Born into poverty and abuse, at the age of 13 years old he forged a birth certificate to escape the traumatic foster care system, and joined the US Military. Upon defending himself against abusive leadership he was given charges and was excused from army service. His history made work extremely difficult and he has been homeless for roughly 20 years collectively.
"I'm just trying to do some good, but I don't look for praise or accolades. I look for sad eyes, the one holding back tears, the lost, not sure where to go. That's what I look for, because there is something there I can work with. Someone I can help."
Gunner’s anger, trauma and list of mental health disorders were exacerbated by his homeless circumstances. Gunner has multiple personality disorder, anxiety, PTSD from war, epilepsy, and more. When the system failed him he took his health and life into his own hands, and found liberation in independence.
He does not like small spaces or four walls, so he chose his 8 man tent, with all the amenities he needed, until Kseniya found him living under the 500 S. viaduct, and he asked for her help getting a job. When invited to do some landscaping, which involved mainly pulling a lot of weeds in a hot parking lot, he didn't complain when the landscape company stiffed him, and another nomad from 7 hours of back-breaking work (and also a team member was conned out of work). Instead, he asked how can he help some more? He was willing to do anything to take the next step forward.
So he was invited to stay at The Secret Garden, a space the founder of the Nomad Alliance had been renting, where she had placed two microhomes, a sauna still under construction and where the former, including a garage, housed Gunner and at least one to four others since June. He has become an indispensable part of the Nomad Alliance, continually offering his time for transportation, check ins, ID vouchers and DMV appointments, camping trips and lake trips, and making food for workshops and supply drives feeding 10-50 during the former, and 200 during the latter. He is reliable, hard-working, and truly a beloved part of the family, and has been serving as the Executive Assistant since July. When the Secret Garden was put up for sale, another team member moved the tiny house and invited Gunner to stay with him in his backyard. He has access to a shower, an outdoor and indoor kitchen, electricity, a space heater, a workshop with all the tools in the world, and is working with the home owner on his rock landscaping business. When his 8 man palatial tent he had just erected (having just moved from the microhouse into this new setup) collapsed under the snow, and the Executive Director and property owner cut him out of his tent just in time, he moved into the house and is now, after 20 years, properly sheltered, employed, and continuing to be a vital team and family member.
Gunner has been a truck driver, heavy equipment operator, all phases of construction from doing the foundations to finished carpentry, worked on carnivals, dump truck operator, belly dumps, over the road driver, sous chef, and handyman, the latter for 30 years.
He is now helping the Alliance lay the foundation for the landscaping coop, which he will lead, and is available as the nomadic handyman, to fix anything broken in your home, though just ask him to keep his shirt on or he'll break, rather than fix, your marriage. ;)
Gunner is also the Lived Experience Expert for the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness.
Gunner, an Army veteran, was interviewed live for the In Focus segment of ABC4 Mental Health Awareness week about the intersection of mental health, PTSD from war and homelessness. Click on the above photo for the full interview.
"I am just trying to do some good, but I don’t look for praise or accolades. I look for sad eyes, the ones holding back tears, the lost, not sure where to go, that’s what I look for, because there is something there I can work with."
"For the most part, I have gotten away from that angry place. I don’t judge people.
You’re either going to love me or hate me, I don’t give a f*ck either way."
"I’m not a chimney, don’t blow smoke up my ass."