Homeless Portraits: Mendocino County

Jun 26, 2018

A homeless encampment in Santa Rosa along the Joe Rodota Trail before it was cleared in June.
Credit Steve Mencher / KRCB - North Bay Public Media

Our neighbors at KZYX, Mendocino County's Public and Community Radio have started an essential project. They’re talking to homeless people in the county – with the goal of putting a human face on this social catastrophe. Reporter Sarah Reith talked with three people who are currently living on the streets in Ukiah. The first one, James Hoffman, is a bit difficult to understand – but worth the effort.

Eds. Note: See the annual S.F. Chronicle report on homelessness in the city.

Since James Hoffman in particular is hard to understand, we're providing a transcript of this story below. Let us know if you like being able to read our radio stories on the website and app.

Sarah Reith: To better understand homelessness in our region, I’ve been interviewing homeless folks about what their lives are like. I talked to James Hoffman recently, the day after he left jail with no plan about where he’d live. He was reflective and optimistic.

James Hoffman: My name is James David Hoffman Junior, also known as Jimbo. I’m 48 years old. I’ve been homeless for many years. I’m disabled, I’m hearing impaired. I have a gift because I know sign language and I didn’t start talking until I was 12. I had an issue that I was traumatized around 17 years of age, ok, I, I lost ... my first girlfriend had a baby girl and they both were killed when the baby was nine months old. That was right before 18 years old and that was when I started to go crazy on, on narcotics.

I wanted to, I wanted to die. You know, because back in the days I couldn’t accept for who I am. I was a very hateful person.

I just got released from county jail yesterday. I did seven months. There’s no reason for anybody to be violent with the anger that we all have. Anger can be controlled. You know, there’s tools that we have, that we learn through special violence classes. My favorite one was start signing in sign language to whoever was in front of me, even though they didn’t understand me.

Like I said, I could write a book about my life.

Sarah Reith: Hoffman was arraigned on a probation violation a few weeks after we spoke. I also talked to a young couple, Brandon and Celine, on the day after Celine’s not very happy birthday.

Celine: We came back after a day of being out, and all our stuff was gone. It was as if nothing had ever been there.

Brandon: And we’ve lost our house in wildfires around here twice in the past three or four years and so it was just kinda like the same thing all over again, just like starting with absolutely nothing.

Celine: Nothing. But what we had on our backs, yeah.

Brandon: Yup. And so I mean, I guess we’re kind of used to it, but it still sucks just as much.

Celine: Yeah. Mm-hm.

Brandon: When it happens. She had a lot of like artwork that she had been saving from the past, like year.

Celine: As well as photos.

Brandon: Photos that we’d been keeping about other.

Sarah: How old were you when you lost your houses in the fires in Lake County?

Brandon: 20 and 21.

Celine. Mm-hm. Yeah. First time, yeah. We were, what? We were renting a two-bedroom, two-bath house for six-fifty a month. Yeah.

Brandon: One of our neighbors, he was actually, he was one of the only casualties in the first wildfire. Yeah.

(Dog barks)

Celine: Shh! Cayate! Nice memories.

Brandon: Unfortunately he was too attached to his house and stuff and…(sniffs, voice quavers) I haven’t thought about him a lot like this. Yeah, it just sucks, imagining what he went through.

Celine: Yeah. That was the beginning of us pretty much being homeless. Yeah.

Brandon: Yeah. I definitely wouldn’t say that we’re depressed at all, I mean.

Celine: Yeah. Everything that happens, you know, leads me to where I am that day and the person that I’ve become and for the most part I’m pretty happy with the person that I am, just morals and all that stuff I’ve never lost. 

Sarah Reith: I’m Sarah Reith for KRCB’s North Bay Report.