By Bev Fitzpatrick and Yellowfeather Noriega
(Authors’ note: This story is told by both Bev Fitzpatrick and Yellowfeather Noriega.)
Meeting Hopelessness on the Street (Fitzpatrick)
Meeting Yellowfeather has enriched my life. I have seen her go from hopeless to hopeful.
I met Yellowfeather four years ago on F Street in downtown Fresno. She was living in a tent with her dog, Pappa D, and had been homeless for several years throughout her life. I was surprised that even though she was living on the street in a tent she had a cell phone and a computer.
My first “real” conversation with her was when she approached me asking if there was any way I could get a light for her tent. Mike Rhodes, then editor of the Community Alliance, had asked her to write a piece for the paper but, it was impossible to write at night in the dark and daytime on the street is a bit chaotic for good writing! The next time I was on F Street, I delivered a battery-operated lantern, batteries, a notebook and some pens. I had high hopes that soon Yellowfeather would be submitting a story to the Alliance. Unfortunately, that never happened.
Soon, I was visiting Yellowfeather on a regular basis, every Thursday with “The Thursday Group,” a homeless advocacy group from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno (UUCF). Some Thursdays, Yellowfeather wouldn’t respond when I called her name outside her tent, probably passed out from drinking or high, so we just left the water and TP (toilet paper, a necessity when living on the street).
Finally, we stopped seeing or hearing from Yellowfeather. I was sad that the street life was taking over. Our weekly visits were not as important as the alcohol, and drugs, that helped numb what her life had become.
The Thursday Group visits stopped soon after the 2013 evictions by the City of Fresno. After that, I often wondered what had happened to Yellowfeather. When I was in the Poverello House area, I kept hoping I would see her.
“Bev is that you?” I hear from across Santa Clara Street.
Hopeless to Hopeful (Yellowfeather)
I was brushing my teeth outside the Village of Hope when I looked up and saw Bev’s car. She would be surprised. Last she knew I wasn’t welcomed there. As we reconnected, I explained that I had been sober for three months, through a program at my church and had embraced my Native Culture taking back the name Yellowfeather. Bev said, “It seemed that Sandy who was hopeless was now Yellowfeather with hope!”
I shared my wish to move from the Village of Hope. Bev introduced me to the EcoGarden, where I soon became a resident. Hope continues to be my guiding light as I remain sober, deal with court issues and move on with life. A life supported by friends and county agencies that assist those like me, who have been or are homeless.
On Dec. 19, 2014, I moved into my own apartment! My own home, with my own things and furniture provided by Holy Cross Center, Naomi’s House, Wings Fresno and the 25 Cities Effort.
I no longer had a computer, so I visited the Central Branch Library often. At the library, I met a librarian named Lisa Lindsay. Lisa was beginning a grant-funded project and asked if I would like to participate. The day after I had moved in was the beginning of the project. This project consumed my life until the premiere of the documentary Our Lives: Surviving the Streets of Fresno on April 10 at the UUCF and again at the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC) on April 14.
Being involved in the documentary project opened more doors. After attending the CMAC showing and listening to my story, Jackie Ryles offered to be my sponsor for an online grant writing course. For the course, a computer was a must. Once again, my “hope” for a better future was realized when Rabbi Rick Winer blessed me with a new computer.
It seems this year life continues to offer more hope. Maryann, who used to work at Naomi House, encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Washington, D.C. I applied and received registration, travel, hotel and a $100 stipend for the four days. Maryann helped me set up a GoFundMe account, and I raised $350 for food and extras.
As a representative of Naomi House, I attended many workshops and discovered to my surprise that Fresno actually has more to offer “our” homeless than many cities across the country. Fresno still has much work to do, but I was proud to be a recipient and a participant in this national conference.
A conference highlight was being selected to attend a premier showing of Time Out of Mind staring Richard Gere. I not only attended the showing but I was also able to give him a copy of Our Lives: Surviving the Streets of Fresno. After the film, Gere gave me his undivided attention for more than 10 minutes, listening to my story, accepting the documentary and agreeing to pose for a photo. As I was walking away, with understanding and compassion he told me to never lose hope!
Bev Fitzpatrick is a retired teacher, community activist and homeless advocate; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Yellowfeather Noriega is a homeless advocate; contact her at email@example.com.