The time I spent with Robert and Fritz in the “Bat Cave” changed our relationship. I felt a level of mutual trust developing. I freely asked them questions about their lives before and after becoming homeless, all the while snapping photographs and taking notes. They were very candid with their answers. I felt a mix of emotions come over me as they told their stories. I was saddened that we allow our fellow human beings to live this way and yet I was somehow inspired by the resilience of their spirit.
“What is the most difficult thing about being on the streets?” I asked. Robert and Fritz paused and glanced at each other for a moment and then Robert said “Tough question because it’s a daily struggle to survive. People just don’t care.” Fritz nodded his agreement and told me for him it was having a safe place to lay his head at night because you’re never sure what might happen. “So what’s the worst thing that ever happened to you living out here?” “I was set on fire while I was sleeping!” he said. In disbelief, I asked him to elaborate. Apparently one evening Fritz had gotten into an argument with another homeless man (he didn’t give much detail as to the who or why). “I woke up to agonizing pain, smoke and the smell of my hair and flesh burning. The smoke was so thick it stopped traffic on the off ramp and alerted CHP. I crawled my way up the embankment and onto the off ramp. They took me to Petaluma Hospital and then I got transferred to UCSF. I spent 3 months there and 2 months of it was on stomach so the skin grafts could heal. I don’t know how many surgeries I had. It was pretty rough. All I remember hearing is the screaming as they scrubbed the dead flesh off of the burn victims. No amount of morphine could dull the pain! There were many times when I prayed I would just die.”