Leland ‘Hobo’ Goodsell: 1954-2020In Memoriam | Tue Apr 07, 2020 | 10:30pm
Leland Goodsell was born in Missoula, Montana, and partially raised with two sisters in an orphanage. He was scrappy and unruly from a youngster but full of laughs and jokes. He was fearless and funny and would attempt just about anything.
In his jobs — from trucker, to mechanic, to shopping mall construction foreman — Lee had a long history of hard work and hard play. He began smoking at 11 and had a newspaper route then, too. In Yreka, he ran a recycling business with his wife and stepson. His wife died of pancreatic cancer in his arms, and their son overdosed that week; he buried them a week apart. Devastated, he took his young pup Dreamer and hit the road, landing in Santa Cruz and then Santa Barbara, where he ensconced himself in Pershing Park’s homeless group with Gator and Shaky around 2009. Dreamer performed tricks, including lasso rope tricks and chasing tree rats out of the camp.
Leland repaired bikes and wheelchairs for our street outreach, helping many homeless people. He was gracious with kids, creating or buying toys for them on holidays. His handy mechanic abilities helped some Westmont student’s cars and other teams serving in the streets.
The street people either loved him or hated him. But he always drew a crowd. He was grateful for any help or smile. Once he bought a boat from a local crook. He pointed it out to me, and all I could see was trouble. Days later I was to meet him, but no one had seen him. I had a feeling he was on that sinking boat. I went to the Harbor Patrol and begged them to motor out to East Beach and check on that floating trap. The “salesman” took both him and Dreamer out and put him on the boat with no way to return. Hobo is a cowboy and cannot swim. When the Harbor Patrol found them, dehydrated and passed out, they both entered hospitals for several days. He was very sad when the boat sank and was hauled away.
Hobo taught us how to open a can of dog food without an opener by rubbing it hard in circles on asphalt streets until it popped open. He taught us how he took a shower in the parks after dark. He shared how to fix just about anything with string and chewing gum — always with a joke and a wink and a hand-rolled cigarette.
Worth Street Reach operated a sleeping-bag campaign in October each year and set it up with deeply discounted prices through Kmart, along with tarps, rain ponchos, and new socks. Hobo and Dreamer would come help the team stack the 200 sleeping-bag donations into a huge wall. He thanked all the donors as part of our team. Soon after that a friend captured him on film for the very first homeless count, and that film has been used for years to train volunteers. We have much footage of this man’s life on the streets.
Hobo would save a parking place for me as I served in Alameda Park with my teammates Magda, Kawika, Kaitlin, Dave, Nolan, and Elizabeth by placing his bike and trailer in an empty spot on the street, blocking it until my truck showed up. He would then help me haul all the sleeping bags, clothing, art supplies, or whatever I had each week. He would gather up some guys to help carry it all in while Bread of Life from Westmont College served the food and we served the needs of clean clothes, phone calls home, IDs, etc. Dreamer would entertain the food lines, and Hobo would roll his handmade cigarettes. He obtained more than 900 citations of illegal camping, open container, and more. When Restorative Court began, he was the first one they sent out of town before they started their better services. Our outreach team and his buddy, Officer Hove gathered at the bus stop to see them off to Santa Cruz, where he lived for two years.
Hobo moved to Goleta about five years ago, where we set him up in a bike repair shop. He and Dreamer have become regular figures in Old Town. He bought breakfast for Phebe in Copyright, visited with Gabriela who often watched Dreamer and fed them both for years, got to know most of the sheriffs and townsfolks. But after a bad accident he was laid up and went into a wheelchair, and life became hard. He was harassed, and Dreamer was getting old. As an often difficult chronic alcoholic, Leland sober was a concept we have all wondered about, as well as where his life would have taken him without his addiction. He had many talents, abilities, and charm. His tall tales made us laugh, but the downward spiral of alcoholism destroyed him on many levels.
Hobo wanted to go home to Missoula, and I made the arrangements. But homelessness, snow, and wheelchairs do not make a good combination. He bought an old beater 1992 truck and slept in the truck instead. Although his good friend Tino helped him much, Hobo fell ill, and we could not get him into hospital or tested. Once we insisted, he was in ICU for seven days. One of the doctors who called me said, “I remember you from Alameda Park where I served with Bread of Life. Now I am a doctor here at Cottage.” What a gift Hobo got! But Hobo died from contracting COVID-19. He was the first South County victim.
After years of searching for his sister, I am so happy to say I located Shotzi. Ironically, she serves the homeless of Missoula. Old Dreamer is now with Tino. Our friend Hobo’s ashes will now go home.
ATTENTION STREET FRIENDS: I cannot emphasize enough to isolate apart. The county is going to be arranging something for you soon. Please stay tuned to this paper for instructions. Staying apart is so vital as is washing hands frequently, drinking fluids regularly. Don’t allow anyone new in your camps. Anyone feeling ill can call Public Health at (805) 681-5100 or call Neighborhood Clinics.
Deborah Barnes is the founder of Worth Street Reach, which advocates as a voice for homeless people.