Giving a face to the homeless

“In 2000 I moved to Ventura.”

by Karen Leslie, writer with heart

The heart behind the sign

What is in the mind and hearts of the homeless and why the choices to live day to day off the grid of society?

A fascinating story of the road less traveled told by, homeless by choice Stuart W. Smeltzer known as “Bear” will inspire and open up a fresh understanding into why living homeless is not necessarily a way of living in hopelessness.“Bear’s” journey started when he was born on January 23, 1965 at 7:23 am to father Charles Eugen and mother Patsy Ann Crow at Navarro County Hospital in Corsicana, Texas.

The voice behind the sign, Stuart “Bear” shares, “I don’t remember most of my childhood before the age of 6 or 7 so I am going to start my story from there. I remember living most of my life in Oklahoma and Texas. I lived with my mom and dad until then and shortly after that I lived with my dad in Tulsa. I was 12 when I moved back with my mom until I was 17. My mom passed away in 2008 and my father passed away in 2014.

My grandfather made wicker lawn furniture and one summer day when I was 7, my cousin and I went out on his 100 acres to cut the trees he used, and while I was walking down the aisle between the trees, I walked into a sickle my cousin was swinging back and it took my eyelet out. I am still blind in that eye.

I graduated from high school at 17 and started traveling the US at 19. I got a job as dishwasher at the Pire House in Key West, FL. They put me through college to be a cook which I helped pay with what I made. I worked for them until I was 26 when I lost my voice to cancer in 1996.

In 2000 I moved to Ventura. I have been homeless the whole time. In the last 8 years I have not been in any trouble and have traveled from San Diego to San Francisco to Oklahoma and more.

I enjoy the way I live because it is the way I like to live. I don’t steal or take things that are not mine. I work for a few people and have many friends. I have done artwork and written a book with all my poems in it and I find a way to earn my way doing part time work when I can find it or get it. Some of the reasons for living the way I do are because of the cost of living, so I live simply in a tent because I like being outside and sleeping outside and only keep the things I need one day at a time. I use what little money I earn to live on and have found this is the best way to be and stay happy.

But, just because I am homeless does not mean I have to act or look homeless. I do my best to stay clean and I treat people with respect. I don’t fly a sign that says, “Homeless and hungry” and when I do it says, “Willing to work”.

I have a saying, live by treating others the way you want to be treated and show the same respect you want others to show you. Life is what we make of it. It can be good or bad and it is up to us to decide what makes us happy. I “choose” to be happy with my life and the way I live it makes me the happiest.”

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