There’s a just started crossword puzzle with neat writing. There’s a book with a page marker in the middle. There’s a dirty shirt inside a plastic bag. There’s a fateful bus ticket marked January 27, 2006.
These are items Bean keeps with her to this day in her bedroom in two bags which belonged to her homeless dad. Thomas Leech was killed getting off that bus in the rain in a hit and run car crash when he was 52.
“It always feels like yesterday,” Bean remembers on a sunny day at a bakery in Reno. “When you know your dad is on the streets, you figure you are going to get a call from the cops one day that something horrible happened, and I got that call one day.”
The shelter he was staying at sent her the two bags. They are still neatly organized as they were when she received them with a towel, an old cap. cutlery, pens, newspapers, foot powder and many other useful items for a man who lived on the streets.
”I only take his stuff out when I feel like crying. It’s rough,” Bean says. “It’s like a historical moment in time. These bags have found a home with me. I was his only kid.”
The stay at home mom, who is also a Girl Scout troop leader, keeps everything in her bedroom closet, with picture books she’s made from old photographs sent by relatives, and even her Dad’s ponytail he had once sent to her. “Why would I throw it away?” she asks.
Helping the Homeless and Vagrants
In her Dad’s memory, Bean also helps the homeless everywhere she finds them. She says she sees her father in every drifter in a park, in food lines, in a parking lot, along the river, on a sidewalk.
“When I was a teenager I started volunteering because I was trying to find my Dad. I knew he was on the streets and he would go to soup kitchens, so I started volunteering at the Detroit Rescue Mission and I would help with holiday meals and serve there. I’ve always felt connected to that community because of my Dad. I would start seeing him in every guy, but I never found him there. I kind of feel like every guy with a backpack walking around downtown is my Dad. And so I want to help them in any way that I can.”
Bean leaves winter hats she makes on tables at the downtown library during cold months. She donates money and helpful items to the shelters her Dad used to stay in. She started a sock donation drive for the homeless in Reno. She has Girl Scouts leave hygiene kits behind in bathrooms as a surprise gift for whoever might need one.
A Daughter’s Advice
Does Bean have any advice for anyone who has a homeless relative, or anyone who cares about the homeless?
“Just give more. It helps you feel better. It helps you know you are making a difference even if it’s not directly your own family member’s life, it can be in someone else’s life, because we all did start out as someone’s beloved little baby. My Dad was his mom’s favorite. She loved him to death. When he died, I sent his ashes back to be with his mother’s ashes which an uncle took care of. She died a year before he did, and he didn’t even know she was dead. Everybody should smile more, especially to people they meet on the streets. So many people feel invisible. Eye contact and a smile can really mean a lot. If you don’t have anything else to give, give that.”
Another Car Crash Scarred Her Dad
“When he was a teenager he got in a car accident with his friends and he was dragged on the street and he was in a coma for a while and had to relearn how to walk and talk. I think because of that brain injury he’d been in a downward spiral all his life. He was just never the same after that.”
He enlisted, but got a medical discharge in 1974. Despite his mental health issues, Bean’s mom thought he was hot. She loved his thick mustache and wavy hair. But he was out of Bean’s life before she was one.
“I loved him to death and he loved me too. Above all else, I always knew that. I talked to him on my birthday every year when I was a kid. I saw him once when I was a kid at an aunt’s house. He was pretty cool. He loved the Beatles and Grace Slick. He followed her around the country one summer.”
Life on the Road
Her Dad moved to Oklahoma in the early 1980s, and then moved to even warmer weather which he liked in Texas, where he would travel between San Antonio and Forth Worth, and work day labor jobs when he could find them.
Father and daughter would call each other from time to time. She’d get news from people working at the shelter where he stayed. He told her he loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. “He loved feasting, who doesn’t?”
A Visit Cut Short
When she was 18 or 19 and living in Tahoe in the late 1990s, she can’t remember the year exactly, her Dad came to visit, but his stay was cut short.
“His brother gave him money for a Greyhound bus ticket out here, and he stayed for a few weeks. We got along well but he didn’t like it that it was cold. And then he got arrested for vagrancy in Reno and he was given a bus ticket back to Texas by a sheriff bus ticket program and so he went back to Texas. It was part of his release that they gave him a bus ticket out of town.”
It was the last time she would see him.
“He called me back in Texas. He was embarrassed. He didn’t want me to take care of him. I think he was happy I had a good life and he got to see it. And then it was back to the same old, same old. He didn’t want to live in my house and mooch off me.”
After his death in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2006, a reporter did an investigation and was able to interview Bean and other relatives. The article led to the driver coming forward and eventually serving time. He died of cancer five years after getting out.
Bean first got in contact with Our Town Reno angered by an anti-homeless discriminatory sign outside a McDonald’s on Keystone Ave.
"It’s obvious discrimination. I know if I went there as a middle aged white mom with two plastic bags that I wouldn’t get kicked out of that McDonald’s. I wouldn’t because I don’t look like I’m homeless. But my Dad was. Sometimes I take guys to that McDonald’s and I’ve gone in there and bought guys lunch. They don’t get kicked out when they are with me, but otherwise they would. A guy I met a couple of months ago was really nervous going in. That’s just not right. The discrimination is deep.”
Improving the Plight of Homeless in Reno
Does Bean have any overall advice for Reno/Sparks politicians to improve the plight of the homeless here?
“I would say let people sleep in parks. I don’t see what the problem is with letting people sleep in public parks. Don’t our property taxes pay for their maintenance? I wish that park bathrooms were open 24 hours. I wish that there was access to clean water for 24 hours, a pump, a spigot or something to fill up water jugs. "
Is there anything that hasn’t been done here which also seems doable now to help the homeless?
“We should have some kind of boarding house. You could even just pay one dollar for one night and get a decent breakfast. I would love to open one of those, but I don’t have the money, which is always a barrier for every good project. A hostel with a shared kitchen wouldn’t that be great? We don’t have any kind of hostels here, or a public campground, that’s cheap, with running water, a bathroom and a pay shower. How easy would that be? There are so many empty gravel lots you could build on. You could have a tiny house village, rather than having piles of gravel. There are several big abandoned motel lots which are also near all the services for the homeless which could be used for that.”
Bean then puts all the pictures away, zips up the two bags, and holds them close to her heart, her eyes moist, before lugging everything of her Dad’s she holds so dear back to her home.