by Sheli Ellsworth
Thirty-three-years old, Shawn Hittle is a street performer who specializes in fire spinning. Fire performance typically involves moving and throwing objects like batons or rings made with wicks which can sustain a large enough flame to create an artistic effect. He attends a group that meets near the Seabridge Amphitheater in Oxnard for fire spinning tutorials and practice. “There are a lot of different techniques used. Sometimes we juggle fire and there are elements of martial arts we experiment with,” says Hittle.
Hittle grew up on a farm in Illinois where he was a member of 4-H and bred Dutch black and white tuxedo rabbits for show. He graduated high school with a 3.3 grade point average and went on to work in construction doing everything from framing to flooring. He took some online computer classes aspiring to work as a software technician.
Hoping for a job with his uncle, Hittle moved to Ventura with his girlfriend in 2018. His uncle had expressed enthusiasm for the burgeoning marijuana industry and promised Hittle opportunities. Little did heknow, his uncle was living out of his car and the commercial pot growing industry was more difficult than either had anticipated.
After six months, Hittle’s girlfriend grew tired of living in a tent and returned home. Since then, Hittle has been couch surfing and relies on his skateboard for transportation. Hittle is one of the city’s many homeless.
Hittle says that he gave up looking for employment. Like most homeless, he also has an ID problem. He has a cell phone, but it is not always in working order. “Because I skate everywhere, my phone takes a beating. Half the time, I’m not sure if it is working.”
Hittle has been fortunate. He has friends that occasionally volunteer a meal and bed here and there to him. He also receives supplemental food benefits through SNAP.
He has lived in Ventura longer than any previous location since he left home. Because his mother moved a lot, Hittle attended six different high schools in Illinois. He has the occasional call from his sister but is not in touch with any other relatives. Hittle says he would consider free housing but is not keen on oversight. “I stay out of trouble, so someone asking me where I have been or what I have been doing is unnecessary.”
He also says that many homeless seem to be a target of police. “When you know you haven’t done anything wrong, having the police stop you and ask questions is disturbing.” He says that Ventura is pretty low-key compared to some of the places he has lived and is surprised the police even bother.
Safety hasn’t been an issue for Hittle—yet—but he does admit that many of the city’s homeless have challenges beyond homelessness. “At least 40% of the homeless people here have some type of mental disability,” he says.” For Hittle, the situation is temporary. He hopes that the future will open some doors—until then fire spinning on the promenade keeps him busy.