The Plain Truth

THE PLAIN TRUTH – a weekly column by Sam Clemens

River Don’s Sanctuary

In June and July 2011, the Laura and Aldous Huxley Family Foundation helped relocate River Don’s Sanctuary, the only homeless shelter in the Yucca Valley area. Yucca Valley is a small city about the size of Palo Alto, lying west of Joshua Tree National Monument in San Bernardino County, the poorest county in California. River Don’s Sanctuary is the home of Don, his wife, and their adopted son.

Don is a Native American disabled Vietnam veteran who spends much of his year in the veterans’ hospital in Riverside County. His wife is an African American paraplegic with narcolepsy and other very serious health issues. Their son is 13 years old and is often left running the homeless shelter for about 30 people, ranging from newborns to the elderly. The County does not help fund the shelter. Don and his wife donate their home, paid for with his meager veterans benefits. Their garage is filled with bunk beds with a small washer and dryer.

Anyone can stop by and stay at Don’s, be fed three full meals each day, and stay as long as they need. There is no time limit. There are no questions asked. When I arrived, an elderly man was sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette, and there was a small group of others out back. Inside, a newly released ex-convict covered with racist tattoos including a nazi swastika was sitting in the living room couch next to a Native American woman talking to herself in a focused way, Don’s wife sitting asleep in a wheelchair on his other side. Don was in the hospital and his 13 year old son greeted me.

I asked the Native American woman what she was talking to herself about. She answered that she was not talking to herself. She said she had multiple personality order and was talking to another person who lived in her body. I asked if she did not mean multiple personality “dis-order†. She said she meant “order†, because a disorder is something that causes a problem. Her order gave her advantages over others, not disadvantages.

I asked how many personalities lived in her body. She said that she would be right back and looked like she became lost in thought for a minute. Then she said that she was not sure, but that there were at least six, possibly eight. She said that she was the only one who could speak, and that she did not have access to all of the others. She counted six, but one of the personalities claimed access to two more, so she had to rely on second hand reports that there were eight.

A sixty-something man came in and graciously announced that dinner was ready in a heavy southern drawl, and with a woman’s body language. His face was mutilated in what appeared to be severe scars from an early transgender operation that had gone bad. Artificially high cheek bones were surrounded by severe facial scarring. Dinner was as gourmet southern meal he had spent the entire day preparing. He explained that he was not a transsexual, but a transvestite and showed me pictures of his cross dressing shows.

In 2011, Don and his wife lost their traditional family home in which his wife had grown up because the landlord put it on the market and they could not come up with $10,000.00 down payment for the $53,000.00 total purchase price, even though the Yucca Valley real estate market is severely depressed and mortgage payments would be guaranteed by his veterans retirement payments.

Without Don’s home, there would be no homeless shelter or place to eat for the hungry in Yucca Valley or Joshua Tree. This is a functioning homeless shelter with no government bureaucracy, no cost to the tax payer, and no homeless people on the streets who might scare the residents with homes because of unfamiliarity.

You may be sitting in your home reading this and asking yourself what River Don’s Sanctuary has to do with Palo Alto. Think about it. I am Sam Clemens and this is the plain truth.


One Reply to “The Plain Truth”

  1. Hey Sam–Thanks for the portrait and the idea. Little partnerships between two individuals is all it takes. I call it Engagement. It’s each one being engaged with at least one of another group. A guy who lives in his vehicle and the guy whose house he’s parked in front of. They can find a number of ways to partner. The homeowner might be glad of a watchman, gardener, babysitter, and or tutor for his kids.

    The folks you have described are making a home for those with one. Somehow–like the villagers in Stone Soup–they manage to come up with something and together everyone eats. It’s a great model.

    And the think about it part is to think what YOU can can do–each one of us–how can you at least meet a person who needs stuff. And how can you help him or her or employ them or something they can trade you for a place to live or at least stay.

    Thank you for this interesting, heart-warming story.

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