Wednesday, April 16, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Hangtown Haven profile: Haunted by a terrible home life

DSC_7465e

SEHILA MORITZ makes her tent feel homey. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

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From page A1 | November 08, 2013 | 13 Comments

Hangtown Haven, the city’s legal encampment for the homeless, will end its one-year experiment in communal living on Nov. 15 when its Temporary Use Permit expires. The camp has more than 30 residents, a Community Council of four residents who run the camp and enforce its regulations for the safety of all and a host of volunteers. This is the last of  a four-part series of  camp resident profiles. 

Sheila Moritz, 61, has only been a resident of Hangtown Haven since July. Being homeless was something she never imagined happening to her. When she was living in Seattle and working as a claims examiner for a medical insurance provider, she spent seven years as part of an organization that regularly fed the homeless. “While we were serving them, I always wondered, how did you get this way?” said Moritz.

Moritz was born and raised in El Dorado County, the survivor of a horrible home life. “I left here when I was 16 and lived in Sacramento and then I moved to Washington where I lived for 15 years,” said Moritz. She is an attractive lady with bright brown eyes, carefully dressed, even in a camp without shower facilities.

“I worked as a claims adjuster for 25 years. My company laid off five people in my unit, but I wasn’t laid off, ” said Moritz. “I thought I was so fortunate.”

The company had fewer people, but the production expectations remained the same. “I was doing the work of all the people they’d laid off and my own,” said Moritz. “I did that for five years and, finally, I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Stress from her job and its demands and undealt-with post-traumatic stress from her childhood caused a breakdown. “I knew I needed to leave two years before I actually did. I knew something bad was happening to me,” she said.

Through her employers help, she was able to get unemployment. “I thought how am I going to survive on $1,600 a month employment? Now I’m surviving on $5 a week,” said Moritz who collects recyclables along the road and turns them in for redemption as her income. ”I’ve worked since I was 16 and I’ve always taken care of myself and others.”

After unemployment ran out, Moritz took a job as a live-in care provider so she could have a roof over her head. But working 12-hour shifts with grumpy, demanding men who yelled at her brought back childhood fears and she left Washington to return to California.

When she was rejected by siblings and her daughter in Pine Grove, Moritz was ready to end her life.

“Being out there in the world with no one to help me sent me over the edge. I ended up in one of the El Dorado County ‘T’ houses for nine months. They went above and beyond to help me,” she said. She suffers from severe depression that is exacerbated by medication.

From the treatment house, Moritz came to Hangtown Haven. “This is the best place I’ve been since I left my job,” said Moritz  ”I feel safe and secure. There is a sense of family here. We’re all different people and sometimes, like a family, we get on each other’s nerves, but if you need anything, there are at least six people lining up to help you.

“Becky (Rebecca Nylander) told me when I moved in that there’s magic here and it’s true. Little things keep happening to help me. I finally let God take over my life and maybe that’s what let me see all the little things that are helping me. Even with the closing of the camp, I believe that something will happen for us. God takes care of us. We’re in the worst place in our lives we could be, but we are making it.”

Moritz is planning to go to the nomadic shelter when the camp closes, but is apprehensive about it. “It’s easier, I think, for men than for women to live with just what you can carry in a backpack and getting one shower a week. I don’t know how to fill in my time during the day. I’m not afraid of anyone here, but I am afraid of the outside homeless. They don’t like us. Some people choose this life and they don’t want to change, but we all have to change.” Still, she said she isn’t in panic mode yet. “Something will happen,” she said.

Moritz applied for Social Security disability due to her diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was recently approved to begin receiving disability beginning in December. She wants to find a stable place to live and help people who are still homeless.

“I want to live, not just survive, and I want to volunteer my time. I’ve already made a list of places that I think I could help.”

With her family background, Moritz would like to work with chemically dependent youth. “I understand how something like that can happen,” she said.

The Mountain Democrat wishes to thank the individuals who shared their stories and commend them for their courage in allowing others to see into their lives and their pain. 

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or wschultz@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 13 comments

  • Valerie MischNovember 07, 2013 - 12:08 pm

    It's just amazing to me that Placerville, with all the needless, 'must have' projects they have going on, cannot seem to find a way to keep Hangtown Haven open - while looking into more permanent arrangements for the Haven residents!!!! Thank you, Mountain Democrat, for giving names and faces to some of the residents of Hangtown Haven. Now, City of Placerville, sit down and come up with a solution!!! Enlist the services of service groups - Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary Clubs!!!! Their purpose is to help others!! Arrange with whoever owns the numerous empty stores near Hangtown Haven (Jed's Restaurant, which has been closed for YEARS!!!) to take over the building. A roof, walls, bathrooms, a kitchen, doors that lock!!! What a luxury for these folks!!! Always remember, 'There, but for the Grace of God, go I'.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • EvelynNovember 08, 2013 - 8:51 am

    Sheila: You turn upside down the "those people" stereotype.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Fran DuchampNovember 08, 2013 - 9:17 am

    There are so many useless projects happening--people going for grants for trails. This is important. this is about peoples hearts. When i think of all the things some groups are wasting money on--I get so angry. Here is yet another story of a fellow human...who doesnt want to live in someones house--they just want a helping hand to be independent. Find them land in this huge county...put the animal shelter with them. show them how to raise their own food...care for the animals...run a business-- build small structures...show them the respect they deserve. Give them air to breathe. The next meeting I go to that asks for more money for tourists--t I will bring this up. Take care of your own first. The homeless--the jobless. Im giving up on government. Everyone without a heart should step down. People in economic development or government should be sent to live in these types of camps for six months to qualify to make any choices on how a "whole" should be.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • EvelynNovember 08, 2013 - 9:34 am

    11/12/2013 City Council Agenda - Item 11.1: Request to Extend the Expiration Date of Special Temporary Use Permit 2012-02 from November 15, 2013 to July 1, 2014 for the Hangtown Haven Temporary Homeless Encampment Located at 1688 Broadway (Mr. Rivas) ----- Recommendation by the Director of Development Services that the City Council deny the request of Hangtown Haven . . .

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  • DNovember 08, 2013 - 5:31 pm

    Instead of commenters volunteering other peoples property why don't they volunteer there own?

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  • Fran DuchampNovember 08, 2013 - 8:09 pm

    I would if I had property....how about we add up all the money being spent on bikes and trails....maybe some can go to paying for land for these people. http://edctc.org/L/PM_Feb2013_C.pdf PENDING GRANT FUNDED PROJECTS.....lots of money also in promoting "tourism"...although there are much needed jobs for those that live here. There is many acres of land here in the county...put it to a vote on a ballet--instead of raises for people in government--use the money to buy county land to help out the homeless. Or better yet...the government can lease already owned land for a dollar--dont they do that for some already?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Phil VeerkampNovember 08, 2013 - 8:24 pm

    Fran, Perks Ct. is such a property. All properties have NIMBY activists. You have at times envisioned land suitable for gardening/farming as a large self supporting rehab home site. Talk to Alan Ergott of the American River Conservancy.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • freemasonNovember 09, 2013 - 10:04 am

    One only has to look at the PPD Chiefs message concerning "Habitual Transient Offender Contacts" Reporting crime stats in the city. Records beginning July 2012 to Oct 2013 indicate a 92% increase in contacts year over year with broadway (584 contacts) followed distantly by Main St. (92 contacts) and Placerville Dr. (88 contacts) with a significant increase in property crimes (burglaries and thefts). The homeless services are also located in the area of concern (Upper Broadway) now look at the number of vacant storefronts nearby. What small business would chance an investment there? Any retail property that stands empty is a drain on the owner and city.

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  • EvelynNovember 09, 2013 - 3:00 pm

    freemason: I would like to see some data regarding those storefronts. In my memory those vacancies preceded Hangtown Haven by at least several years.

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  • EvelynNovember 09, 2013 - 12:54 pm

    WILL WORK FOR FREE - HERE (2 hr. video)

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  • Phil VeerkampNovember 09, 2013 - 12:57 pm

    2 hour video??? - pay me.

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  • Phil VeerkampNovember 09, 2013 - 4:40 pm

    OK. I've invested 2 (TWO) hours in "THE ZEITGEIST MOVEMENT" and "GLOBAL SUSTAINABILITY" Now pay me. I've already worked for free. And now PAY ME!!!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • freemasonNovember 09, 2013 - 4:28 pm

    Evelyn I am working on the data, I drove by just today and counted at least 15 in one shopping center and nearly as many transients. I really don't want to get into a chicken or the egg discussion, point is that as long as upper broadway is the epicenter for the eldoco homeless it is not going to improve.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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