Mark Hegel, a homeless man, spends his days in downtown Roseville. He doesn’t ask for handouts; he offers directions and a warm smile.
Hegel works Thursday through Saturday as a “day porter” for the downtown district. On foot and bicycle, he circulates a route, picking up trash, distributing fliers and looking for signs of trouble.
Hegel is employed by the Downtown Roseville Partnership, an organization of downtown businesses. The group hired him in partnership with The Gathering Inn, a Roseville provider of services to the homeless.
Hegel said he used to work in sales and business development for a medical imaging company in Roseville and was living very comfortably. In 2009 he received a phone call from the company, telling him he was laid off.
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“I wasn’t worried. I knew I’d find a job in a month. I needed a vacation anyway,” Hegel said. After spending a few years exhausting his retirement and savings and moving through odd jobs, eventually he could no longer pay rent.
Hegel said he researched his options, and found he didn’t have many. For a few months, he lived in a friend’s RV, parked behind the Shepherd of the Sierra Presbyterian Church in Loomis.
In 2012, he found help at The Gathering Inn. The Roseville organization provides a variety of services to the homeless, including treatment for mental health issues and substance addiction, along with employment help, and medical and dental care. In the evening, clients are bused to local churches to spend the night.
Hegel was hand-picked by The Gathering Inn to become a day porter because many businesses in Roseville are concerned about the cleanliness of the downtown area. He is paid $10 per hour.
Hegel says his new job in downtown Roseville has given him “mental time” and he enjoys working by himself.
“I’d rather be doing what I’m doing,” Hegel says, explaining that sometimes he runs into homeless encampments on his route.
“I like my routine. I’m a hard worker,” Hegel added.
Doug Wagemann, president of the Downtown Roseville Partnership, said a second day porter will be hired in the next few months to allow Hegel to take time off or to take over in the event Hegel finds a steadier job.
Hegel, who wouldn’t divulge his age, said he hopes to find his way back to the imaging industry, but is concerned that technology has moved on during his absence.
“To regain that (knowledge) would take quite a bit,” he said.
Hegel walks and bikes the downtown district from 1 to 7 p.m. every Thursday through Saturday. His pay is funded by the DRP through The Gathering Inn. The partnership also pays for his cellphone and transportation. The bike he rides was donated by Roseville Cycling.
“The whole district kind of comes together,” Wagemann said.
Hegel walked the downtown area Thursday, popping into shops like Lucy’s Salon and Spa, exchanging pleasantries with employees even though the 90-degree heat caused sweat to drip down his face. Downtown visitors peered at him curiously as he wrestled trash can lids after they had been popped off by transients.
“They were searching for aluminum,” Hegel said. He picked up trash, including plastic Starbucks drink containers and a granola bar wrapper.
Hegel is still a guest at The Gathering Inn, even though individuals going through the program are allotted just 190 days to find stable housing. Hegel has been on Sacramento and Placer County’s affordable housing list since the end of 2012.
“It’s depressing at times; I have so much to offer,” Hegel said.
According to the Inn, 517 people in Placer County were homeless on any given night in 2015. Ten percent of those were veterans, 15 percent were children and 85 percent were single adults. Sixty percent were males, and 59 percent were classified as suffering from severe mental illness.
William Hanna, 19, is also a frequent visitor to the program. Hanna grew up in the foster care system after he was displaced from his father’s home 11 years ago. Eventually, he moved in with his aunt and uncle.
“It was nice the first couple of years. A total of nine years. The third or fourth year my aunt started beating me,” Hanna said. “I was slammed into a wall before.”
Two years ago, Hanna said, he gathered the courage to leave the home and stay with a friend, simultaneously getting in touch with his father. After moving to Oklahoma and moving through several jobs, Hanna came back to Placer County and found The Gathering Inn.
On July 19, Hanna will ship off to Fort Jackson for Army basic training.
“My dad’s biggest worry is that I won’t come back,” Hanna said. He hopes to eventually become a Green Beret.
Hanna said he developed the courage to walk through the Army recruiting office door by taking classes at The Gathering Inn, where Keith Diederich works as CEO.
Diederich said he used to view homeless people in a negative light.
“I used to think, ‘Get a job,’ ” he said.
His outlook changed three years ago, when he and his wife were driving from Roseville to Sacramento and saw a homeless man lying face-down on the sidewalk in the heat. They thought he might be dead.
“We knew we had to pull over,” Diederich said.
The Diederichs approached the man, who was not dead.
“He looked up at me with sad eyes and said, ‘I have really screwed up my life,’ ” Diederich recalled. “He didn’t ask for money.”
The homeless man gladly joined the two to get food and water at a nearby restaurant and parted ways after.
“People don’t grow up and say, ‘I want to be homeless,’ ” Diederich said.
Jessica Hice: 916-321-1136, @JesserPea