The following story is my true account of what happened when I was a young, spirited, do-gooder girl, making donuts.
This morning I met a homeless person when I noticed her standing outside the donut shop where I made donuts. She was standing outside the big glass window looking in the shop. She was wearing a plain, flowered cotton dress, dirty tennis shoes, and holding a white plastic shopping bag which I’m sure contained all her stuff.
I waved for her to come in, and I asked her, “Can I help you?”
She answered, “Could you help me get a little something to eat?”
My usual response would be to give her a dollar, tell her my name, ask hers and wish her a good day. I said, “Why don’t you just pick out what you want?”
She accepted quickly. I think many street people might have humbly said thanks and then gone about their day. She picked out two fat maple bars and, as she approached the counter, ordered some coffee. I asked if she liked bananas. She said yes, so I got her two. I said bananas are good food to have along for the day.
She asked me, “Will you sit and eat with me?”
Oh my gosh, I thought, for the last couple of years that’s what I’d wanted to do — sit and chat with a homeless person. The homeless people I met were always very mysterious to me, and I wondered who and what they really were.
My mother always told me, “Stay away, they’re dirty people and they’ll hurt you.” I would laugh at my mom, and then just smile and run outside and go hang out with my friends. Still, we would watch the street people, for they were really amazing in their own way.
I had always wanted to ask a street person to join me for a meal. Since I’d seen this lady just watching us making donuts through the window every morning, I had wanted to ask her things about her past, present and future.
I had always wondered if panhandlers would be willing to give up primetime panhandling time to just chat with me, an upper-class, do-gooder, spirited girl, so here was my chance to have that chat. She was offering it to me, instead of the other way around, so I felt this must have been the reason why I left early to unlock for work that day. It had happened that way so I could eat breakfast with this street person.
So when she asked me to join her, I said, “Yes, I’d like that.”
Her story unfolded in bits and pieces as she hungrily ate her meal. She slept at a bus stop in town whenever she wasn’t at her camp that she had set up on the river bottoms. They call it Hobo Junction, and she said it’s at the edge of town by the railroad tracks.
Her story was quite amazing. She told me how she slept at this camp and that she had met a lady that morning who said she could stay until next month if she only had 20 bucks. She talked of her husband’s death a long time ago. She talked about her children, now all grown up.
“They don’t love me,” she said. “They blame me for their father’s death.” She cried as she talked about how they didn’t love her. She didn’t seem terribly embarrassed by her tears, but I nevertheless felt the need to offer my comment: “Tears are over what matters most to us.”
I could tell she needed to chat with someone, as I did also on this day. I just wanted to do for her as she was doing for me without her even knowing it.
All of a sudden, I asked her what she would do if she had a day where she could do whatever she wanted. She said, “I’d go shopping and I would get some pants and a nice top, and take a hot bath. I’d get so clean and scrub all these layers of dirt off. All I really want is to feel pretty.”

In the midst of a densely populated city, a homeless woman stands alone and isolated. Art by Robert V. Whaley

She kept on going on about how she would put some good grease in her hair and she’d brush it and make it all shiny and nice, and make herself feel pretty. She cried when she talked about being pretty. I remember her saying it several times, how nice it would be to feel pretty.
I’m sure I wished her a blessed day, and I told her I must get to work — got to make them donuts. I don’t recall if I gave her any money for the day or not, or even the 20 bucks she needed for the lady that offered a room. I’m pretty sure what I gave her was just a little bit of compassion for a few moments, just as she gave me. It’s not enough. It’s never enough, but it was something.
This is a story of how I was before I myself became homeless many years ago. I’ve lived and I’ve learned, and now I’ve been where she was. So never think that you too can’t become homeless.
You could have everything — a house, a car, a family, a job — and overnight lose it all, God forbid. So no one should ever close their eyes and say, “It will never happen to me.” Because it could happen and then what would you feel like? What would you do?

Raelynn Butcher is an advocate for homeless people and resides in Marysville in Yuba County. She writes, “I work with homeless people 24/7 and I care deeply for them. I attend all meetings at City Hall and I’m a member of the Consortium of Care for both Yuba and Sutter County. Some homeless people here call me their mayor.”