Homeless Man Hired To Guard Cemetery In Exchange For Home

Donald Shortstack Oliver homeless cemetary guardVandals 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.

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"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."

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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

Staff Writer

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.

Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at claire.gordon@teamaol.com. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.

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yoyo4ever

"...$28,000 for volunteers to repair the damage...", dang, I've been volunteering for free all these years...

October 23 2012 at 11:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry

I think that's a great idea, giving a homeless man a job watching a cemetery and he gets a home and a salary too! I thinf they should give him a pump shotgun loaded with shells full of rock salt for those low-lifes that get their jollys defacing headstones. That's real sick. I have a cposin that makes those and they range from a standard price like $200 and then you can go to the moon if you have the money. He does ALL the engraving, the words,numbers and fancy stuff too. He puts a lot of time and care in making these headstones.Too bad there's alot of idiots that get their jollys smashing headstones with sledgehammers.

July 03 2012 at 3:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
theguildedscribe

God knows the number of hairs protruding from his beard.

June 29 2012 at 10:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
HeyFatBoy

I think we need to direct tax dollars into an independent committee to investigate this. Then take the imitative to continue spending for an oversight committee that will monitor the sub committees interpretation of the data. This accurately reported data will then be presented to the federal, state and local governing bodies who will not be unable to report and or deal with it. Subsequently more tax dollars will be redirected in hiring a larger government body and create new facilities to address this issue accurately. Of course your taxes will not increase. Another one will just be made up to add to one of your bills. This is perfectly justified. Its been working perfectly well since the 60's. God Bless America .. he's the only one left!

June 28 2012 at 5:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Turtle

Having worked in a cemetery for 24 years, I think this is an excellent solution. I do believe his presence alone will deter future vandalism. Should it not completely, it will prevent as much damage as seen before. I applaude the powers that be for this idea. God bless you all. (FYI- the correct spelling of the word cemetery, is just that. ... ery, not ary. Good rule to follow? Do not TAR(R)Y in the cemeTERY)

June 28 2012 at 4:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Turtle's comment
HeyFatBoy

I have the same issue with the word DICtionery.

June 28 2012 at 5:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

The Secular Media is running the word "Bizarre" into the ground.

Some of the Media's Reporting is very "Bizarre" indeed.

June 28 2012 at 4:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marianne

Maybe, until the "hoodlums" come back and hurt him and/or his dog. Good luck to him.

June 28 2012 at 2:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jrp1947

the feds have a lot of old FEMA mobile trailers that could be used to house the homeless in return for simple jobs like this. I am sure there are plenty of homeless people who would trade work like this for a place to stay. It is not a final answer to getting them back in to society but it is a way to help them achieve that goal in a respectable way.No free handouts but a way to have a place to stay until they can get their own. i like it when I hear local government getting creative to solve two problems with one solution. good job Marysville.

June 28 2012 at 2:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to jrp1947's comment
Julie

Awesome! More cities should look into this idea. Cemetary gets watched over and a homeless person has a home, even if it was a travel trailer, it beats the streets.

June 28 2012 at 2:07 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Joe

The homeless caring for the lifeless....only in America!

June 28 2012 at 1:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joe's comment
alycemd

He's doing a needed job, so now he is no longer homeless. Is this a job YOU would want to do?

June 28 2012 at 2:16 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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