Dakota Webb Hanson cups his hands behind head as he leans back on a stained old mattress in the middle of a bare dirt clearing, just a few yards from passing traffic along Stockton Road in Sonora.
The 22-year-old Tuolumne County native is contemplating what he would like to do with his life if he weren’t homeless.
“I want to change the world for the better,” he said while gazing up at the clear blue Friday afternoon sky. “Show people the truth.”
Being homeless is the only lifestyle Webb Hanson says he’s known since his mother died in June 2014.
Webb Hanson makes it clear that he doesn’t enjoy being homeless, contrary to the common belief that many consciously choose to live that way.
He feels the community can be too quick to judge people in his situation.
“Most people won’t listen past three words,” he said.
Though the weather has been relatively mild this past winter, Webb Hanson has endured years where his tent has frozen solid multiple times.
One of the things Webb Hanson said he misses most about having a home is taking showers in hot water.
He liked the idea of a shelter where he could interact with people from outside of the world in which he’s currently trapped.
“Most of the community that’s homeless just wants to talk to someone,” he said.
Though Webb Hanson had trouble articulating specific ways to help people like him, others in the homeless community have some ambitious ideas.
James Bayliss, 55, wants to build a sort of communal living shelter that could house up to 200 men.
He calls it the “B-Haven.”
“We can’t get city help, we can’t get county help, we can’t get state or federal help, so why don’t we just build it ourselves?” he asked.
Bayliss eventually wants to add two more “havens,” one for women and one for families.
He believes the whole project will cost as much as $5 million to build out, but he wants to avoid the red tape involved with government funding.
Bayliss has heard about the City of Sonora discussing the possibility of establishing a low-barrier homeless shelter, though he’s skeptical about how long it will take before something actually happens on that front.
“The city doesn’t sound like they have any real solutions,” he said. “It’s probably three to five years before they figure out what they might be able to do.”
Bayliss can be often seen walking through downtown Sonora carrying a staff over his shoulder and dressed in pristine white clothing from head to toe, which he wears because of a passage he likes from the Bible.
He’s been homeless in Sonora for the past eight years. He lives in a well-kept camp off Stockton Road next to his younger brother, Jeff, who is also homeless.
They moved from Wisconsin to escape the frigid cold weather. Bayliss said he had a book about gold prospecting that talked about Italian Bar and other places in Sonora.
Bayliss worked in restaurants for 20 years, mostly cooking and waiting tables, which was how he says he acquired a chronic back injury that prevents him from doing much physical work anymore.
“I felt uncomfortable telling people I could do a job, when physically I can’t be reliable,” he said.
One way Bayliss is trying to raise money for his idea is through a donation box set up at Redeemed Clothing, a Christian apparel store at 67 S. Washington St.
Those who donate receive a print copy of a photograph taken by Bayliss.
John Houston, the owner of the store, said he gave space on a wall for Bayliss to promote his project because he was touched at the idea of a homeless man wanting to help out other homeless people.
A handwritten sign on cardboard hangs at the front of the store that explains Bayliss’ vision.
“It’s a program to get the homeless off the streets and become part of mainstream society,” the sign reads. “Rebuilding broken relationships, dreams, and hearts.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.