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California State Workers Kill Homeless Woman

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Deke Farrow

Earlier this month, workers from Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, were set on the task of cleaning up a homeless encampment discovered along Highway 99 in Modesto. Activities came to a stop once the body of 33-year-old Shannon Marie Bigley was found dead, run over by one of their vehicles.

Bigley's last known street address was in nearby Stockton, the largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy, and she is believed to have relocated to Modesto only recently.

Persons on the scene believe that Bigley had still been asleep inside of a cardboard box, before being crushed by the heavy machinery.

The incident is under joint investigation by the Fresno area office of the California Highway Patrol and the Modesto Police Department. Some 4 months earlier, a union representing Caltrans employees had filed a grievance regarding such evictions and cleanups of the many homeless encampments, arguing that the workers were not being provided with adequate protective gear or training for those duties. The state rejected the grievance. Normally for such evictions and cleanups in the region, a notice is posted on site 72 hours in advance, with a supervisor present for the removal explicitly to ensure none of the homeless are caught passed out, with law enforcement also notified to be on hand for escorting any persons remaining elsewhere. On this occasion however, none of those things apparently happened.

And so, whether by negligence or by something even more detestable, the young woman nicknamed "Sunshine" was bulldozed to her death.

Outside of the US, particularly in the UK and in Australia, homeless are widely referred to as "rough sleepers" because they often have no other options but the roughest of conditions for finding a brief respite. And it is considerably no different domestically, with the Obama administration having quietly stripped the majority of federal funding for shelters nationwide unless they purpose themselves strictly with helping those homeless released directly from whatever incarceration, or those homeless in need of drug rehabilitation. I myself learned firsthand that unless you are a felon or a junkie, then there simply is no sanctioned help for you, regardless if you have children, regardless of what exactly your story is. In many communities, churches will try to pick up the slack when tax breaks for such a thing are available, but always with the small writing of being required to join said church's membership for services, and more often than not with the expectations of offering free labor for the efforts. And through my many long years spent in the vocation of digging graves, I also witnessed firsthand how cemeteries can meet their busiest times during the wintry months. Partially this is due to the given frailty of senior citizens being complicated by the season's harshness, but even more from those unfortunate souls compelled by the red tape of our society to sleep roughly in the elements.

Through my very own years of homelessness, I also learned how migratory these domestic refugees are compelled to be, chased from one neighborhood to the next, from one state to another. For this reason am I convinced that official numbers from the US census are always in the wrong, because one cannot count a moving target. But also because many communities will distort the truth of what they are faced with, either from ignorant denial, or from the breed of suppression that comes from outright shame.

Suffice to say, as numerous as homeless are, realistically their untimely deaths can be the results of such accidents as what befell Miss Bigley in Modesta. Just in this year alone, of the stories actually reported on by the more responsible journalists, a homeless man was struck and killed in February by a garbage truck in San Francisco. In May, another homeless man was also struck and killed by a garbage truck, in Detroit. The majority of such sad stories somehow manage to avoid any headlines, of course.

Such a horrible fate would seem to happen all too often, for the ones we collectively turn a blind eye to.

Author: Richard Caldwell