‘A new feeling and joyfulness’: Man with cancer and no home continues to carry hope
For Clarke Shaw, life on the mountain was slow moving.
After years of hard work and varied assignments around town, the simple task of filling gas was welcomed. He enjoyed a quiet and slow pace on the San Juan Ridge and life was good. Shaw never imagined that he would one day be homeless.
Shaw purchased a mobile home in a park across from the gas station where he worked. He enjoyed a few good years there until he discovered that the man he bought the mobile home from did not actually own it. When a new owner purchased his home at auction, Shaw found himself without shelter.
One of Shaw’s loyal friends invited him to live with him in an old trailer near work. An old house that shared the landscape was uninhabitable, but together they were going to work the land and fix up the place. The men’s plan was interrupted when a nearby wildfire blazed through the area, burning hundreds of acres of land, including the property where they lived.
While the trailer survived the wildfire, downed trees exposed it. Since local law prohibits individuals from residing on property without a livable permanent structure, Clarke had to leave. Without a place to stay, Shaw was dropped off at Utah’s Place.
Shaw came to Utah’s Place as a homeless man, with a pacemaker, and in his 70s. His meager monthly retirement check cannot even cover the average cost of renting a room in Nevada County, making it challenging to find adequate new housing during a housing shortage and pandemic.
At Utah’s Place, he is known as a gentle man with a peaceful and quiet spirit. When Shaw first came to the shelter, he really enjoyed the food.
“I would eat any muffin that came down the road,” joked Shaw.
A few months ago, shelter staff noticed that Shaw was not eating as usual. When questioned about the change, he informed them that it was difficult for him to swallow. Concerned staff escorted Shaw to the doctor, where he was unexpectedly diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
Shaw shudders when he thinks about where he would be if not sheltering and recovering at Hospitality House. He would likely be on the street, undiagnosed and without necessary care. He is especially grateful for his case manager, Fred Skeen, (also an RN) who has stayed by his side.
Skeen remarks, “It has been professionally and personally rewarding working with Clarke. He is a guy with financial limitations and no family. We are his family. It is a delight and joy to work with someone like him. Clarke is a real sweetheart and so appreciative of all we do.”
Since receiving his diagnosis, Shaw has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy and spending his nights in the Recuperative Care Dorm at Utah’s Place. This special dorm was introduced in October 2018 in partnership with Nevada County and Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. The Recuperative Care Dormitory is designed exclusively to welcome homeless patients released from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital to Hospitality House where they can continue to rest and recuperate from their ailments and injuries, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the shelter.
When community members became aware of Shaw’s condition, they responded with love and support and continue to respond today. Cases of meal replacement drinks are regularly dropped off at the shelter for Shaw to help him gain weight. Individuals and local businesses, inspired to help Shaw and others like him, contribute monetarily to cover the costs of needed supplies.
“I have a new feeling and joyfulness to move on and up in this world,” said Shaw. “To not get negative or despondent in the world over certain problems like I was because of my discovery of cancer.”
Thanks to supporters, doctors say that Shaw is likely to make a full recovery. For now, he has a warm place to stay and attentive Hospitality House staff and case manager by his side. With shelter, food, and care, he can focus on getting well instead of surviving another day on the street. Because the community believes in him, he believes in himself. Shaw has gained 10 pounds so far and is full of hope for a brighter, better tomorrow.
Kindy McCullough is the community outreach officer at Hospitality House
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