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 [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.