Three weeks ago, John L. was hanging by a thread in an isolation room of Cottage Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Visitors had to don masks and gloves and go through two separate doors to see him. The day I went, March 14th, he was feeling so lousy, he could muster just minimal responses to questions like, “How are you feeling?”

John has lived on the streets of Santa Barbara since the year 2000. He’s been a chronic drinker and camper the whole time; very well-known to police, well-known at the county jail and now, after three bouts of pneumonia and two cases of hypothermia, he’s familiar to Cottage Hospital doctors and nurses too. Not much is known about his background. He served in the Marines, is from Kentucky; at one time he ran a hog farming cooperative. There are gnarly stories about his family, that his wife and kids were killed in a car accident on Valentines day in the late 1990s, but these haven’t been verified.

John L.

After visiting him at Cottage on the 14th, I seriously questioned if he would pull through. But he did, miraculously. He was released “to the streets” on March 19th, after a ten day stay. Some homeless people are released to Casa Esperanza when they leave the hospital. Casa has 30 medical beds, but no nursing care. A few can be released to WillBridge, which maintains some respite beds. But John would never agree to go to either of those places. He’s a classic loner. Or, as he puts it, an “Independent Operator.” To read more, see


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