One of our objectives here in the Daily Outsider has been to feature discussions on an aggregate basis about what is the reality out there. The Guardian of London has been at the forefront of it--and we congratulate the entire team for being nominated for the award as we urge all who may have experienced homelessness to share their stories:
Chronicling homelessness: he robbed a bank. Prison felt safer than a shelter
When Tommy Ray McAdoo finally got out of prison, he found life in shelters too difficult. Plus: the man who lived in a car near Mark Zuckerberg’s house
Alastair Gee in San Francisco
It was impossible for Tommy Ray McAdoo to go on as he had been. Back in 2008, approaching the age of 70, his latest period of imprisonment ended after a lifetime spent entangled in the criminal justice system. According to court documents, he struggled to live in the Seattle area on the $882 in benefits he received each month, and subsequently moved to Reno, where he became homeless. In 2014, after suffering intense chest pain, he was informed that he needed open-heart surgery. He declined it. “I have told him openly that this means that he will probably die within the near future,” his doctor stated, “and he tells me that he is prepared to die.”
After that McAdoo slept in shelters. The cold winters were unbearable. He urinated blood and suffered from incontinence. On 9 November 2016, the 78-year-old walked into a bank with a steak knife and stole around $2,700. What could have motivated him to do such a thing at his age, with all his experience of incarceration? Homelessness. “In large part, Mr McAdoo simply wanted to get out of the cold and return to prison,” his federal public defender wrote in the court documents. “He was too old and too sick to live in shelters.”
His lawyers requested that he receive a low-end sentence of 51 months, noting that although he would likely die in prison – he suffers from heart disease, kidney disease and brain damage – a shorter term provided a “sliver of hope” that he might once again experience freedom if he agreed to treatment. This was a paradoxical request on the part of the lawyers, considering McAdoo’s reasoning for robbing the bank in the first place. For McAdoo, the best possible resolution to the situation was not what his lawyers wanted; he had reached the place he wanted to be.
In any event, the court didn’t agree with the public defenders. McAdoo was sentenced to 188 months. He was also told that he owed a lump sum of $2,502.02, due immediately.
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Behind the scenes
Fantastic news: today it was announced that Outside in America is a finalist for an Online News Association award. We set out to cover an under-reported humanitarian crisis affecting huge swathes of the western US, believing it was an issue of such importance that it deserved its own section in a major newspaper – and its own homelessness editor, the nation’s first. We’re delighted to receive this recognition.
In June we released our film on the largest homeless encampment in Hawaii, where around 200 people inhabit a seaside patch of land that is alternately hailed as a ground-breaking social experiment or condemned as a health hazard. It lacks municipal electricity and toilets, but its head, Twinkle Borge, maintains a firm hand. She incorporates traditional Hawaiian principles and oversees a female-led leadership structure, giving the camp the feel of a matriarchy.
Our correspondent in Honolulu, Liz Barney, tells us the film was shared widely, and that a few weeks later it helped prompt officials to host a meeting with Twinkle (second from right in the photo above). They discussed ways to integrate Twinkle’s approach in state policy. We’ll be keeping an eye on the conversation as it evolves.
Finally, in response to our story this month about the use of inmate labor to clear homeless encampments in Portland – including camps that the inmates may have once inhabited – the Multnomah County sheriff’s office released a statement. It noted that some inmates enjoy being on work crews because they offer time outdoors and, in certain cases, the possibility of a reduced sentence. It also cited a line from the Oregon constitution, which says that adults in custody may be sentenced to work “as hard as the taxpayers who provide for their upkeep”.
Last but not least
William “Gordon” Kinzer’s path to Mark Zuckerberg’s doorstep began some six decades ago in northern Idaho, where he grew up. Kinzer’s mother was a nurse and his father a sexton, according to court filings. Kinzer became an accountant; his clients included the Clorox Company and Blue Shield of California. In 1978 he moved to San Francisco, where he lived off and on for over 30 years – for short periods in the 1980s and 1990s he was a civilian contractor for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“William has a child-like innocence about him,” a longtime friend, Bill Kennedy, is quoted as saying in the court records. “William is the type of person who will do anything for a friend and ask for nothing in return.” But this judgment of Kinzer’s character is open to question.
For almost a decade, Kinzer lived in a sunny central neighborhood not far fromthe home later purchased by Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, who has numerous guards stationed outside the hilltop residence. For reasons not explained in the records, however, things began to go sideways for Kinzer. By 2015, he was homeless, living in his car not far from one of the richest people on the planet. Kennedy offered him space in his own home, also a short distance from Zuckerberg.
|Outside in America: learn more about our ongoing homelessness project|
As Kennedy acknowledges, Kinzer might have had mental-health issues. In 2015, Kinzer became subject to a restraining order after Zuckerberg’s guards said Kinzer shouted epithets such as “slave” and “monkey” at them. And this June, guards alleged that he drove past them several times and yelled at them. At one point it became apparent that his airbag became deployed, and he struck another car. Afterwards Kinzer drove to a police station, where it transpired that he did not have a valid license.
For now, Kinzer’s motivations are a mystery. The court documents mention his shame over his time spent living in his car, and it is easy to reach for platitudes about the resentment he may have felt toward the plutocrat newcomer. Kinzer’s public defender declined to make him available for an interview. And relatives did not want to talk. “Gordon has not been part of our family for many, many years,” said one. “For this to resurface, it’s just a nightmare.” We may discover more next month, when Kinzer is due back in court.
Do you have an experience of homelessness to share with the Guardian? Get in touch