Homeless Man Hired To Guard Cemetery In Exchange For Home
Vandals broke into one of the oldest cemetery west of the Mississippi in April 2011, toppling and smashing 26 headstones. It took almost a year and $28,000 for volunteers to repair the damage in Marysville, Calif. And just when the work was complete, hoodlums struck again, knocking over and smashing 10 more. "It's very upsetting," said Roberta Shurtz, the chairwoman of the Marysville Cemetery board. She says that she would install security cameras, if the city could afford it.
The Marysville Police may have come up with a much niftier solution. His name is Donald "Shortstack" Oliver, a local homeless man, who in exchange for an on-site trailer, will guard the 162-year-old cemetery with the help of his dog, Rosie.
"I never thought in my lifetime I'd be overseeing a graveyard but, hey, the good Lord has his ways," Oliver told Sacramento TV station KTXL. And he's moved by his new purpose. "You should respect the people who are buried here," he said. "Each life, every headstone has a story."
And 58-year-old Oliver, with his long white beard and ponytail, probably has many stories. He's been homeless for three years. "I never gave up, but I can't say I wasn't real close," he told the news cameras. And he seems like a good choice for the job: Oliver already had been working with the police to help them manage Marysville's homeless population.
The Northern California town isn't the only place trying to tap the homeless as a resource. In a controversial experiment at the South by Southwest Music Festival earlier this year, an ad agency gave homeless individuals wireless gadgets, as well as T-shirts reading "I'm a 4G hotspot." Techie folks who needed to check their emails or update their statuses could then sit nearby, and pay the "hotspot" a few dollars for the privilege.
But Oliver's job at the cemetery doesn't have any of the problematic overtones of turning a homeless person into a device to help rich people play on the internet. "It's like a step up for me because I've been homeless," Oliver explained. "I got something to do now that's worthwhile."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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