Wednesday, April 19, 2017

How many ways is he Homeless?

Small Diner where I enjoyed dinner with Mike

Twelve years ago an extremely intoxicated man walked out of a shell gas station with a 30 pack of beer, knocking a young German girl on her back. It’s hard to find a better beginning to a love story than that, but thus began what would become, Mike and Angel.

A month later the two decided to elope against their parent’s wishes. They were married for 12 years when Angel was diagnosed with cancer, and a few months later died. Mike decided to deal with his grief in an unusual way. Packing up a few pairs of clothes, a mat, and a sleeping bag in a travel pack he began to walk. At the time, he was in Maine and decided to walk from Maine to Florida, onto California, up to Washington, and then back to Maine.

“Why?” was the obvious question, when he told me his plan.

“I didn’t know how else to cope and because people kept sayin’ I couldn’t do it.”

I met him in Yuma, approximately two months after his departure. He was out asking people for cigarettes. He was clearly hungry and we headed for a place to eat, finding a great looking diner.
 After ordering a Reuben, just like Carlos (my friend with the serpentine stone), we continued our conversation.

“So you mostly hitchhike and walk?” I asked.

“Yea, mostly short rides.”

“What was the longest ride you’ve had?”

“From Texas to Arizona. It was this real nice lady trucker.”

“Most rides from truckers?”

“Yea, just go to truck stops and tell them your next destination.”

“Any cool stories on your journey?”

“Nah, not really. I did walk 26 miles out of Tucson, when an officer picked me up for walking on the highway and drove me back to Tucson. So I started again, and got by him the second time. Officers really bug me. They call me a druggy and I say give me a cup and I’ll pee in it. They always back down. My only addictions are cigarettes and coffee, I don’t know why they think they can just assume I do drugs.”

“Where do you sleep?”

“The streets.”

“Do you prefer certain type of place, like a park?”

“No, I avoid parks. That’s the first place the cops look.”

“Have you lost weight?”

“I started at 240 lbs. and am now about 190.”

Perhaps we could market this as a hot new weight loss program. We take all your money and Identification, put you on the streets and pick you up in a few months.

“Do you keep in contact with anyone?”

“No, my parents disowned me when I married, and I’m an only child.”

“Do you ever travel with a dog or companion?”

“No, it’s hard enough to take care of myself.”

“What will you do when you get back to Maine?”

“Not sure, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

“So are you from Maine?”

“No, I grew up in Ohio but moved around a lot. I’ve always had trust issues so don’t stay somewhere very long.”

Of all the things Mike said this struck me the hardest. For one thing his trust issues were obvious. Rarely did he make eye contact or look in my direction, and the fact that his trust issues led to frequent moves really made me think. Mike made me realize that there are several ways to be homeless. There are those with no roof over their heads, as we usually think of with homeless. But what other types of home are there? Our home town, is a home for so many of us. Lori was homeless because she had no roof but she referred to Colorado Springs as home. Raymond too was out in the cold, but Ventura was his home.

Lastly home is even more than a town or building, but as the throw pillow on your grandma’s couch says, “Home is where the heart is.” This is perhaps the most important and powerful definition of home. And those I have called homeless, most are not homeless when it comes to this definition. Most had those around them they cared for, even if it was an animal, and in that love they had, in perhaps the most important way, some home. What was so sad to me was that in every way Mike was homeless. He had no house, no home town and no one or nowhere to place his heart.

I have always wanted to be some rich guy who could say, “My summer home.” Because anyone with two homes qualifies as, some rich guy. As I thought of Mike, I became very grateful for the many people who make me rich, rich with homes where my heart is.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Homeless or undercover?

The fifteen of us left the hotel walking towards downtown Fort Collins. We had spent the day together on Colorado State University (CSU) campus planning for an upcoming conference. Except for the wind, the weather was nice. Still, several of my kind, newly found friends, most of them I had met that day, offered me a jacket. It was still warm and I hated to inconvenience them for my error of having left my own on the plane. They wisely predicted that the wind would bring in cold and possibly snow, but I stayed firm.

We reached the vibrant downtown, found a sports bar, and ordered some appetizers. The Sweet 16 had started and one of my colleagues was anxious to cheer on his Alma Mater. After watching a little basketball, not feeling overly social, I decided it was time for me to see if Fort Collins had many homeless. Excusing myself, I headed towards what has been deemed hobo park. Due to some construction, hobo park really isn't a park anymore. The lot was sold and a restaurant is being built in its place. This has pushed the homeless further into the downtown area causing no shortage of stir in the local community.

I pass a beautiful old building with no roof and supported walls.

Clearly the town is willing to put up considerable money to preserve some of its history. Across from this is the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, a small building that I would find out later never has enough beds to meet demand. Several groups of homeless men sit around and joke outside waiting for the shelter to open its doors. Across the street, under a blanket next to a shopping cart, sits a huddled mound.

I cross and as I walk by an elderly women peers from under the blanket and asks if I have some change. I sit next to her and ask if she has time to talk.


"What's your name?"


Lori grew up in Fort Collins, got married, and a few short years later, got divorced. After the divorce, she found herself with too little to get by and was on the streets. At the time, Fort Collins had little support for the homeless, and it was too cold, so she went to San Francisco.  For the next 32 years she would be on the streets there. Those years had taken their toll, and as she spoke, she smoked a cigarette between the partial remains of the only two teeth she had left.

"Why'd you come back?" I asked.

"After a while, I just had to come home. This is my home." This reminded me of what I learned about what we call home when I met Mike.

"Can I take a picture with you?" She said she'd rather not. She has a brother she hasn't seen in years who might still live close by. She'd love to see him, but doesn't want him to see her homeless. I am sorry not to have her picture, never have I seen a women more closely resemble a Walt Disney portrayal of an elderly witch and yet underneath you could see beauty coming through. I find it hard to describe and regret I could not get her photo.

I said goodbye, and she politely tells me to have a nice day as she wraps her blanket more tightly around her. My colleagues weather forecasts appear to be accurate.

My walking was rather aimless as I continued downtown. You may think that finding and speaking to homeless people would be easy, but it has proven more challenging than I ever expected. They are often in groups, and unless one of them introduces me to the group, I do not feel welcome. Not regularly having people want to speak to them, they are justifiably suspicious of me and don't desire to talk. And sometimes I just loose my nerve. Most embarrassingly, I will admit I often avoid those that appear to have mental illness. Why? I don't know what to say or how to approach them, and I fear I will only embarrass them and myself.

It was this exact fear that kept me avoiding a man now. He was at a park bench that sat on a corner of the street, sorting clothes, lots of clothes, bags and bags of them. I don't know why but I assumed he had mental illness and moved on.

I found a beautiful Catholic Church full of stained glass windows.

Focusing on enjoying them was difficult as my mind could not ignore the dropping temperature, and I decided to start back toward the hotel. Again I passed by the gentleman with all the clothes. I was about to leave when I remembered an article my Mother-in-law had sent me. It was about a woman in Texas who helped a homeless man with mental illness. It was beautiful story.  This thought made me realize it would be worthwhile to approach this man, mental illness or not.

Nervously I walked up to the bench, he was kneeling behind it still sorting clothes.


He looked up smiled and said, "Hello."

"How are you?" I continued.

"Good, and you?"

"Good, How are you?" My nervousness had me repeating my introductory question. He looked at me as if I might be the one with the mental ailment. I tried to move beyond my blunder.

"Can I speak with you?" I said taking a seat on the concrete next to him.


From that moment I had an amazing time getting to know Colonel Stephen Wildgen.

"The Colonel" by his clothes and bench where I met him. 

The man had some amazing stories. 32 years of his life were in the army, flying helicopters in Vietnam and elsewhere. At one point he told me about the time he was part of team that flew through in Columbia as a diversion why the military took down Escabar.  He was an MD that had classes in electrical engineering and spent a time as a stage magician. His current project is writing a book with professor, Franciso Leal, on a book titled "Signs of the Times" about the homeless. It took rummaging through several of his bags, but he was able to find an article that CSU had published about homeless issues that had a photo of him in the snow protesting some of the new laws related to the homeless. The fact that it was shredded and barely legible did not lesson his pride in the article.

Curiosity led me to ask about the bags and bags of clothes.

"I get some from Catholic Charities and others people bring to me to pass out among the homeless. I get blankets, jackets, clothes, sleeping bags, you name it."

The streets are his home for weeks at a time, then he goes to his home which is in a nearby town. He noted his military retirement is more than sufficient for himself to live on.

"Why do it?"

"A few years back I lost my last child. I had three children, two adopted and one biological. Two died in car crashes and one from kidney failure, all in their forties. After that, I realized I was the last Wildgen around and decided I needed something to do."

We cross the street and get some hot chocolate."Don't worry about my stuff no one touches it. The police all know me around here and will keep it safe." He continues, "I did lose my kids, but some of the men who served under me are my children. Particularly those that I lost. I remember all the men who died beside me. I remember them and their families. I still get cards from some of their families and those who survived to this day."

After getting our drink we head back to the bench. "I have lots of stories after my oversees missions but I only tell the funny ones. Let me tell you about stealing the admirals beef." His eyes lighten up and he laughs with the thought of the story. "We had been stuck on Vietnam for days with orders to remain put. We had copters but were told to wait. Mangoes were everywhere, and we were all sick of them and only ate them because they beat our rations. I knew the aircraft carrier sitting out in the bay had a great cafeteria full of food. Finally I was sick of it, I took the copter and went out to the carrier. When I landed the marines were busy loading rockets and ammo so they wouldn't let me board. So I was stuck on the deck. While sitting on the deck I saw a box that sounded like it had a compressor inside. I opened it up and it was a freezer."

He continued to explain that inside of the freezer were two larges slabs of beef. By removing some ammo boxes from his helicopter, he made room for the beef, then put the ammo in the freezer so it wouldn't be sitting on the deck and headed back to camp. Once he landed, he and his men used chain saws to cut up the beef and began to cook them in some 55 gallon drums they had.

A short time later an Admiral landed, all dressed in white. The Colonel continues his story, "He had more egg splattered on his hat then I'd ever seen. So I stood as best as I could at attention."

"Did you take the beef?"

"What Beef Sir?"

"Do you mind if we search your copter?"

"No Sir."

They left, frustrated, having not found the beef. His commanding officer came to him once the Admiral left and asked, "Where's my share?"

This story later got written up in Stars and Stripes.

By now it was getting late and dark and I needed to get home. By this time I was freezing. He asked if I wanted a shirt or a jacket. I ended up with a lovely Estes Park sweatshirt and walked home feeling very warm.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Whose policy matters? Yours or Trump's?

I know I already wrote about refugees, but I found it so important that it is the topic of my article in the Boulder City Review.

Many have been up in arms about Donald Trump and refugees, but my question to you is, What is more important, your policy on refugees or Donald Trump's?

To the country, maybe Donald Trumps, but to you and your life, it is your policy that will matter most. So have you been so busy worrying about Trump's policy that you have failed to establish and operate your own?

Using my good friend Doug Brodbent's example, I hope I encourage everyone to find and embrace the idea of providing refuge for those who so desperately need it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How I did and What's Next? Boulder City Primary Analysis

Unofficial results from 2017 Primary in Boulder City
So I promised I would do an update once the election came. Yesterday was the day, and the results above, while unofficial, are likely to be the final outcome. So how did I do?

1. No one will clinch a spot in the primary.

As predicted the field was too crowded and no one got it locked in the primary.

2.The Boulder City Alliance will play a part but will not have a huge impact.

This one I got way wrong. I noted that if they got both candidates in, Harhay and McManus, then I had greatly underestimated their impact, and I did. There are several reasons I think I was wrong. In the analysis I predicted McManus would make it and Harhay would not. Clearly Harhay outperformed expectations more than anyone else. One reason is that Harhay ended up being a far better candidate then I gave him credit for. While he did not raise much money, he did take the time for face to face outreach. A much smarter man than myself told me Harhay would outperform expectations. I asked why, and his reply was, "He is at the credit Union, knocking doors and getting face to face. You cannot underestimate looking someone in the eye and talking to them."

Another thing that I believe impacted the outcome was the adding of question one. I think the fact that the "growth" question is to be on the ballot in June drove turn out for those who are opposed to this idea. This really helped Harhay and McManus.

3.Mayor Lungaard will get in the general almost purely on the back of his door to door, putting up signs effort.

I was also off on this one. Several people informed me later that some of those signs went up without permission. I don't know if that is true, but it definitely hurt him that his door to door efforts were early and then done. I think after the signs he just stopped, assuming, like myself, it was enough. He and I were both wrong.

4. Loudin and Stuckey will not make it to the general.

As predicted, their efforts were just not enough.

5. Councilman Walker will move on to the general election, but it will be closer than he would like. In fact, he may not get the most votes of any candidate.

I nailed this one. Look at the totals: he came in third and was less than 20 votes from coming in fourth. The crowded field and the growth issue definitely hurt him as I predicted they would. The question remains: in a less crowded field would he fair any better?

6. Milburn will move on and McDonald will not.

Another one correct. Milburn's longtime in Boulder City was the clincher, and this is closer than even I would have predicted, but in the end McDonald, who did a great job, won't be on the ballot. I hope he's willing to give it a third run because we could use a guy like him in the future.

So 4 out of 6. Not bad, I'll take it.

What's Next?

Clearly the story of the night is Harhay and the Alliance. The great news is they showed that good old fashion, knock doors, speak to your neighbor, encourage people to vote, drive them to the polls etc.. still can beat out big money. Also in the good news for them: it looks like question 1 will be on the ballot this election. This will be a rallying cry for those who are worried about growth, which many are.

But they better not celebrate too soon. There are two big things that could really hurt them and having them looking back on tonight saying, "what could have been?" See, the general election for this group, I believe, will be an all or nothing. The primary was a very uniform voting block when it came to Harhay and Mcmanus, more than I would have guessed. Therefore, as goes question 1, so goes the council. We will have either, 'no' on 1 with McManus and Harhay as our council men or 'yes' on 1 with Walker and Milburn. I don't think there is middle ground. The reason this should concern the Alliance is they won tonight but much because it was a divided field. Their best candidate had approximately 36% of the people vote for him. That means 64% did not. Those that cast votes for candidates that are not moving on, most for Mcdonald, some for Loudin and Lundgaard, are those more naturally people who would have voted for Cam and Milburn? I think they are.

Also, we can say that the Alliance mostly went unopposed this primary. Many may call this crazy as there were 6 other good men running and lots of money spent. But what I mean is, because there were so many good men running, there was the sense of, "lets see how this plays out before we get engaged." That was not the case on the Alliance side. They were engaged when others were not. But that ends today. There will be big push from many who were on the sidelines for the two other candidates and for voting yes on question 1. Look for the same great minds who came up with "Debt Free BC" to be out in force on question 1. Maybe they will say "Boulder's Might is by Growing Right" or "Save our Schools and Get New Pools." Okay, hopefully they are better at slogans than I am, but whatever it is, they will be out in force.

The real question will be who can win the Question 1 battle. Because I think most in Boulder City are like myself, I am worried about growth, and I like our small town, but am not opposed to listen to proposals to change the 30 home limit. I have been studying Question 1 and am currently undecided. Unless the Alliance can get ahead of Question 1 and convince voters like myself, I think they may say, "I thought we were winning" as they look up at a scoreboard that says 0-3.