Sowing hope

Videographer works to alleviate the plight of Chico’s homeless

Local homeless advocate and videographer Bill Mash (right) sits with Thomas “Digger” Lake, who is homeless, on the bank of Big Chico Creek.

Local homeless advocate and videographer Bill Mash (right) sits with Thomas “Digger” Lake, who is homeless, on the bank of Big Chico Creek.

Photo By christine g.k. lapado-breglia

Learn more:
Go to to access Without a Roof, Bill Mash’s homeless-advocacy website featuring video interviews with local homeless people.

Sowing hope

Videographer works to alleviate the plight of Chico’s homeless

In a recent video he posted on his Tumblr website, Without a Roof, local homeless advocate and videographer Bill Mash is heard asking a young man standing near Chico’s City Council chambers, “What do you think about running the bums out of town? That’s what I heard people talking about: City Council’s finally ready to run the bums out of town.”

“I think we all need to be here for each other—bums and non-bums,” the man replies on the video dated Nov. 5, the same day the Chico City Council voted to approve a civil-sidewalks ordinance—or sit/lie law—making it make it illegal to sit or lie in pedestrian paths of travel adjacent to commercial properties from the hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“These things that separate us are dumb anyway,” continues the man, who appears to be in his early 20s, adding, “I used to be homeless and made the best of it.”

The stories told to Bill Mash by local homeless women Cynthia (above) and Kathryn (below) are heartwrenching.

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The 53-year-old Mash, too, used to be homeless—twice. The first time he was living on the streets of Boston “for quite a while” as a 16-year-old, after fleeing an abusive home life. Last year, the divorced and retired Hewlett Packard program project manager, who was living in Rocklin at the time, “went homeless,” as he put it in a recent interview, by choice: “I was homeless in a car from April to July.”

Mash—whose video documentation of the issues surrounding homelessness include some truly heartwrenching interviews with local homeless people—then relocated to Chico by walking here from Sacramento, after spending three weeks immersing himself in the street life of California’s capital city.

“I walked from Sacramento to Marysville,” said the seasoned hiker/backpacker, “and spent a combined two months in Yuba City and Marysville” getting to know the homeless community in those cities. Next, he walked to Oroville, where he spent six weeks doing the same: “seeing things from on the ground.”

“And I walked up here on Election Day 2012—that’s when I arrived in Chico.”

In the year since he moved to town, Mash has been a tireless advocate for Chico’s down-and-out, as evidenced by his many moving, informative videos (150 at last count, though some were filmed in other Sacramento Valley cities), as well as written and photographic website postings, and his daily on-the-street work bringing food, blankets and so on to the needy homeless people with whom he comes in contact.

Mash gives the name “HOPE” to his program of daily advocacy work, with “H” standing for housing, “O” for outreach, “P” for provisions, and “E” for education.

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“I’ve actually housed people who are detoxing off of meth, or mentally ill, or serious alcoholics,” Mash said, when asked to comment on the “H” part of his self-appointed work. “Buckeye [a homeless man who appears in a recent Without a Roof video called “Chico—We’re all in this together”], for instance: I brought him into my home after he lost all his possessions. I told him he can stay one more night.”

As for attacking the homeless problem in a more overarching way, Mash noted that “so many [homeless] people on disability are getting checks—$1,000 a month. Why can’t we find a way to put 10 of them together; can’t we house them for $10,000 a month?”

Additionally, he would like to see Laura’s Law—the California state law that allows for court-ordered mental-health treatment for the seriously mentally ill who are in need of care—actively “applied to mentally ill homeless people who can’t get themselves up off the street.

“There are so many people,” he believes, “who, if they could connect with mental-health services, they would.”

The “O”—outreach—is what Mash believes is most lacking in dealing with the homeless: “sitting with homeless people and finding out what they really, really need. Not just giving them a bag of rice—they might be allergic to rice.” And as for provisions, Mash was keen to express his gratefulness to Army veteran Larry Hayden, who started the Hope Center in Oroville, for donating food to Mash to distribute to the homeless.

On the education front, Mash said he “educates fellow outreachers to interface better with homeless people, to help build up their self-esteem”; he also intends to start a regional “street newspaper,” similar to Sacramento’s Homeward Street Journal.

“I am part of a rare breed: a homeless advocate,” offered Mash—who identifies himself, when asked if he is one, as a Christian. “I’m perfectly suited for what I’m doing. All the things God has put before me have prepared me for doing what I am doing. … The reason I am able to do what I do is because I care.”

As for what the general public can do to help the homeless, Mash had these words of advice: “If you want to do something, find a homeless person and help them. … Get them some place to lay their head down so they don’t have to sleep with one eye open.”