To follow up on our visit to the American River on our 2017 summer fieldwork, you may remember that we interviewed Bar who lived along the river.
While we were in Sacramento, we explored the American River north of town. One evening, we camped near a fellow in a neat temp compound a short walk from the shore. He was alternately sunbathing and organizing his camp. I had heard about the homeless camps along the American River north of town and was curious.
The man’s name was Bar and he’d lived along the river for most of the last ten years. He shared a camp with another man that Bar took care of who was getting on in years. The local police knew he took care of the area and kept the “young bucks” out of trouble. They told him that if he kept his camp clean he could expect the cops to leave him alone. I sat down for a formal interview with Bar. His dark skin and bright eyes glowed handsomely in the sunset light.
He told me that about half of the folks who camped at the river were homeless because they struggled with mental illness or addiction, meth and alcohol being the most common. Bar himself had struggled with substances in the past and was clean now. “I feel for those people, but I don’t want to hang around them,” he said.
After out talk and some urging, Bar came over for a fish dinner at the shantyboat. He looked around and said, “Exactly right. You folks know how to live! Someday I’m gonna get myself something just like this.” Bar was a good neighbor and we were sorry to say goodbye as we made our way downriver. I heard later that the local police had completely cleaned out the camps along the river.