NORFOLK -Officially, the prime spit of waterfront property off
the CampostellaBridge – valued at $1.6 million – has
been vacant for years.
A plan to
build 246 apartments there, approved by the city in 2011, fell through.
unbeknownst to the owners, the land has already been occupied.
Gallegos and her boyfriend, Phil Routson, arrived 18 months ago and claimed a
large clearing in the trees. Gino Linn Reid has lived next door, deeper into
the woods, for four years.
definitions, they’re homeless. But the homes they’ve made just east of the
bridge on the south side of the ElizabethRiver go far beyond tents
in the woods.
built a shack out of leftover pallets from cabinet and lumber stores down the
road and bought a gas generator for power. Reid, a registered sex offender
who’s spent 16 years in prison , made a frame from driftwood and draped it with
tarps. Inside, he has carpets, a gas grill, two couches, a sink, a
battery-operated TV and a small tent – where he sleeps. Outside are stone steps
and a brick walkway.
city and the property owner say all three need to leave.
week, the Norfolk Fire Marshal’s Office put orange “unfit for habitation”
notices on both makeshift homes.
heard about people living on the land during a community meeting in May, and
several staffers visited the site to talk with Gallegos, Routson and Reid, city
spokeswoman Lori Crouch said. Officials went back and posted the notices June
Levin, one of the partners in the group that owns the land, said he was
sympathetic to the squatters but had no choice.
told him they need to leave, he said. And now that he’s aware, he worries he
would have legal liability if something happened to them. A part of him wishes
he still didn’t know.
ignorance is bliss,” he said, adding later, “If that guy got four years of
living out there and there was nowhere else to go, what can I say? I’m glad he
got four years.”
was once home to a Giant Open Air supermarket, part of a chain that merged with
Farm Fresh. Levin said the foundation of the store is still there.
said she and Routson wished they could stay in the home they made.
Wednesday, she was packing up the site while Routson was away helping his
parents with a broken-down car. He later said the two weren’t sure where they
would end up.
door, Reid wasn’t planning to go anywhere immediately.
gray-bearded 59-year-old is known to many in Norfolk for playing guitar outside the Target
on North Military Highway.
He also used to play downtown on Monticello
Wednesday, Reid sounded defiant: “As far as I’m concerned, they’re going to have
a hard time getting a truck in here to get me out, if they even decide to do
later, he was growing resigned to the idea of leaving. He just didn’t want to
been here so long,” he said. “It’s going to take me a while.”
director of Norfolk’s
Office to End Homelessness, said his staff is working with Reid, a Marine Corps
veteran. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is also considering a housing
voucher that would help him pay for a new place to stay.
staffers are trying to find help for Gallegos and Routson, Crouch said.
no plan to force anyone off the land until they’re connected with services.
is to find answers to the situation, not just move it around,” Wasserberg said.
little junky,” Reid said, showing visitors into his main room.
laughed. “But that’s because I don’t have a wife.”
tour, he explained with some amazement that almost everything he’s gathered was
discarded by the side of the road not far away.
the circumstances, Reid has fairly normal routines. In the morning, he brushes
his teeth and washes his face at the small sink.
no plumbing, but he always keeps 10 gallons of water on hand. Rainwater filters
through thin mesh on the roof into a bucket. Reid then adds a little bleach and
covers the bucket to purify the water.
regularly, scooping water over his head, soaping up and then scooping more
water to rinse off. He defecates in a bucket lined with plastic bags, which he
ties off and buries.
on his gas grill. Dinner one evening this week was a chicken wing, some potato
wedges and a can of pinto beans.
basically a U.S. Marine, living like a U.S. Marine would in the field,” Reid
said, adding that he was honorably discharged after serving from 1974 to 1975.
The Marines confirmed they have a record of his service, but details were not
he’s lived outside by choice for decades, when he hasn’t been in prison. He
attributes his situation to the same mental problems that give him anxiety and
a distrust of authority.
inside of a building for more than a couple of hours, I start getting real
itchy, and I want to get out of there,” he said.
he lived near the BerkleyBridge until
“interlopers” made it unpleasant; then he found the Campostella spot in July
stayed in a small tent. That fall, storm surges from Hurricane Sandy pushed him
to higher ground four times until he found his current spot.
the main room, he has a partly open “workshop” with a bench and some tools.
Outside, down the stone steps and a short walk away, are a few plastic chairs
in a semicircle for sitting around a fire.
the homeless office director, said few people his staff encounter live in such
creative,” Wasserberg said. “He’s a survivor. And he’s dealing with things.
We’re actually glad we were able to connect with him because he’s well hidden
convicted in Kansas in 1990 of aggravated
sexual battery involving a minor, according to Virginia’s sex-offender registry.
of the case were not available from court officials or prosecutors in Kansas. Reid said the
charge, to which he pleaded guilty, involved him kissing a 10-year-old girl he
met while working at a carnival. He said he thought the girl was 13 or 14. Reid
was in his early 30s at the time.
he was also charged with indecent exposure in Norfolk in the 1980s. He described all the
charges against him as “railroad jobs.” In 2007 and 2009, he was convicted of
failing to register as a sex offender in Virginia;
his registration is now current.
wasn’t home when city officials posted the no-habitation notice, but he rushed
back when a police officer he knows stopped him near Target and told him what
was going on.
took Reid’s four kittens, born weeks before, he said. He was told that his
shack was not a safe place for them and later that it would cost $280 to get
week, Reid still didn’t know where he was going to live: “It’s like my entire
life, once again, is in a state of flux.”
what he thought of the possible housing voucher, he said: “I’d just as soon
stay where I am, as far as I’m concerned. That place pretty much became my
if there’s a chance to get a solid roof over his head, “I’d be some kind of a
fool not to at least look into it.”
and Routson, who both grew up in California,
have been together more than five years, Gallegos said.
couple moved to Virginia
a few years ago for what Routson, now 33, called “a new start.” In Fresno County, Calif.,
he’d been a drug user with frequent arrests on drug, burglary and theft
charges. In about three years in Virginia,
he said, he has never gone to jail.
stayed with Routson’s sister until a falling out, then in a series of rooms and
motels, which they left for reasons he didn’t want to discuss.
outside was never the plan. But Gallegos, 42, said she grew to like their home
in the woods – where it grows pitch dark at night and you can see flocks of
awesome,” she said. “We like to be in the water. We like to fish.”
for shells in the Elizabeth and said the area
reminds her of Auberry, a town near the San JoaquinRiver in central California, where she used to live.
have a small boat, which Routson said a friend gave him. He goes out on the water
with a net and scoops crabs off the sides of nearby barges or bridge pilings.
Sometimes he sells them.
said she doesn’t like seafood and eats a lot of Popeyes, KFC and other fast
food. She works part time pressing pants at a dry cleaner. Routson said he can
fix almost anything, including lawn mowers, weed eaters, trucks and heavy
don’t have a car, and got around on a motorcycle until it broke down a week
ago, Gallegos said.
Reid, they said they’d largely been left alone and had few problems until
said the complaints that led to their eviction might have started when a man in
a boat saw him and started cursing, accusing Routson of stealing from crab
after that came the first official city visit.
ever had a problem, and then all of a sudden, bam,” Routson said.
Gallegos seemed offended by the accusation they were thieves. Routson said he
doesn’t even like using crab pots because it takes too long.
touch nobody’s stuff,” Gallegos said. “Nobody comes and touches our stuff.”
said the city doesn’t always know about homeless people. Some don’t ask for
help, either out of shame or a desire for privacy.
situation no one expects to find themselves in,” Wasserberg said
Norfolk has been trying to end chronic
homelessness since a pledge signed by then-Mayor Paul Fraim more than a decade
ago. The Office to End Homelessness was established in 2005 and has helped
connect hundreds of people to social services. The office also works with
people who are at risk of becoming homeless, for example by helping them pay
who needs help or knows someone who does can call the office at 757-664-4488.