Debbie’s Death and the Rebirth of Compassion in Santa Cruz

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The Sad Story of the Woman Who Died in a Camper Fire Last Week

A woman was touched by tragedy.

Posted by Brad Kava (Editor) , November 10, 2013 at 11:29 PM

by Regina Henderson

I befriended a homeless woman whose camper broke down on Ocean St last week which was pushed on to my block. Anyone who knows me.. knows I don’t look kindly regarding this sort of thing. After 2 days, I left a terse note saying “You are being watched.. Move your vehicle” …young sketchy looking guys hanging out, garbage, shopping cart, guys on bikes coming by…. as time went on I realized the owner/occupant was a woman maybe my age.. but looked 70. I got to know her a bit … while she tried to work on her engine, I got to know her name,..Debbie.. how long she’d beein in town …since 1987…. 17 yr. old son in Felton… and she wanted to get back up there. ..she was in need of guidance and help…and I wanted to help her…while she worked on the engine every day, we chatted and I became invested in wanting to help her as her story unfolded… I told her to find someone to tow it back to Felton… she had just received the 72 hour notice…I called HSC to get help for her, a nice guy Kevin gave me his personal # and said he would tow her but needed tow straps..
I gave her his info… checked up on her… she said she was often victimized by “the 26 year old homeless kids” (her words not mine) she said she was like their mom and they took advantage of her… stole her medication, her $ etc. I checked up on her this morning and she said she wasnt feeling well… she was in the loft bed and complained about friends who did not return with the groceries she paid for etc…..
I told her to take care of herself and asked if she needed anything to help her feel better.. she thanked me and said no……About 4 PM today my husband yelled out as he was leaving on a bike ride… The RV is on fire…….I ran out and up to her truck when the firetrucks where …. just as I got there they were laying Debbie on the ground…she was not alive….. this has touched my soul on a profound and deep level…going over this with Keith late tonight…
I cant help but wonder Why? of all the “characters” I have met over the years, and the many “transients” I have encounted in this town the last 10 years…why Debbie…. why did I get so involved with trying to help this one lost soul???.. Keith said it kind of perfectly in one word “Eerie” This experience will last with me the rest of my days … RIP Debbie… I know you will be treated far better on the other side than you were treated here….

Regina Henderson
Ocean’s 11 Neighborhood Watch

Regina November 11, 2013 at 12:07 PM
After a few days of soul searching and research I have found out that we have NO program specifically geared toward Homeless women. I have to to understand and believe that homeless women are so completely vulnerable and are targets for the aggressive and crime ridden youth/young men who wear the mask of homelessness and who are running amok in our community. In honor of Debbie… I am committed to opening this dialogue NOW and work toward a way/space that we can nurture and give comfort to the truly vulnerable homeless… our women on our streets without a place to call home. I understand that the HSC has just purchased a house/property next to the Evergreen Cemetery in Harvey West… I have a call out to them and look forward to hearing back … perhaps we can make this space a safe place for the homeless women of our community… in honor of Debbie…Debbie’s Home…..
jmelhuff November 11, 2013 at 01:34 PM
Regina, Thank you for writing this. I’m so sorry to hear of this terrible tragedy. Hoping this raises awareness in our community.
Kathryn Paul November 11, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Thank you very much for the nice words you have said about a friend. I have new Debbie for about ten years and yes she has had much more tragic in her life. This has been very shocking for myself as I just seen her around the first, and now she is gone. I do know that yes, she had a very hard life, but now she is with her Guardian Angle..(Her Daughter) RIP, My friend Debbie…
Eve Roberson November 11, 2013 at 05:18 PM
When I read the article in the paper I immediately called another older woman I know who lives in her camper truck because she cannot find housing either. Thankfully, she answered my call but she is still not close to finding a home either. We have tried to locate some help for her but as you found, Regina, there is apparently none. Our social service net has a big hole in it and I support your suggestion. Eve, Local Live Oak Neighborhood Watch
warren west November 12, 2013 at 02:59 PM
what sc social services have a big hole / is that why im a retired senior nurse who has been homeless 20 yrs.
warren west November 12, 2013 at 03:01 PM
perhaps people paying taxes are getting ripped off by there gov.
There is no shelter for 95% of the homeless community in Santa Cruz–including the most vulnerable–women and children. HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) and other activists have been trying for years to require the City Council to designate even the most rudimentary facilities–some “gone by dawn” parking lots (as they have in Santa Barbara now), a Sanctuary campground (as proposed by Brent Adams and others), or at the very least some Safe Sleeping Zones where homeless families can sleep without fear of being ticketed (the fine is now around $150).The fear of groups like Take Back Santa Cruz and other neighborhood NIMBY’s has blocked City Council from taking even the most elementary steps to let folks sleep–not anywhere and everywhere–but somewhere. When protest camps arise (as they naturally do–since there are 1500-2000 homeless in Santa Cruz without legal shelter), they are dispersed and the leaders prosecuted.

One activist, Gary Johnson, received a two-year sentence for sleeping four nights on the bench at the courthouse with a “Sleep is Not a Crime” sign. Yet the drumbeat to make life harder for the poor outside gets louder. Vigilante groups spur the Mayor’s anti-homeless Task Force on Public Safety to propose ever more repressive legislation and harsher enforcement.

But, as Regina’s story, experience, and research shows, once people really look into what’s available, who’s impacted, and even the cost of the current War on the Poor, the picture shifts harshly into focus. Perhaps there is hope after all.