I met John Kelley when I was a student living in Pacific Beach. He was part Native American and a serious alcoholic. If I ever found myself homeless and couldn’t make it to Hawaii, I’d head to San Diego; where it’s 70 degrees and sunny most of the year. John Kelley presented himself at my door one night and I invited him in. Though I’d been friendly to him before, out on the streets, I don’t know how he knew where I lived. We smoked a bowl together and he gave me a duffel bag with his only possessions in the world in it, asking me to send it to his mother in Virginia. I had no idea how to go about doing this. I never saw John Kelley again after that night.

In San Francisco I knew a guy named Sam. He’d served in the Navy during the 1960s and they’d performed some terrible experiments on him. As a result, his abdomen was wracked with tumors. Even so, he had managed, for 20-plus years, to ride his bicycle up and down the coast between San Francisco and San Diego. When I knew him the tumors were spreading, and he couldn’t perform that ride any longer. He found himself more or less stuck in San Francisco. He’d developed a reasonably healthy attitude about it all, and didn’t appear to harbor any ill will toward the government that ruined his health.

My friend McDougal isn’t exactly homeless. Until recently he lived in a Ford Explorer. He plays folk music and chooses to spend his time on the road, traveling from one festival to the next, meeting people and living his life the way he wants to. Recently his Explorer finally gave up the ghost and now he’s running an Indiegogo.com campaign to raise funds for a van. Check him out the next time he rolls through Chico.

I picked up a hitchhiker named Gus who is financially well-off and homeless by choice. He used to run an organic flower farm in Santa Cruz. Now he travels around Northern California working as a consultant with various organic farmers in the area.

I just met a nice kid named Thaddeus who has spent the last couple years riding the rails all across this great country of ours. He told me that when he’s out on the road he panhandles some but always takes work when he can, even though he makes less money at it, because working gives him a sense of satisfaction. He also told me he is often advised that he needs to get off the drugs, even though he’s already sober.

A very dear friend of mine was homeless for awhile before she landed in the Sabbath House. Her mental illness had convinced her that the apartment she was living in was terminally unsafe. The furthest thing from “homeless by choice,” she was never able to find a combination of drugs that worked to treat her condition or left her feeling like a human being. Eventually, the illness took her from us.

Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.