My homelessness isn’t like their homelessness: Danny Ogas and Jeannett Knight
This is the second installment of a four-part series highlighting the different varieties of homeless people in the Gila Valley.
By Eric Burk
SAFFORD – Batman is homeless and he drives a budget Batmobile. The black and gray, fourth-generation Ford Mustang is emblazoned with the classic Batman logo and has mismatched yellow rims and a towel for a rear window. Driven by Safford native Danny Ogas, it is a familiar sight in the Gila Valley.
Ogas has also been homeless since he left the Army in 2012. He served 15 years as a transportation specialist, including two tours in Iraq. When he got out, he worked at Walmart for 10 months. When he pulled a hamstring muscle, he quit quietly and left without a workplace injury claim.
Now, he receives disability checks, for $1,500, down from the $1,800 he used to get. He’s trying to save up to move a 16-foot camp trailer out of storage and into the Red Lamp Trailer Park, which has a $240 move in fee and a $100 per month rental payment. In March, Ogas and a friend replaced the rear end on the Batmobile, costing $250 in parts.
“(The) last two weeks of every month, I always struggle,” Ogas said. “I will not stand on a corner; no, no.”
Ogas receives medication from the Department of Veterans Affairs for post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. He speaks rapidly, in a constant stream of words. He used to park his car in the Safford Cemetery and sleep at night, but a police officer saw him one night and warned him that the cemetery is closed after 10 p.m. Now he sleeps where he can. He wants to move into his trailer, so he can get a steady girlfriend. Saturday night he slept under the north side of the Eighth Avenue Bridge at Jeanett Lee Knight’s camp. The camp has two tents, an open air bed, some storage areas, a fire pit and a few chairs.
Because of the constant skunks, Ogas tries to avoid sleeping under the bridge. They hear bigger animals moving through the brush at night. Ogas says he is not scared.
“People tell me you have to be careful of this Yeti thing,” he said.
Ogas does not believe in Yeti.
Most local homelessness is driven by alcoholism, according to Ogas. Knight agrees, and avoids using alcohol or drugs, medical or otherwise. Knight wears a fuzzy black and gray cap over her white hair, and her face is lined and wrinkled. She is neatly dressed in an orange and black jacket with a triangular pattern over a white shirt. On her daily trips to the library, she wheels a dolly around with a water jug and a small bag. Her camp does not have litter around it.
Knight is approachable and talkative. She says that although some of the local homeless are from the reservation, many of them are white people here in the area because it is safer than in the big city.
“My homelessness isn’t like their homelessness,” she said. “My homelessness is a legal problem.”
Her life is dominated by a massive conspiracy ranging from Arizona to Louisiana and back. Her story includes ISIS, the Taliban, a cult associated with deceased Waco cult leader David Koresh, some local people who she says killed some of her sons and a man she was married to at age 12. To get her Social Security check, she had to have a mental evaluation done by a doctor who she thinks may be a pawn in the conspiracy.
“He said that he knew that I was telling lies; that all of these things didn’t exist,” Knight said. “The only way you can prove I’m lying is to disappear my story.”
Knight recalls being shot about 30 times over the course of her life, including once in the back of the head. The bullet passed through to her forehead, she said, where there is a visible scar. Knight also says that she worked in a prison in Cleveland, where there was a massive riot in the late 1990s. Knight says 100 employees were killed and someone tried to strangle Knight and kicked her head.
Knight moved back to Safford to live with her elderly father. When he died four years ago, a former friend burned his trailer down, so she’s homeless now, cooking food over a campfire or a small propane stove. She lives on a $750 monthly Social Security check and $16 in food stamps, along with $35 a month from a state program to buy toiletries. Although her physical needs are mostly met, she seems eager to talk to people. Knight plans to move to California, but needs to take care of unfinished business in Safford.
“Things have happened here that need to be dealt with,” she said.