Equal Indolence: The Homeless & The County Social System Intended To Reclaim Them

Guy Bennett’s life is a mess.
A little bit is known about his roots. He was born on December 5, 1964. A drifter, he spent time in Wyoming and Nevada before making his way to California. He has been perennially homeless, unless you consider a tent to be his home. Until recently he was living in the riverbed of what was then the dry Cajon Creek, not far from the junction of the 15 Freeway and Highway 138. With the second of this winter’s deluges, he was obliged to move his tent up out of the creek, which in recent weeks and days was transformed into a raging bank-to-bank river.
No one, including Guy Bennett, knows the full range of what led him to this juncture. Clearly, his life has been a succession of bad experiences. He speaks of having been forced into a foster home against his will at a young age, which explicates, perhaps, his resistance to authority. For most people, rules are good. Guy Bennett is not like most people. He will point out, even if you spend only a little time with him, that sometimes authority figures abuse their role in life, including cops, politicians and everyone with authority right down the line.
Those painful experiences with people also serve to explain Bennett’s isolation. His aversion is less to people than it is to the society of people and the institutions they inhabit. Those institutions have for the most part neglected him and on those occasions when they have not been neglectful, they appear to have failed him.
But Bennett’s lot in life has not been entirely externally imposed. His fate is every bit as much, if not more, a function of his inner self. For starters, he is mentally ill. It is hard for a layman to define which category or categories of psychosis he fits into, but he is clearly not in possession of his full range of faculties. He is resistant in the extreme to advice, even when it is sincerely offered with his best interest in mind. After being told in advance of the seasonal storms that he should remove his tent from the creek bed, he remained there. It was only when the storm demonstrated to him in physical terms what was to befall him if he remained in place that he moved up onto the riverbank near a clump of bushes. He has an affinity for intoxicants, if they come his way, though that is rare, given his financial state. Passersby have bought him alcohol. When other vagabonds who had set up temporary quarters nearby offered to smoke some of their methamphetamine with him recently, he took them up on the offer. When assistance, real assistance in the form of food or an article of clothing, is offered him, he does not seem grateful, but will remark to his benefactor that he would be able to get by anyway.
Still, other times he becomes morose, saying there is nothing in life for him and that he wants to die or that he wished he had the means to kill himself.
There is a paradox to Guy Bennett. He is absolutely incapable of fending for himself. There appears little prospect he ever will. He does not have the patience, skill set, means, attitude or social grace to fit in with what passes as normal society. It seems doubtful he would ever be able to hold a job. Yet he has exhibited a remarkable endurance in living in conditions a huge segment of the population could not hack. He has survived conditions that would kill many others. If he were a woman, or if he had children, or if he were a veteran, then there would be some kind of assistance for him that he might rely on. For him, there is no meaningful assistance. As a man who cannot fend for himself, he must fend for himself.
Reduced to living not only off the land but on it, the elements have taken their toll on him. Last fall, when it rained, he, all of his clothes, his tent and his bedding were soaked. Living in the dampness, he contracted pneumonia. Somehow – no one quite knows how – he wangled a membership in IEHP, the Inland Empire Health Plan. But when he went to IEHP for assistance, the care they offered him was inadequate. They would not hospitalize him or get him out of his wet tent. The health plan did not arrange for him to have his bedding dried. He was turned out into the cold November air, which a few weeks later became the even colder December night air. He is bitter about the way he was shunned by IEHP, in no little measure because he has not had a proper bath or shower for going on eight months. His experience with the Inland Empire Health Plan, which has so far refused to provide him with the care he needs and to which he is entitled as a member, has added to his disillusionment. “Nobody cares about my life,” he laments. “What’s the use? It’ll never work.” Others have sought to assist him by telling him he simply needs to have faith and change his attitude. But when they intercede on his behalf with IEHP, they are met with an object demonstration of what Bennett has been dealing with. To even consider the matter, IEHP insists that those who are working on his behalf furnish it with Bennett’s IEHP membership number and his social security number. While Bennett previously allowed his medical plan membership number to be coaxed from him, it is not clear he even knows what his social security number is.
He is his own worst enemy and then some. Last year he made his way to a cold weather warming shelter in Victorville. While there, he had come by some cigarettes. When he continuously insisted on being allowed to leave the locked shelter to go outside into the cold air at random hours of the late night and early morning, he was banned from the facility for a year.
San Bernardino County’s Department of Human Services has 8,145 employees and a $2.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2018-19. Included in that budget is $481.9 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and $116 million for the Department of Public Health, $1.2 billion for what in the old days was called “welfare” and $8.3 million for what is referred to as “wraparound” services. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department receives from the county general fund $698.6 million per year. This does not include the separate funding it is given by the cities of Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, Big Bear, Needles, Adelanto, Victorville, Apple Valley and Hesperia under contracts with those municipalities to provide them with law enforcement services. The sheriff’s department employs a homeless person’s task force, what they call the HOPE Program, consisting of five deputies whose primary function is looking after the homeless population in the county’s unincorporated areas.
Efforts to vector the sheriff’s homeless task force to intervene and provide Guy Bennett with the assistance he needs to extract himself from his current situation have failed. The department vaguely makes reference to having the Department of Human Services deal with him. Calls to the Department of Human Services regarding Bennett and his situation are patched through to the Department of Behavioral Health. People at the end of the line there refer the caller to the sheriff’s department.
If an individual were to intervene and take action, do what the sheriff’s department, the human services department and the Inland Empire Health Plan have failed to do, pack up Guy Bennett and his belongings, put some hot meals in him, give him a shower, launder and dry his clothes, bed clothes and his tent, put him in a safer, drier and warmer place, and seek for him both medical and psychological assistance, he would protest, and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, which has a $91.2 million budget, would very likely prosecute the offender for kidnapping.
Clearly what is needed is for someone or some entity – perhaps the Department of Behavioral Health or the appropriate psychologist with the Inland Empire Health Plan – to see the situation, gain some insight and understanding of his problems, evaluate him physically and mentally and get him the appropriate treatment.
Recently, some parishoners with the Devore Truth Church made a visit to him. Trying to be helpful, they told him they had a place where he could spend the night. Leaving his tent and other belongings near the creek, he went with them. They took him to the aforementioned warming center in Victorville, where they dropped him off. When he was not allowed in because he was banned there, he had to spend the night out in the cold after he spent some time inside a nearby restaurant trying to stay warm. He made his way back to Cajon. The next time the church members came to offer him assistance, Bennett assured them he was okay.
Guy Bennett remains out among the harshest of elements that Southern California has to offer. He rocks back and forth, from what? His deranged mental condition? A neurological disorder? The freezing cold?
He has made a string of horrible decisions. He, more than anyone else can be, is responsible for descending into the abyss that is his life. While there is no sign that he is violent or mean or cruel, he is a stubborn and otherwise thoroughly unlikeable fellow. His tent, his clothes, his blankets are saturated and the temperature is forecast to plunge nightly this weekend into the 20s and teens. Snow is likely to reach the 2,000 foot level. Guy Bennett is a human being. If someone does not act, he is going to perish.
-Mark Gutglueck








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