“In just a few weeks, I won’t be homeless anymore. I’m finally going back to college at PSU and I’m gonna live on campus. It’s the first time I’ve had a home in 6 years. I’m excited — well, excited and sad. My husband can’t move in with me because of a minor felony conviction.”
Here’s a puppy named Nikita. Her owner, Desert Flower, wouldn’t allow me to take her picture. If you could see this young woman, you would agree that her name fits. She may be 23, but her delicate frame and fragile features are a stark contrast to the downtown sidewalk where I met her.
Desert Flower has been “on the road” since she was 17. Her mother was involved in prostitution, and her dad died of a heart attack when she was 13 months old. She has a maturity beyond her years that probably came from looking out for her four little sisters. The girls were removed from their mother’s home when she was seven, after DHS found drugs in her little sister’s system.
She bounced around a lot after that. She moved back in with her mom a year later. Things were stable, if not smooth for a few years. When she was 15, her mom’s new boyfriend sexually abused both her and her little sister. Her mom didn’t do anything about it. At the time, he was the only one working.
After high school, Desert Flower wanted to go to college. Her grandmother on her late father’s side had some financial stability. She bought Desert Flower a car, but took it away when she found out she wasn’t attending class. Desert Flower pawned her computer, and bought a greyhound ticket for Colorado. She didn’t know anybody there. She didn’t even bring a blanket.
She told me there are essentially three types of homeless people. There are the “travelers.” These are people with a plan, a good head on their shoulders, and they invest in good gear. The second group are the “runaways.” These are young people trying to get out of a bad situation. This is the group that can really go either way. The third group are the most tragic. They are people who have completely succumbed to substance abuse or to their mental health issues. According to Desert Flower, you can identify this group in the winter months by their lack of gear, and the scabs on their faces from meth use.
Desert Flower was a runaway for several years. Who knows where she would be if she hadn’t met the man she calls her husband. Sasquatch the Tramp, as he calls himself, met Desert Flower at a Grateful Dead show in 2012. He offered her some Jack Daniels, and began teaching her about how to get the right kind of gear. He had some kind of confrontation with the guy she was with. He has a powerful physical presence, and his ability to intimidate has surely been a key contributor to his survival.
In the beginning of their time together, the two travelers had a spiritual experience. Desert Flower hated religion because of a bad encounter with a Baptist Church. Sasquatch, at the time, was really into Jesus. While traveling through Glenwood Spring, Colorado, Sasquatch reached out to God. He prayed, “If you’re real, send someone to give me $20.” Later that day, that’s exactly what happened. And it continued to happen - for 11 days. People kept coming up to the pair and handing them $20, unsolicited.
Sasquatch is a different kind of homeless person altogether. In a way, he seems to have his stuff together. He can tell you the best places to go, and where to avoid. He knows how to get good gear, and how to maintain it. He’s funny. In fact, he’s booked gigs at several local Portland comedy clubs. You get the sense that if Sasquatch wanted to, he could get off the streets. It’s not clear what he wants.
Desert Flower has high aspirations for her life. She wants to major in electrical engineering so she can learn to build and maintain solar panels. She wants someone to marry her and Sasquatch officially. Following her graduation, the two want to move to Argentina, where the two dream of living like “Kings.”
I pray the best for them both. Only time will tell if this Desert Flower will get the chance to bloom.