Suzie’s journey in life reveals the many paths we travel from one day to the next.
As our interview commenced, Suzie shared memories of a happy childhood and what it was like growing up with her grandparents. “My name is Suzie. I was adopted by my grandparents when I was young. I had a wonderful childhood. My grandparents had money and sent us, my brother and me, to camps and other things. In school, I loved English and music. I played seven different instruments. Trumpet was one of them, but at this point I mainly play guitar. I thought about taking up the trombone, but I'm not really sure about that. While growing up, I lived on a small farm. I trained horses. I used to take them as foals and turn them into little puppy dogs. That is one of my best memories. I had this one foal trained so well that I let him into my grandparent’s house and led it right up the steps into the living room. My grandmother was not pleased, but the foal trusted me enough to follow me there. I just wanted to see what would happen.”
After sharing memories from earlier in her life, Suzie spoke of how she became homeless. Similar to others in her situation, she has faced homelessness for quite some time. “I was evicted from my home. I had a sheriff's eviction. I stayed with people off and on for years and then I came to the park to stay. I didn't think it would last this long. I haven’t had a place of my own since I can remember..., but I’ve been in this park longer than most. I am the queen here.”
When discussing her feelings on winter coming and what life really looks like in the park, Suzie paints a picture of a stark reality. “It is what it is. We've [the homeless people in the park] been talking about winter. We've got to try and get into shelters. It's not working out too well. I don't know what we're going to do. Survive as long as we can out here, I guess. I’ve been outside in the winter before and barely survived. When it was cold I layered up many blankets. When I couldn’t get into the warming shelter, I was under even more blankets. That is one of the most challenging parts about being homeless, not having enough blankets and then food and water.”
In addition to mounting concerns about the winter, Suzie disclosed one of the most pressing concerns to her and her friends living in the park. “We cannot stay in the park after 11:00 pm. I’ve got $3,200 worth of tickets and 15 citations from the last couple of weeks. It’s a nightmare. I don't see it being resolved. I guess I'll just turn myself into jail. I'm such a criminal. I'm going to turn myself in for $3,000 worth of tickets for sleeping in the park. At least it’s warm there [in jail]. I don’t think this is going to work for much longer.”
In the midst of uncertainty, Suzie finds moments of peace. One of those moments was recently interrupted with some unexpected and tragic news. “Not all of it [life in the park] is bad. I'm a reader so I lay down and read quite a bit. I also talk to people and make sure everyone's doing all right. I love to play guitar. I also loved my brother Larry. We were like twins, best friends. He passed away a few months ago, and I still don’t know what happened. He used to stay in the park too, but left the area. I went to the bank one day and a bank teller said that she was sorry to hear about Larry, but I didn’t know what she was talking about. That’s how I found out my brother died. I still don’t have any details.”
In the midst of her grief, Suzie shares how small moments help her to survive. “I survive every day because of my friends and the kindness of strangers. I know pretty much everybody out here [in the park]. Some of the best friends I've ever made in my life have been at this park. The guys watch after me. I'm safe every night. I'm the safest person on the planet. I’ve seen incredible acts of kindness in this park. We’re just a bunch of gentle giants that sleep near each other and feed each other.”
Suzie’s final message is a cry for help for herself and others who experience homelessness. “My message for people is to just help. We need homes. Go to City Counsel and fight with us. We need blankets. I have enough of my own, but others out here are cold. I wish more people would recognize homeless people. I feel as though we are being ignored. I’ve been on the housing list for a year and a half and I still am in the park. The average wait time is 20 months to get a house. I see a lot of the same people here in the park because all of the shelters are closed down. I'm forced to stay out here. There's no other choice."
Artist’s Note: Suzie is the queen of Cameron Park. Let us not forget winter is approaching and not all of us have a warm place to call home. Hear the cry for help, be the voice of change.