Saturday, February 24 , 2018, 9:03 am | Fair 41º


Ken Williams: Moonstone’s Death Further Proof of Sadness of the Streets

“Moonstone” is dead. Word filtered down, as it always does when a homie dies.

She hadn’t been around for several years now. Those who dislike Santa Barbara’s homeless used to call her a transient, even though her family is local and she grew up here.

I am torn about how to write this article. Do I sanitize it so some won’t say, “See there, that’s what they’re like”?

But they would be missing the forest for the trees, and not giving Moonstone her due. It’s hard being homeless in Santa Barbara. Doubly so for a woman.

Life on the streets is rough, dangerous. They can be brutal. Violent men roam them looking for vulnerable women. They rape, beat and degrade homeless women, some returning to their houses, wives and children, after their “heroic” endeavors.

Moonstone could be loud, even confrontational at times. Tragically, she had a medical condition. Alcoholism, which affects millions of people, from the elite “1-percenters” to those whose symptoms include being unhoused. The only difference is when you live on the streets, the whole world is watching.

I remember an incident when I was trying to break up a fight between two crack-addled gentlemen as they tussled and rolled on the ground. Whenever I was beginning to have some luck separating them, Moonstone would come barging in to deliver a few kicks.

She didn’t do any damage, and neither did the two combatants, but the situation was extremely frustrating for me.

Only later did the image of the whole scene become draped in pathos humor. (The sight of a shelter director watching safely from across the field is part of that memory. I remember thinking “I could use a little help here.”)

It was later that I recognized that perhaps this was her way of payback to whatever injury she may have suffered in the dark of night.

The word of her death floods me with other memories of homeless women suffering at the hands of vicious men. I remember only too well “Kathy,” a working girl who found humiliation servicing the fine gentlemen of our community. Didn’t take much to buy her services. Five bucks was the price of mankind’s inhumanity to this broken soul.

Then there was “Gloria,” another working girl. When she arrived in Santa Barbara, she was several months pregnant. No longer did the gentlemen of Hollywood Boulevard find her sexy.

Battling through the demons of her mental illness, she knew she had to get away from them — not only for her own welfare, but also for the welfare of her unborn baby. I placed her in a hotel.

When her daughter was born, Santa Barbara County placed her under its jurisdiction. Gloria ran. The county started the calendar countdown toward abandonment, which then opened the doors for adoption.

Exactly to the day her parental rights were severed, the next week Gloria returned. Through the delusions and craziness of her mental illness, she had adhered to the time frame of abandonment, thus allowing her daughter to be adopted by a family unencumbered by extreme poverty or mental illness.

She gave her daughter that gift the only way she knew how. For me, a greater example of motherly love would be hard to find.

The police were called when “Sam” and her little boy were spotted in front of a shelter. Sam also suffered greatly from mental illness. Her son was in foster care. She had taken him without court approval.

Police officers surrounded her. Voices were raised. A dangerous situation was quickly spiraling out of control.

I walked out of the shelter, and over to Sam. Calming down, she told the police she would surrender her son to me — not them, me. Taking his shaking hand, I gently walked him over to the shelter, making sure he didn’t turn around to see his mother taken into custody.

The rain was falling hard as I stood in the parking lot of Catholic Charities on East Haley Street. A car containing Joshua and his mother pulled in. She had an appointment inside.

Taking off my coat, I opened the door and offered it to her so she could wrap the baby in it. Instead, she held him up to me and said to him, “Go to Uncle Kenny. He’ll take you in.”

I was momentarily stunned. Quickly regaining my senses, I bundled up the 3-month-old boy and pulled him into me. A devastating premonition tore at my soul. A haunting feeling left me frozen in the rain-drenched parking lot: This was not going to end well.

Two days later, Joshua died. Life on the streets for someone so precious, so vulnerable, so young was simply too hard.

Walking up to his tiny coffin in the church, I prayed hard that it would be closed. It wasn’t. His incredibly small body rested there. I remember changing prayers. I prayed that he would find the peace in heaven that was denied him on earth.

I pray for the same thing for Sam, Gloria, Kathy and Moonstone. All — and so many more — deserved better than what they got.

Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years, and is the author of China White, Shattered Dreams: A Story of the Streets and his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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