Wednesday, August 10, 2011

2011-08-10 "Former councilman living in homeless shelter" by Kevin Courtney from "Napa Valley Register"
Long the scourge of Napa’s political establishment, Harry Martin — a former three-term City Council member and publisher of the Napa Sentinel — has fallen on hard times.
For the past two and a half weeks, Martin, 72, and his wife Mary, 77, have been living in the south Napa homeless shelter.
Harry Martin said that he and his wife turned to the shelter after being evicted from their north Napa apartment. Fellow shelter residents were astonished to have a local celebrity in their midst.
“They’re shocked, absolutely shocked,” he said. “They’re wondering, ‘What the hell are you doing in a homeless shelter?’”
The Martins said they could have moved in with friends, but they didn’t want to be a burden. “And besides, I wanted to see how the shelter turned out,” Harry Martin said.
Two decades ago, Martin said Sentinel stories about the plight of the homeless spurred Napa to create a shelter network. “We always crusaded for the little guy,” he said.
Later, as a council member, Martin approved construction of the shelter behind South Napa Marketplace where he now resides.
“It’s very funny to go into the shelter and there is his name on a plaque,” Mary Martin said. As shelter residents, they daily walk by a wall mounting that honors Martin and the rest of the council.
The shelter experience isn’t as awful as you might imagine, Harry Martin said. “A lot of people have been in prison, but you’d never know it unless they tell you. We’ve been very compatible. Everybody gets along.”
“There’s a civility there — a humor and civility,” he said.
While Harry minimizes the shelter experience, Mary said living with strangers is “very hard for me. I’m very much a loner and now I’m sharing a room with four other women. They’re nice, but it’s hard for me.”
In keeping with shelter policy, the Martins are bunked in separate men’s and women’s areas and assigned daily chores to earn their keep. A week ago, Harry Martin said he worked in the kitchen preparing meals. Last week it was the computer room, while his wife had to get up at 5:30 a.m. and fold laundry.
“You adjust to life,” he said.
“I get very depressed,” Mary Martin interjected. “I had a comfort dog, which I had to give to my granddaughter.”
Killing time during the day is hard, she said. “We have to be out at 8:30 in the morning. We walk up to the library — easily a mile. I have very bad arthritis. It’s crippling my knees,” she said.
On the trek up Soscol to downtown, which actually measures two miles, Mary Martin said she both walks and rides in a wheelchair pushed by her husband.
“As a handicapped person going about in a wheelchair, Napa has to be one of the most handicapped unfriendly cities in the whole world,” she said. As of last Friday, they had obtained bus tokens, enabling them to ride to downtown.
The Martins gave up their car last year. Because his driving ability had been impaired by strokes, he couldn’t justify the monthly payments, Harry Martin said.
Their day destinations usually include the Napa City-County Library where Harry Martin checks his email, connects with fans of the Sentinel and makes plans for resuming publication.
Martin, who is diabetic, blames his current homelessness on a cascade of medical problems that forced him to suspend publication in December. “I was hospitalized eight times last year,” he said. His ailments included three strokes, two eye surgeries and a toe amputation, he said.
For 25 years, Martin published the weekly Sentinel, an amalgam of human interest stories, banner headlines touting exposes of local government and community service announcements.
Even while serving on the council — he was defeated in 2006 while going for a fourth term — Martin often wrote articles, minus a byline, that ripped the city for its services and fiscal policies.
Martin has published only once in 2011. The May 27 paper carried the headline: “Sentinel survives hospitalizations, fire.” The fire was his daughter’s home burning to the ground, he said.
With his health improving, Martin said he hopes to put out another issue this week. “We could do it from the shelter if we have to,” he said. In recent times, Martin has put together the paper on his laptop computer, then published it at the Napa Valley Register.
When he prints his next Sentinel, Martin said he would write about conditions at the shelter as told by residents. “We won’t publish their names,” he said. “There’s a lot of bias.”
Jere Moorman announced Monday that he and some other Martin fans were trying to put together a Harry Martin appreciation luncheon and help him get out of the shelter.
 “He’s done some good service,” Moorman said. “It’s a fairly unique experience for someone I know to become homeless. It touches me.”
Harry Martin said he is not without financial resources. He gets a $406 monthly city pension and $550 from Social Security, while his wife gets $350 from Social Security, he said. As a City Council retiree, Martin said he also received a medical benefit that supplements Medicare.
Hoping to improve his chances of renting again, Martin said he was trying to rehabilitate his credit rating. He’s retained two companies that are investigating “what we’re supposed to owe,” he said.
One company found that his credit rating had been damaged by a $7,000 debt for a timeshare that he had never owned, Martin said. Sorting out last year’s medical bills is also boosting his credit rating, he said.
“I just wish to get settled down and get the book finished and get the paper out once a month, maybe twice,” Martin said.
His book is intended to be a two-part novel about the end of World War II and the second American Civil War, he said. “We’ve had so many publishers asking to have us write this book. Now I have the time,” he said.
In Harry Martin’s view, his stint in the shelter is but a temporary blip. Perhaps friends will be able to help him get his own place. In time, maybe he and Mary can team up with their daughter, Amber, and share a place with her, he said.
Nothing is permanent, Martin said. “I’ve been down financially. I’ve been up financially. I just don’t let that stuff bother me.”

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