G was about 40. A pleasant and quiet woman with a kind smile — one that never seemed to make it all the way to her eyes, giving the shadows found there perpetual life. She was well known to the streets, a soft soul who brought out the protective instincts in many.
What drove her to seek shelter in an industrial yard that fateful night? Was it the bitter cold? A hunger to seek shelter from the imaginary terrors of the night or mind? Or was she being chased by the all too real indigenous terrorists who find thrill in hunting vulnerable homeless women?
A homeless woman came up to me this morning stating the fear that wrapped its hands around her throat when she heard that another homeless woman had been beaten and assaulted in the vicinity of where G died. For women without homes — our neighbors — terror runs the streets.
Days after her death, I stood at the spot where G died. A small area with a driveway and a street mere feet away. But she didn’t run? Why? How does one on fire not run for help?
Pain is the ultimate motivator. I look about. The area had been swept clean. I look over and see a trash bin partially full of potential evidence soon to be discarded in the dump. Apparently another bin has already made its way out of here. Why wasn’t the area taped off? In a situation like this, there are many possibilities as to how she died — from a tragic and senseless accident to other scenarios. Wouldn’t prudence dictate that the area be preserved until at least a preliminary cause of death is established?
Then I am told that, in fact, the very morning after the fire, work crews were already cleaning up the scene. If this had been a house in Montecito and a woman had burned to death, would a potential — and I admit only a potential crime scene — be scrubbed clean so soon? I read and listen to the news report hoping to see these hard questions asked, but only silence answers. It’s like we all want to erase our conscious clean of yet another homeless death. We don’t want to think of a woman living in a junkyard on a cold winter night dying such a cruel and painful death.
A few years back, Ross Stiles was killed. The investigation was closed after a mere five weeks even before the coroner had completed his investigation. When it was determined how Ross died, the case was quietly reopened but too late to bring the perps to justice. One hopes and expects that authorities have learned and a rush to judgment is avoided this time — except potential evidence is now to be found in the county dump.
A terrible death of one defenseless homeless woman and another one who is cruelly assaulted while the main homeless shelter runs half-empty due to the political climate of the area raises troubling moral issues. Like I said, these events beg that hard questions are asked.
Know that I am joined in my sorrow by the way you died, G, by many good people of our community.
— Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years. His writings and opinions reflect only his personal views. He does not speak as a representative for or on behalf of any organization with which he may be affiliated. He is the author of China White and Shattered Dreams, A Story of the Streets. He has just completed his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor.