Tuesday, October 13 , 2015, 2:02 am | Fair 75º

Ken Williams: Like a Broken Doll

The memory lives on of Sandstone, found dead in his wheelchair on State Street

By Ken Williams, Noozhawk Columnist |

“Who are you?” William Derek asked, ignoring the attempt of his co-worker, Fred, to warn him off.

Article Image
Ken Williams and his dog, Sampson. (Williams family photo)

“I’m his friend!” Carla stated loudly and bold.

“You’re also a cutter,” Hammond responded savagely.

Too late did Carla bring her hands behind her back to hide the evidence. She knew they would never take her seriously from this moment onwards. She would have to force the issue. Not exactly her style.

William Derek began to pat the chair down. “What was he looking for, weapons of mass destruction?” Carla wondered. A smile, made arrogant as it reached the man’s eyes, told her he had found what he was looking for. Holding up a half-empty bottle of vodka, he asked, “How much? Today?”

“I, ah, I’m afraid I can’t help you,” Sandstone replied. His sight fell on Carla, his eyes opened wide with helplessness. “I honestly don’t know.”

“Look. What is it exactly that you want us to do?” Hammond asked, his voice heavy with exasperation.

“I don’t know. Could you just make the pain go away? I’m not used to pain — especially this much, this kind.”

“Come on, Sandstone,” Hammond continued. “You’ve been on these streets for years. We’ve given you dozens of rides to the hospital.”

“You know, the hospital won’t be happy to see you,” his partner chipped in.

“Maybe you’re right,” Sandstone said when he slumped further into his chair.

“No! That is not acceptable.” Carla was as surprised as everybody else by her sudden outburst.

The two paramedics exchanged resigned stares and shrugged their shoulders. In a well-rehearsed maneuver, they had the stretcher out and beside Sandstone without further ado. Feeling somewhat chastised by her pushiness, Carla bent down to help them lift Sandstone. His cry of pain tore at her heart. Looking back at the seat of the wheelchair when they placed him into the ambulance, Carla’s stomach did a back flip that threatened to empty it. There stood a pool of urine and blood, dead maggots floating in it.

The above is an excerpt from For the Love of Death. I read it recently when I was getting this novel ready to shop around. While the book is fictional, an actual person inspired Sandstone, the character. He was a cantankerous man, with a beautiful full gray beard and long white hair. He was also intelligent and cursed with demon rum. A contagious sense of humor and sardonic wit — born both by the ironies and cruel detours of life — were his drawing card. He lived on our streets years ago; his wheelchair was his movable place of residence. The incident described above was likewise inspired by the last time I had him taken to the hospital.

A few days after the incident, I found him back on the streets. His flowing hair and signature beard were missing. Also gone was his arrogant pride that hid his personal casualty of a life sentence in a wheelchair.

He sat low in his wheelchair, his eyes failing to rise when I approached him. He mumbled to me that they had cut his hair and beard off as punishment for going there. I tried to tell him of another possibility: Perhaps it was a medical call. He let me know what I could do with that explanation.

More importantly, he was still in pain and not feeling well. To me, he looked like death warmed over. He refused my offer of another try at the hospital. After much pleading, all I could get out of him was his willingness to think about it.

Sandstone taught me a valuable lesson that day. The doors that lead to help and hopefully a better life can only be closed so many times before one stops trying to walk through them. In fact, to save the remains of a fragile ego, one pretends that they no longer care. With a hardened look on life, sometimes an arrogant persona develops to protect one’s sense of self. It’s a self-defense mechanism.

I remember telling Sandstone I would look him up the next day. Hopefully he would change his mind and allow me to place the call. The call I received the next morning was not the one I wanted. His body, folded over in his wheelchair like a broken doll, was found on lower State Street. It was cold, so he had died some time during the night and had sat like this. I often wondered how many people passed him by not realizing he was dead.

This is a simple story — perhaps one without a meaning, except that I remember this colorful man from the streets from a long time ago. Perhaps there are others who remember him. There aren’t many of us left from the old days.

A number of unique people have come and gone from our streets. But as long as the memory of Sandstone lives, he lives. None of us can say that we have any further claim on life than that. In the end, perhaps that is the great leveling agent that unites us all. Knowing that we only leave memories behind when death claims its due should humble us all — reminding us it is not the monetary things that measure us, but what people remember of us. Were we kind and helpful to the less fortunate, or judgmental and mean in spirit?

An Outbreak of Death

Three homeless people died over the weekend, five people without homes within the last three weeks. My sadness for these people is equally matched by my dismay of cold-hearted responses, such as the suggestion that the homeless should die: “Let the thinning begin.”

Can’t everyone simply respect the sadness of the waste of precious life? Of course there were poor life choices by some, but that is no excuse for our callous responses. Can any of us be so arrogant as to be assured that our sons and daughters — or our brothers and sisters, or our parents — will never become homeless? Is it ever right for someone to die alone, cold, wet and frightened?

As for James, at least the sounds of the angry guns and horrifying memories of the Vietnam War are now silenced. I’m not sure dying homeless and alone in Isla Vista was the “welcome home” he was looking for.

A Disturbing Update

Upsetting reports from multiple sources have led me to believe that a greater look is needed into the circumstances of the recent death of a homeless woman. Attorneys Joe and Emily Allen are trying to help ensure the safety and rights of homeless women in Santa Barbara.

— Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the last 30 years. He is the author of China White and Shattered Dreams, A Story of the Streets.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 01.29.10 @ 01:33 AM

People would not respond so negatively if yoy were not so arrogant in your columns. When you throw out a bill of rights and demand money from the government. Have you ever talked to the people who are sick and tired of getting harassed for money?

» on 01.29.10 @ 12:55 PM

John q - not surprised you were the first to respond. You are as cold-hearted as they come.  How sad to live with such a cold, judgmental, and angry heart.  All of us who know Ken and what he has done for our local homeless know that he is a kind and humble man. He has no arrogance, just a heart for those in need of help.  Obviously, you feel that the vets, the elderly, the just-out-of-foster-care-and-no-where-to-go-young teens, and the mentally ill who live on our streets are not deserving of government help, or any help for that matter. Your words speak for themselves and show what kind of human being you are. And Ken’s words show what kind of human being he is. Life is unpredictable, precious, and short. I feel sorry for you, John Q.

» on 01.29.10 @ 01:27 PM

I agree with Kathy.  So sad in live in a mind and body that has no compassion for the less fortunate among us. Do I sometimes feel irritated by the ones on the street and think they should try to help themselves?  Of course I do but I also know there are some out there that cannot help themselves and if it means helping all of the homeless to help the ones who really need the help, I would do it willing and with love in my heart.

» on 01.29.10 @ 01:53 PM

It is so sad to hear comments such as “let the thinning begin,” when we talk about death. Nobody and I mean nobody deserves to die the way the homeless people have been. It as though a knife goes into my heart to places I never knew existed. I live in a warm house and I can shut the door behind me. To have people, especially woman out in the bitter cold is beyond my understanding. As much as we do it is never enough so please don’t refer to the people we love as though they were not human beings. Because they are and to judge others so harshly can only hurt you. Think about the words that come out of your mouth-you can either give a person hope or destroy their life. What would you rather do?
Nancy Ellen Kapp
Safe Parking/Homeless ouitreach

» on 01.29.10 @ 02:59 PM

There is also no compassion for those who have been taxed by the “compassionate” to the point of being on the precipice of becoming homeless themselves.

» on 01.29.10 @ 11:02 PM

Like a Broken Record.

» on 01.30.10 @ 02:08 PM

I thoroughly agree with Nancy Ellen Kapp, but there is a valid point that if you’re reaching out to others for help, you respect where they are. I think Mr Williams has been so long with those who are suffering (and I think he is paid for his work, no?) that he forgets that you get more by honey than vinegar.

One can’t blame him, though: he must be sickened by all the pain—- and he certainly does good work.

What I found really truly offensive was Sara Miller McCune at last week’s Board of Supervisors, lambasting, demanding. Now, if she truly wanted to help, she would dispense some of her millions for the homeless, rather than demanding that our government/our leaders with budget problems dig deeper into our pockets. Some of us, unlike Miller-McCune, are but steps away from homelessness and resent her “lady bountiful” attitude.

We all need to help but for many of us being made to feel guilty is not helpful.

» on 01.30.10 @ 03:54 PM

“There but for fortune may go you and I.”

» on 01.30.10 @ 04:31 PM

It’s a hard life for all of us. We are all struggling with demons of some sort - some of us give up sooner than others. Ken Williams is a GOOD man - a tireless advocate for those who just can’t hack it any more.
However those of us who are NOT on the streets, but work day and night to pay rents to keep us that way [SB housing is still expensive, even in this economy] it IS frustrating to be talked to /at constantly… and to be panhandles frequently… we are only under our roofs ourselves because we try to play by the rules.
I’d love to be high all day, I’d love to have no job, n one to tell me what to do… but then what? Unless you are a trust-funder you cannot live like that.
A mentally ill person can fall through the cracks - but WHY on earth aren’t we TEACHING more life-skills to our youth [how often to you see those wannabe homeless kids on State Street? i have taught these people - they HAVE homes to return to when they are just too dirty or need a meal… it’s offensive!!!]

» on 01.30.10 @ 04:33 PM

dangerous game being played here in the City of Santa Barbara.  A group—-small group, mind you—- of self-righteous individuals playing a shell game actually exploiting tragic deaths on the Santa Barbara streets-accusing elected officials of murder at worst neglect at best- when the truth is most of the deaths were the result of drug overdoses, chronic alcoholism and almost universally a refusal to enter any one of the multitude of programs funded to the tune of MILLIONS OF DOLLARS annually by the county and city.  it would be marvelous if unlimited funds and shelters without rules could somehow transcend a lifetime of behaviors, patterns and illnesses that are anathemic to healthy intervention.  or should we return to the forced institutionalization that predated ronald reagan?

Shame that because of this exploitation many of these so-called activists are losing credibility.  The financial crisis that faces local governments is a daunting looming hammer that will crush many existing local services for children, disabled, elderly and more.  Will we now add more?

» on 01.30.10 @ 07:36 PM

There is a question of weather or not the death on Castillo was caused directly by alcohol or drugs, maybe in an indirect way. There are people who stated they saw this woman laying facedown topless in a pool of blood. Of course the people are homeless and afraid to come out of the woodwork as they may find themselves accused of murder themselves if that’s what it was.  I heard the last fella overdosed himself after being refused a bed on a cold night from the shelter on Cacique not because he was drunk at the time but because he drank alcohol.  The comment about “Thinning out” Goes both ways from what I have witnessed through the years. Shelters refuse people that don’t play their game if your not a team player “your out!” That’s the way it is. You just can’t blame people for saying things like “Let the thinning began” When shelters have been doing it all along. It’s a shame about that girl if what I have heard is true. It’s also a shame that our veterans are treated the way they are after defending our “Freedom.”  And other people who worked hard a good deal of their lives paid taxes, either got laid off or sick ending up homeless it’s easy to become an addict the drug of choice carries people through their own personal hells and makes their death easier to achive. Shelter policies must change if not they have no business in the business of homelessness.

» on 01.30.10 @ 07:49 PM

When one is using drugs or alcohol at the level of abuse/addiction, it is almost impossible to think logically.  If you are mentally ill, your brain doesn’t work well. 

If your brain is broken for whatever reason, no one can expect you to make an immediately logical decision to get help. 

Sometimes it takes a kind and caring person to work day after day to get through to someone to get them to agree to go to the hospital or into one of the few available programs.  Sometimes it takes so long death occurs. 

Mr. Williams is doing a job few of us want to do.

» on 01.30.10 @ 09:44 PM

that’s really the question- and of course the answer is ‘no’ because any disruption, violence, abuse that would result from a shelter filled with intoxicated individuals would fall back on whatever organization operated it- nonprofit, or the city. so then what? especially for people who FOR WHATEVER REASON (cause I know if I don’t say that you’ll lay all of them out for me) have repeatedly and persistently refused treatment, detox, etc Do we return to involuntary hospitalization?

» on 01.30.10 @ 11:44 PM

Regarding the comment about refusal into into Casa Esperanza on Cacique “because you drink” and not that you were drunk at the time is not true. I know many people who sleep at Casa Esperanza that do drink, however, they don’t go there bombed. If the shelters don’t have some rules, there will undoubtably be fights and possible murders within the shelter walls. Addiction is a curse. Many of the people in addiction don’t find an option but to continue to keep themselves in their addiction. They are bound by it as if it were a ball and chain. A 30 day rehab usually is not enough to break a cycle of addiction. Especially when you come out of rehab and go right back to the people, places and things you left a brief 30 days prior.  If an person in the addiction spiral does not find a reason and the help of a power greater than themselves, it is nearly impossible to break free.  Alcohol in my opinion is one, if not, the most deadly of all the drugs. It is so available, cheap, socially accepted and even encouraged. If a person is born with a predisposition to alcoholism they can be pretty much hooked from the first drink. It does run in families and has a way of being the generational curse. It seems the place to stop homelessness is in helping kids understand the power of the poison in alcohol.  Many kids who live with abusive alcoholics don’t even realize their chance of becoming alcoholic themselves is very high. They think they can just go out and start drinking, telling themselves they will never end up like Dad or Uncle Henry or Grandpa.  This is an excellent place to start decreasing the number of alcoholic, drug addicted homelessness that will be the new generation on the streets. I heard a story where a young woman became alcoholic when her dad, who wasn’t a big drinker, went out and bought a full case of hard liquor to teach her and her sister how to drink “like ladies” before they headed off for college. Imagine, if parents are this ignorant to the power of alcohol, the only hope is early education in elementary school to teach young people drinking is deadly and not to be taken lightly.

» on 01.31.10 @ 12:53 AM

I am curious, if you ignore the moral obligation and only look at finances, how much did it cost the city from the time that the police started investigation to when these people were laid to rest? Wouldn’t it be more economical to just open the warming centers for a few cold days in the year, and let these people live?

» on 01.31.10 @ 01:15 AM

Absolutely, the warming centers should be open. It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible that they are not. But should they admit everyone, drink in hand, or not? What about someone clearly drunk or stoned? What about someone homeless and rage-fiilled? And, if not, then what for those needing people? Those are the difficult questions, I think. I was one of those who rejoiced at the end of involuntary hospitalization, but the downside of that freedom has been homelessness and death on the streets for quite a few.

I think we as a community need a dialogue, but since it probably would become a finger-pointing and attempted guilt trip, it probably won’t happen in any useful way.

» on 01.31.10 @ 12:27 PM

Will then maybe it’s an issue of politics at the Cacique street shelter, because there are so many people sleeping in the streets in the area of the shelter that have been refused services and many of them are not drunk or stoned all the time. What about the fella that protests the shelter with his cardboard signs?  Why is he refused services?

» on 01.31.10 @ 03:08 PM

The dialogue in the comments following some of these articles, even those which are overly dramitised, is useful. In particular the criticism of the accusatory tone and approach taken by which these so called “advocates” for the homeless, and who deride others who are simply raising a a host of legitimate questions and concerns.

Whether these “advocates” are simply using deaths of these street people as excuses to demand more money for “homelessness”, (a large part of whch they pocket for their “services”), or whether they are truly motivated to do something constructive about the problems is often difficult to tell. Probabley the most useful analysis is to determine if they are paid from the requested funds and appropriations, directly or indirectly, or whether they are acting voluntarily.

In either case, however, it is not useful to accuse everyone who is not so deeply involved as being “insensitive”, “murdereers”, “unfeeling” “cruel” “biased”, “inhumane”, “uncaring”, etc.  It is these, usually unjustified, accusations and labeling that provokes the seemingly callous remarkss like “let the thinning begin”.

No one likes to be called names and accused of murder because they are not devoting their lives, or a substantial part of it, to people who often eschew any help beyond panhandling an mooching handouts and cash money to support their substance abuse habits and irresponsible lifestyles. We all have our own lives and families to care for and often that is more than a handful, particularly in trying times like these.

Most of the community is empathetic and sympathetic to those who, by virtue of mental infirmity, cannot help themselves, and many of these folks recieve disabilty payments and even have shelter, but prefer to wander about talking to themselves or to trees for whatever reasons or bizaar demons their disturbed minds conjure up. These folks were previously involuntarily confined and recieved some treatment and care until they were turned out because beaurocrats deemed they would NOT TO BE A DANGER TO THEMSELVES OR TO OTHERS!

No one has as yet come up with a successful protocol for dealing with this difficult segmant of the street population, who could both refuse help on occasion or literally not understand what the help being offered is.

The segment of the “so-called” homeless population cosisting of the substance abusers and irresponsible who understand what they are doing, understand the nature of help being offered, and still refuse that help are different.  They are making concious decisions albeit bad ones, to remain on the streets drinking and doing drugs even when menacing and dangerous weather conditions occur. Or, alternatively, they are so drunk or high on drugs that even if they make it to shelter they are often refused entry because of their condition.

In either of these tweo cases, the mentally ill and the incorrigable substance abusers, there is little that can be done when cajoling and resoning with them fails, other than the power to arrest them and take them into involuntary custody and place them where they will not disturb others or disrupt shelter operations for others who appreciate the offering!

In addition these accusatory “advocates for homeless” often purposely overlook the host of practical problems that arise in the context of all shelter care. Who is to protect others from the mentally disturbed that are admitted? Whos is to protect the others in shelter from the drunks and drug abusers who would disturb others, offer drugs and alochol to those around them or even steal from unprotected belongings to support their habits? How are others sheltered in a facility protected from those with communicable diseases?

If a shelter user contracted TB as a rsult of the proximity of an infected person who is to blame? The late Dr. Harou, when question about this issue, responded by saying it was in a sense and honor system based on :questioning of those admitted; that is, “do you have TB”? That question obviously asumes the carrier knows they have the disease (or other any other diseases)!

It would behoove these vitriolic and strident “homeless advocates” to spend their time less on accusations of others, fabricating “guilt trips” to raise money, and more time on devising protocols dealing with these complex problems, that is unless they just are part of the “homeless advocacy for profit” crowd who are simply trying to take advantage of the tragic deaths of street people to round up more money!

» on 01.31.10 @ 07:28 PM

If the shelters get to pick and choose who they are going to help they should be self supporting and recieve no goverment funding. Drunk or not they are accepting goverment funding in these peoples names then turning them away then they should not take any money. If they do they are stealing from the taxpayers. Everytime these homeless people die on the streets they are the first to cry about it, next thing ya know they are raising funds in these peoples names and pocketing it when they did not help these people when they were alive the taxpayers did. Who in the world do they think they are? It’s bad enough donations are stolen that is mean’t for the homeless, Food, clothing and money. A homeless man stands out on Cacique Street with his signs “Shelter Staff are Thieves and Liars!”  Who would no better than a homeless man? The reason why these two men died under the Milpas underpass?  The Cacique Street Shelter refused to help them, that’s why.  The management and staff needs to be replaced. Don’t blame the County Supervisors.

» on 01.31.10 @ 07:46 PM

let’s count up all the taxpayer money they’re given to basically do what they are now complaining no one does. HUH? so they turn people away onto the streets and they die. Why not call 911 if the person(s) were so bad off you wouldn’t let them in? perhaps as dangers to themselves? guess its easier to bang the “need more money” drum. oh and call names and all that…yeah

» on 02.12.10 @ 11:02 PM

What’s really going on? I just learned that KEYT 3 will be interviewing Mike Foley during a special hour long program regarding warming shelters, etc.. Has anyone even questioned the logic in this recent spending.$40,000.00 dollars to fund staffing for twenty hazardous rain days.Figuring 2 staff at $15.00 hr., since there are only two warming shelters, for twenty days, the total amounts too just $7,200.00. And that’s assuming there will be twenty days of rain. Will there be an accounting of the remaining $32,800 - Is there ever an accounting of what Mike Foley and Casa Esperanza receive? Just 10% of the original $40,000.00, would pay for two full weeks of detoxification for 13 individuals
suffering from addictions. Both alcohol and drugs. Currently the detox. unit is only half full. This is becausethe homeless cannot afford to pay for the services.

This is just one example of the spending errors, intentional or otherwise, that are prevalent in the Casa
Esperanza homeless industry. Suppose these 13 individuals, who may have benefit from detox., actually
were successful in their recovery attempt; then another 13, and another 13. With 39 people on their way to
recovery, Mr. Foley would certainly have a harder time raising funds for, well, exactly what?

Before the County and City earmark any more funds for Mr. Foley and Casa Esperanza, they must audit and
make an accounting of just how and where those funds are spent. To do any less would amount to complicity
in what could possibly be questionable/irresponsible accounting and spending practices.

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