For older people on fixed incomes, today’s housing crisis has become a major factor in homelessness. Affordable housing and low-income shelter options have diminished just when demand has soared.
At sixty-eight years old, David “Doc” Latigue learned the hard way about the homeless trap when a relationship ended and he had to use over half his income for a single room in a bad neighborhood. At one point, his fellow renters— some on drugs and all demented—began ripping plaster off the walls in a fruitless search for hidden money they imagined the homeowner had stashed.
Then the homeowner died and the estate was sold. Doc found himself on the streets and unwilling to rent another overpriced cubicle in an unsafe house. When he wasn’t outside, he stayed nights at the Modesto Gospel Mission or the Salvation Army Shelter.
He soon learned there aren’t many places to go when forced to exit the shelters during the day, so he spent a lot of time at Beard Brook Park with other homeless folks. Doc stood out because he was always clean and well-dressed. He was well-maintained in large part because he had rented a storage shed where he kept his clothing and other essentials, an option most homeless people don’t have.
Once outside, he soon became known as a soft touch. He helped people with phone bills and necessities. He also liked to drink and kibitz with friends, often footing the bill. Most of the time, the drink of choice was a tall can of cheap beer, nursed along so it would last. With a net income just below average Modesto rent and no transportation other than buses, Doc saw no way out.
Enter Frank Ploof.
Ploof has been an outreach volunteer and advocate for people experiencing homelessness for a few years now. He’s also become a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about the complex maze of resources available for people needing housing. As soon as he met Doc, he saw an easy win.
“He had income, he had no mental health issues, his vices were minor, and most of the time, he was easy to find. He also had identification and a mailing address where he received his check,” said Ploof recently.
Ploof gathered all the information he could about Doc and found he qualified for low-income housing. He told Doc to start saving his money for deposits and rent and began taking him back and forth for appointments. He also helped him fill out the required paper work, always a headache to gather and submit.
After the usual bouts with red tape and long waits for records requests, Doc was on the waiting list for a partially-subsidized studio in downtown Modesto.
It took almost seven months before space became available, but Doc finally got inside during last Thursday’s rainstorm. Despite a bad cold and recent visit to Urgent Care, Doc was overjoyed. He was hoping to acquire a television in time to watch his beloved Oakland Raiders, who are finally winning after years of brutal losses.
“God bless you, God bless you,” he kept saying to Frank Ploof, as he marveled at his immaculate room.
Though Ploof calls Doc an “easy win,” few people would have spent the necessary hours gathering information, helping with paperwork, and providing continuous encouragement to a man who otherwise might have slipped through the cracks of our broken housing system.
Doc himself had had no idea help was available, and if he had continued living outside, his recent illness would have most likely been followed by deteriorating health, both mental and physical. That’s the common fate of people experiencing homelessness, whatever the reasons.
“Doc was unusual,” said Ploof. “He kept his phone charged so we could communicate, made it to appointments, and, most of all, he still had hope.”
But hope alone wouldn’t have been enough to get Doc inside until Frank Ploof showed up. That’s when both hope and human charity brought a man with nowhere to go into a warm, clean, home—just in time for Christmas.