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Why Did This California Mayor Spend a Night in a Cardboard Box?

May 27, 2014
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Why Did This California Mayor Spend a Night in a Cardboard Box?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva is on a quest to help the city's homeless.

Up until about six months ago, Tim Barfield worked 60 hours a week at an asphalt company. But then the 49-year-old’s boss went bankrupt — leaving him penniless.

“Down to nothing. Now some of the people I used to know tell me I can’t come to their house,” Barfield continued. “They’re afraid I’m [going to] steal something.” he explained to FOX40.

Barfield is now among the 14,000 to 16,000 homeless in Stockton, California, living in an ad hoc community of clutter and makeshift shelters under the city’s I-5 freeway. Barfield remains unemployed and adding to his financial burden is the fact that his girlfriend, whom he is living with, is pregnant and expecting in just six months.

However, things may change for Barfield, who recently had the ear of an unlikely audience: Stockton’s mayor, Anthony Silva.

While spending a night among his city’s homeless, Mayor Silva listened to Barfield’s story.

What was the mayor doing spending the night outdoors? Trying to better understand the underserved residents of his city, he explained.

“It’s shocking and it’s absolutely awful,” Silva told the Record Net. “This is not a second- or third-world country. It’s Stockton, California, and it’s a shame that we, as a community, have let things get this bad.”

For his night outside, Silva constructed a cardboard shelter duct-taped together and tucked between a garbage can and a fence, where he spent the night with two pillows, a sleeping bag and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Silva, who is teaming up with Christian organization Inner City Action to form the Homeless Commission, has unveiled a plan to create a resource center for homeless people to access computers and develop job training skills.

“I’m working with a couple developers who are interested in ponying up a little money, possibly buying a warehouse, and letting a nonprofit like Inner City Action slowly take it over so homeless folks can get job training skills,” Silva said. “If they have two arms and two legs and they’re capable of working and they want to work, we can get them those job training skills.”

MORE: Meet the Couple Who Dedicated Their Entire Life Fighting for the Homeless

The mayor also met with several other families about possibly forming a tent city.

“I’ve hit the bottom of the barrel and I didn’t know how I was [going to] climb out,” Silva said. “And that’s kind of how Stockton is right now with being bankrupt and not having enough jobs and a big homeless population.”

As for Barfield, his meeting with the mayor may yield a chance at another job. Silva told the Record Net he plans to help Barfield find work in construction.

While Stockton is certainly not the only city with a rising homeless population, recognizing it is an important step in finding a resolution and helping the unheard.

“We all need a chance,” said Barfield.

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