the coast of California are some of the most beautiful in the world. I first came to the coast to teach first grade in Orcutt, California. This was the best position that I would ever have, yet, I thought being the wife of an attorney was a better choice for me! Shortly after our marriage, I would resign my teaching position, since a difficult pregnancy had me in the hospital for a week with kidney distress. I was happy not to work and the thought of becoming a mother had me happier than I had ever been in my entire life.
I had a very beautiful little boy. He was my greatest pleasure in life. I used to strap him into a little bicycle seat and take him on little daily road trips up and down the coastline. We were in Pismo Beach at the time, and there were wonderful bike trails that would go on for miles and miles. I knew my son was gifted because he was reading when he was two and had the best disposition. He never cried and was always a happy little guy with a curious nature. It all changed, though. His father took up with another woman and decided he needed a divorce. We had never even fought or had harsh words. We stayed together a few more years, though, since I did not want the divorce, but I knew the marriage was over.
Yet, now I was lying on the beach and it was seven years later. My marriage to a Santa Barbara county lawyer was over. My fever was soaring at 104 degrees with kidney distress again, and I had been this way for over a week. I was starving, homeless and very ill, without any medical insurance or money. It was Jennifer who would come along and find me lying there and bring me into her home to nurse me back to health. Sweet Jennifer was only eleven years old and became my dear friend. It was also my birthday and I admired a tiny pebble that she had in her bedroom, noting that it had the face of God etched into it. She gave it to me for a present and I still use it for a prayer bead. Jennifer's mother was an artist, and later painted a really nice picture of me standing on a hillside in a flowing white dress. Jennifer made a little place for me on the floor of her bedroom. I could stay there until I was stronger. One of my friends came over and stuck acupuncture needles in the top of my head and elsewhere and this was enough to get me up again. Unfortunately, being better would mean that I would be out on the streets again. Later, I would go to the train depot late at night where my friend worked (he was in acupuncture school). He'd put me into a little room and stick more needles in me and I would lie there and listen while the trains would unload or pass by. The sounds of the station and trains passing by reminded me that I was on some type of trip, however unpleasant that it would become.
I slept outside this house off and on for a while by the doghouse. So this is what happens to you when you marry a lawyer. You end up sleeping outside with the dogs. Better there than next to one my entire life. I was happy that I had grabbed one of the sleeping bags out of my husband's house. We had used them camping one time and they would keep a body warm below the freezing point. Sleeping outside had its disadvantages; the fog was a continuous mister. I had to be sure to tuck myself thoroughly inside the sleeping bag to stay warm. Plus, the bag itself would become a bit damp and needed airing out. We had had an expenisve mattress when we were living together, king sized and firm, to sleep on, so this was also a difficult adjustment for me. My back hurt a lot and I found a chiropractor who would help me from time to time. Somehow I managed to sleep off and on throughout the night, however, I would not be able to sleep at all nowadays. You sleep when you can and where ever you can when you are homeless. During the day, you scout out where you are going to sleep at night. You find a bush tucked away somewhere or behind an office out of sight. There are always roof tops if you can get up on a flat one. Roof tops are the best places because no one is looking for homeless people on roof tops. I did stay warm, however.
There always seems to be some type of education crisis going on in Santa Barbara; it seems to be the only city in the state of California that rarely has a teaching opening. Although I had kept up my elementary teaching certificate, I interviewed very poorly because I was very very timid, very shy, and there never seemed to be a shortage of teachers wherever I lived. I was easily intimidated during interviews, so I never could come across. My life depended on these interviews so I worked myself up into a pretty good panic attack. I was also over-qualified with three college degrees. That's right; homeless with three college degrees. That did not guarantee me a job. Besides, I had been extremely ill when I found myself homeless. You cannot imagine how difficult it is to look for work when you are busy staying alive. You are not clean; you may smell. You have no makeup or interview clothes. You have no phone number or way for anyone to reach you. You can't travel because you have no car or money for gas or the bus. You're up a creek. How are high school drop outs going to survive when the college educated can even be displaced?
Before I was homeless, I did a bit of substitute teaching in Santa Barbara at $25 a day back then, but that was all the income I had. It was a bit of a "Catch 22", needing day care for my son so I could work but not being able to afford it. I was in denial about the divorce, especially since my husband would come down from up the coast to see us, and he would always kiss me or make love to me and tell me how much he still loved me. He was so good at this, because there were even tears in his eyes. I guess I always hoped that he would get over this affair and we would get back together. I didn't want to do anything that would rebuke him. He just kept telling me to get a job over and over, even though I had our child to take care of and had been away from my career for seven years.
So my finances became worse and the landlord where my son and I were living wanted his house back; we were left with no place to live. I was staying in a hotel when my husband came to get our son on his sixth birthday. I did think it was best at the time. I did not want to subject my son to this poverty and I did not know how I could support either of us. It was too difficult of a financial situation to be in. My mother was in her own troubled marriage and my father would never help any of his kids. My beloved grandfather has passed away, otherwise he would have helped me. He had lots of oil wells and property, and I was always his favorite grandchild. The first set of fraudulent papers had given custody of our son to both of us. My husband would tell me that we had joint custody; so he was legally entitled to have physical custody of the child. What I didn't know was that I had sole custody of the child in the second set of fraudulent papers that came across as the final copy. The documents were never notarized by me, too, which I think is a major legal point. The only signature notarized, which was very clear, was the lawyer-husband's. I knew my husband would take good care of my son, however, since he was a loving father and was crazy about the boy. It broke my heart because I had never been separated from my son, and I would cry myself to sleep every night for years and years. I still cry over him from time to time, especially Mother's Day.
As if it was not bad enough, it got worse. I became so sick with a kidney disease and with no job, I could not get a place to stay. I became homeless during a time when it was not fashionable to be homeless. No one cared if you were homeless. There were no shelters or charitable organizations. There were no soup kitchens. Nights turned into weeks, weeks into months, and eventually years; it finally became a way of life for me. This did not happen to normal people. People who are homeless choose to be homeless, don't they? I met so many homeless people while I was on the streets. Everyone was really a very nice person and we tried to help each other out, unlike the non-homeless people who would ignore us. Not one of us ever enjoyed our position of poverty. I looked so young, too, you could mistake me for a teenage run-away. What I remember the most is being hungry. I lost weight and was down to 100 pounds. I am twenty-five pounds heavier now. I was very, very hungry most of the timestarvedas a matter of fact. I just got used to that constant "hungry" feeling in the pit of my stomach. You just learn to live with something gnawing at your stomach and your emotions.
I was also very scared in the middle of the night without any place to sleep. Walking down the streets downtown at 1:00 in the morning trying to find a spot that would temporarily hide my body was very unnerving. Every time a car would drive by,I would hide behind a pole until it would pass, and then I would slowly turn my body behind the other side of the pole so they could not see me out of their rear view mirror. I would continue to walk around and when I would find a bush or a backyard, I would try to sleep a little. One time, I had found a house that was for sale. There was a storage room that was left unlocked. I felt I finally got lucky. My second night in the shed, a black man opened the door when I was sleeping. He said, "Oh, sorry, I didn't know anyone was here." Well, now he knew I was there and it freaked me out. I was so lucky that he didn't rape or kill me. I left immediately and walked a few blocks away until I could see that I could find a back yard that didn't have a fence. I tucked myself backed there for the rest of the night and never went back to the for sale house.
Some people who let me sleep in their businesses, and I am very grateful, were: a vintage clothing shop, the acupuncture school, a dentist's office, and a mortuary (that one was the strangest). I had made the store owners and local business people my friends and would go in and chat with them regularly. I'd also like to thank the Antique Treasure shoppe owner for being so kind to me then and helping me out with a few bucks here and there. I did not beg for money or food. I have never asked for anything. I could not be a prostitute. From time to time when I did find someone who offered me their couch for a few nights, sometimes the guys would try something with me and I would have to run in the middle of the night to avoid their assault. A few times, I found a helpful guy.
I was the picture of the perfect gypsy, with a knap-sack containing my sleeping bag, pillow, karate Kali stick, and change of clothes. I carried everything I needed inside my large pillow case. I would usually find a safe place to tuck everything away, so it would free me up during the day. I was in this and played the part perfectly. I always wore a beautiful scarf on my head. Each scarf represented something spiritual or artistic. My red skirt had the Phoenix bird rising made out of sequins. My necklaces were antique, ornate spiritual prayer boxes.
I learned the culture of the gypsies from up and down the coast. One of the gypsy leaders taught me a few survival skills and turned me out. This guy lived in a cave at the ocean north of Morro Bay. He wore a long, red cape and was a good man--It always impressed me that he could have molested me in the middle of the night but he didnt. We had met after one of my brief visits with my son. The gypsy and I met in Morro Bay behind the grocery store and he took me to his cave. It was a beautiful spot north of Cambria Pines. We had the best view. The man told me how to look for food that was edible. He cooked a chicken up for us in a big pot. He taught me how to live in a society that had values that were skewed. He stressed the importance of being true and honest to yourself and your dealings with other people, even if they were not with you. I don't even remember how I had traveled up to Morro Bay that day. I did a lot of dangerous hitchhiking--forced into it. Trust me, there were a few times when the situation was so freaky that I jumped out of the stranger's moving car when they slowed down. I can't really recommend it to anyone.
My days were spent in a combination of modern dance classes that I had been going to before I became homeless, followed by lighting two candles at the "Our Lady of Sorrows" Catholic Church, meeting with street friends and then going into lawyer's offices for help--ending my day by walking to the Vedanta Temple for prayer and meditation. When I drive up to the Temple now, I find it hard to believe that I would walk all the way up there and back to Summerland. During my traipsing in and out of lawyers offices I think I must have seen about a hundred different lawyers at that time. Getting a lawyer was like trying to pick a rose with your bare hands. It was always the same thing...a conflict of interest or very rarely would a lawyer offer to take my case, but when they did they wanted $10,000 and I did not have ten cents. I did get bus tokens, though, from a nice social worker--any time I needed them, since he did not like me hitchhiking. I wrote to the then president of the Santa Barbara bar association. He did not even have the decency to write me back. I wrote to the state bar association and they did write me back to say that all the papers were in order and that I was legally divorced. We were actually still married while I was on the streets until the final decree later that summer.
Just when things were very bad, they got even worse. I was just in the wrong place and someone kicked me. My skull was cracked and I had a very bad concussion with some terrible confusion. Boy, did it hurt! It would take about 18 months before the severe pain went away. It eventually did. Of course, doctors would not see you without insurance at that time. You just couldn't walk into the hospital and expect help like people do now. There were more treatments at the train depot down State Street by the pier. I think the brain injury complicated the situation quite a bit. My judgement was impaired by that time and since I had brain pain, it was just difficult to deal with the task of rising above my present situation.
My dance teacher was a joy for me and if it were not for her, I would have killed myself. She let me continue on with lessons, even though I did not have the money for them. She would tell me that I was a great modern dancer and I, well...I just had to believe her if she said so. I still enjoy dancing for friends and especially dancing with all the New York dancers when I am in Bisbee, Arizona, where I have a home. Tosia Mundstock-Martin was a tiny German lady. She would tell me stories about dancing in the Black Forest. This was a very rare woman, because she had studied with the true creator of modern dance, Mary Wigman. I could feel Tosia's masterful artistic talent with each dance class. She was refining my own talent like a sculptress molding a delicate piece of art. Tosia danced briefly with Martha Graham. She was not the type of person to ever say anything mean about anyone, but you could tell that whenever you would ask her about Martha, that she did respond with how difficult it was to please Martha and how hard she was on her students. Tosia was just the opposite, always encouraging you to be unique and filling you full of confidence. She was remarkable, as her husband Dave Martin. Dave was an artist and he had paintings of dancers all throughout their house. I have had the good fortune to acquire some of the paintings! I do love fine art. Dave actually recorded the entire history of modern dance through his paintings, because Tosia had danced with all the great ones in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Dave would paint all the various dancers as they would dance with his sweet wife. Our lessons were in her empty living room dance studio on Anacapa Street, which was a good size, with nice wood floors. They were the sweetest people.
Someone else who was special to me at this time was "Jonesy". I cannot say enough about Jonesy. He was a clown, the original Spike Jones, and a great friend. He claims that Spike stole his act from him and spoke about Hollywood in the 40s--telling me story after story. I wish I had a tape recorder. He was about 75 then and would just brighten up my day when I would see him on the street. He was dressed like a clown on any given day and one could find him walking up and down State Street most days. One day, I found him in what looked like long john underwear, with garbage and debris dangling off him, rather like a Christmas tree clown. He would be playing dime store instruments and blessing people as they would walk by him in that outfit. I would just chuckle and laugh at the insanity of it all. He would always light up when he would see me, but the reality of his homelessness was a lot of pain and desperation, too. He was at the end of his life and there was no longer any hope of redemption for him. He was not in good health and I knew he was in need of medical care and inside housing. He stayed behind Mike's Drum shop every night. He had dreams of going to Florida one day. We would go out for lunch if he had received his Social Security check recently. He would make sure I was not hungry and got my fill because he knew I did not know when I would eat again. He was my angel. One day though, one of the girls in dance class told me she heard Jonesy was stabbed! They all knew of my relationship with this man and I raced to find him hovered in a door well, tossed out of the local hospital. I tried to take him back to the hospital, but they just changed his bandage and sent him out on the street. We were able to get a hotel room and I stayed with him, what I thought was his last night, he was so gray looking. My heart still aches for him after all these years, as he shared his pain and sorrows with me. He would recover from his stabbing but as our friendship grew stronger his tears would flow freely with me as we both talked about our homeless troubles. No one else understood what we were going through and blew us off as a crazy old man and crazy gypsy woman. No one else really cared. He always sweetly called me "Honey" when he would talk with me.
I would then try to find a new attorney to tell my story to on a regular basis. I had not signed the divorce papers. These papers were a total fraud. Please help me. Sometimes I wonder if this divorce is really valid and what if that entire divorce got thrown out? I would still like to see a SANTA BARBARA JUDGE throw this divorce out and give me the divorce I should have been allowed to have if not for the "Good Ole Boys" at that time. It should be set aside, because I never signed those divorce papers. It would have to be heard in a higher court and it is almost impossible for that to ever happen. He obtained my notarized signature off of another document. I even had sole custody of my child and when I went to get him once, even the Arroyo Grande police told me that they knew my ex and made me leave! I remember everything, you see, if I can remember all of the moves of a 40 move Bobby Fischer game played in 1964, I think I can remember what I signed. I only got to see my son when I would hitchhike up to his area, and then, only in his house for like about hour for the duration of my son's childhood. Wasn't it nice for my husband that he didn't have to deal with his ex-wife or the grandparents? Wasn't it nice for my husband that he had total control of our child and assets? My husband was driving a Lotus (no kidding, a Lotus!), living like a king pretending I never existed. Even on Mother's Day, I went up to see my son and he grabbed him from me and said that it was his weekend for "the Lake". I went to the pier at San Luis Obispo and almost jumped in the ocean that day. I even needed a root canal for over a year at one point. This entire ordeal seemed to be about how much pain could I endure.
One day, I was so happy. I had found a lawyer to help me! A few weeks went by, and I got a funny feeling that something strange was happening. Well, guess what...I walked into this man's office and heard him on the phone. He did not have a secretary, so I sat in the large over-stuffed chair closest to his office door and listened in. The chair was located right next to his open office door and I leaned towards the door to hear more clearly. He was speaking loudly. I overheard my name and then listened to the rest of the conversation. He was talking with my ex. They were plotting against me! The lawyer was saying things like, "Yeah, let's do that." Oh my God, how could this be happening? They were really going to get me. Everything I overheard sounded more like he was working for my husband. I could not take it any more and this time I left for good, hitchhiking to another part of the country. Rarely ever seeing my son any more.
Some time later, I would find a woman lawyer to take this all to court. Unfortunately, the judge ruled on the Statute of Limitations for fraud and I would lose. The judge said I had time to file this when I had the first crooked lawyer who I would fire (I was even living on the streets and he did not make any effort on my behalf). The judge did not know that I overheard the two lawyers plotting against me. He should have set the divorce aside and granted me my divorce. But he noted that it did seem like fraud to him. This is not fair to me. I need my divorce so I can have closure on this story. I must have seen nearly 100 lawyers at the time, yet the judge thought I only talked to the one. The judge also did not seem to care that my ex had possession of my son. Other than a few visits, I never got my visitations throughout my son's entire childhood. That is messed up. I was a good mother. I never got my day in court because of that judge and all the lawyers involved in the plot. Nothing ever happened to my ex-husband. I never re-married and he is on his third marriage. He has the reputation in the state of California as one of the best family law lawyers in the state!
If you're a guy and you've been through a divorce, doesn't it kind of irk you that a lawyer did not have to pay any alimony or split his assets--didn't you, along with legal fees? I can't believe that my buddy and the Santa Barbara legal system did this to me. I tried for three years to get my divorce and my child, all along being homeless for most of the time. Those years were stolen from me, along with my son. I believe with the loss of income and the loss of my ocean front home and not getting half of our assets at the time, that my ex-husband's actions cost me about a few million dollars in today's market (not to mention the price of loosing my son) if he had not been in control of the divorce.
But...As time would pass, I became acquainted with a world-renowned iconic artist, Fritz Scholder. He painted an interesting painting of the two of us: he, as my strength--a rock, holding a book (imparting knowledge to me) with me looking over his shoulder. Mr. Scholder was a tremendous inspiration for me and encouraged me to be an artist. He is my inspiration when I paint and for the life that I live...and I carry his energy through after his passing.
A miracle brought me back to Santa Barbara to house sit my beloved dance teachers home. I studied art with a lot of wonderful Santa Barbara artists off and on for a couple of years but left in August 2008 once again. Professionally, I have finished my educational superintendent license, which is a big career move, having passed one state's eight-hour superintendent exam. My superintendent license is fresh off the press. Presently, I am a school administrator. This experience made me achieve to the highest position in my career in education and has also made me aspire to a higher more complicated abstraction in art, due to the influences that have affected me deeply and through the efforts of the people who all believe that I am a good person, worthy of redemption.
I hope my story makes you think twice about how that next homeless person you see got to the point where he or she is. Life is hard enough anyway without being judged by people who know nothing about your situation. I don't believe that people in our country should be homeless, but it is a fact of life and no one enjoys it. My story happened before bailouts or help with foreclosures. It happened before anyone wanted to help the homeless. I wonder how different my life would have been for both my son and myself if I would have been able to hold on to my beach front home and if this would have happened today.
Here I am in 1990, ten years after my homeless experiences, a formerly homeless woman.
© 1998 Diane Jaquith