Thursday, November 26, 1998
By 8am, Lee Hulquist has parked the white M.O.S.T (Mobile Outreach Services Team) van near the downtown Monterey transit station, has set up her traveling clothes rack, and is hanging up the day's selection of free shirts and sweaters.Hulquist has been in charge of the van since May, just before the M.O.S.T program passed from county hands to Shelter Outreach Plus, the new hybrid nonprofit that has replaced Peninsula Outreach and Shelter Plus. Her job is to drive around the Peninsula and Salinas, on clearly designated routes with specified stops, acting as the lifeline to the county''s street homeless, the most desperately poor.
She hands out food, some of which she buys at 17 cents a pound from the county Food Bank, some of which is donated by Safeway, Sweet Earth and other local establishments. She hands out toiletry packs--tiny soaps and shampoos from local hotels, razors she buys in bulk ("Just spent $100 for 1,000 razors, a great deal!") United Hunger Relief, a Cannery Row homeless nonprofit, gave her 75 tarps to distribute. Factory Brand Shoes in the American Tin Cannery has donated shoes. Hulquist also acts as an ad-hoc caseworker: From her cellular phone, she makes appointments with doctors and social service agencies, and often ends up taking her "clients" through the paperwork in person.
Hulquist only spends $300 to $500 a month on food and supplies for the van, depending on donations. It''s a small amount of money, and it goes so far.
What does she need most? "Socks," she says quickly. "No one donates socks. And they''re really cheap."
"She is our guardian angel," says Gus, a 64-year-old grizzled veteran of the streets, his home for the past 35 years.
Two-thirds of Monterey County''s homeless population are temporarily without a roof, the "transitional homeless," explains Tom Melville, executive officer of the Coalition of Homeless Services Providers, a four-year-old consortium that unites local nonprofits serving the homeless with relevant government agencies, such as the Housing Authority and the Department of Social Services. These people are relatively easy to find and help, as they are only recently detached from the system.
It''s the remaining one-third, the "street homeless," that are most in need, most visible, and yet hardest to serve. "If you catch a homeless person within the first six months, it''s much easier to transition them back," Melville says. "After six months, they become more self-sufficient. They know where to hide, they know where the services are. Over time, they develop personal barriers--a substance abuse problem, an existing mental problem that becomes exacerbated. They can no longer follow the rules in an emergency shelter or transitional housing."
Trying to treat these people with dignity, in ways that don''t violate their civil rights, while still getting them the help they need, is a huge challenge, Melville says.
That''s what Hulquist faces every day. Her manner is matter-of-fact, and at the same time, compassionate. She knows the names of most of the people who come to her van, chats with them easily, is quick to assess their needs and step in. But she doesn''t gush over them or shower them with unwanted sympathy
"We deal with the people who sleep outside, not the ones who sleep in shelters," Hulquist says. She estimates the M.O.S.T van serves 60 regular clients weekly in Salinas, and another three dozen on the Peninsula, plus a host of walk-ups. Virtually all of them have a physical disability, the result of years of substance abuse, combined with living outdoors and poor access to medical care.
Gus and Lloyd are prime examples. They met five years ago, two years after Lloyd wandered out from Las Vegas. They''ve been inseparable ever since, parking their tarps close together in the bushes, protecting each other from marauders. "It''s safer that way," Gus explains.
A week ago, Hulquist managed to get the pair a room at a Seaside motel, where they''ve been luxuriating in the rare pleasures of hot baths and real beds. But they''re paying for the rooms out of Gus'' welfare checks, and at $350 a week, they figure they can only last a few more days. Then, it''s back to the bushes.
"I''m going out tomorrow to make sure our stuff is still hidden," Lloyd says.
Gus'' face is weather-beaten, his skin rubbed raw from the ravages of eczema and winter rains. He came to Monterey 10 years ago, after 15 years on the streets of New York''s Lower East Side. "Not everybody on the streets is a low-down tramp," he insists. "Many of us have more consideration for other people than if you lived in a big house. We''re people, too."
Gus readily confesses to being an alcoholic. And nothing can make him stop drinking, either. "I''m trying to straighten myself out, but I''ll always be Gus," he admits. "God has allowed me to live this long. I think he''ll allow me to live a little longer.
"When you see a person on the street, it doesn''t make him or her a bad person. I know whores on the street who are beautiful people inside. They''d bend over backwards to help you. How you conduct yourself is not necessarily who you are inside. I''ve been on the streets 35 years, and I know everything that goes down, from gangsters to whores. Sometimes I don''t like what I see, but it''s all part of life, and you have to accept it. I don''t like what I''m doing now, living this lifestyle. But unfortunately, that''s where I am.
"I''m not much different from anyone else. I have the same emotions. I love, I hate, I get angry. Sometimes I feel remorse. I''m just a human being, like you. We all need the same things."