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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

William "Billy" Kelly

Left:Chief Louis Kelly, Last Maidu Chief. The Maidu's have lived in this area since 500AD.
Below: William "Billy" Kelly

Sadly, for the second time in a few months, a resident of our wonderful community has died from exposure. I suppose it could be said that they also died from their addiction, as it is most likely what brought them to a state of homelessness. None the less, they died alone in the night, in the elements, without any of the advantages or comforts that anyone able to read this enjoys daily, nightly. I have visited in Nevada City for 40 years. I have lived here for eleven years. I have been aware of William "Billy" Kelly pretty much all that time, though until I read the news article this morning, I did not know his name. To me, he was a rather intimidating looking man I often passed on Broad Street, usually in the vicinity of Bonanza Market or the Post Office. You could see he was of American Indian decent. I admit his appearance sometimes alarmed me, made me uncomfortable. He was often clearly intoxicated. Yet, in his own way, he was impressive. You don't see many people of color in this 97% Caucasian community. Billy looked like a living photo of a Ogalala Sioux you see from the history books. In fact, the paper reported he is a direct decedent of the last Maidu Chief, Chief Kelly. So, in a way, he was royalty. He was born and raised here in Nevada City, attended local schools. So why was this man sleeping outside on Miner's Trail on a 20 degree night? I don't know. Maybe due to his habits, he had burned bridges, alienated friends and relatives. It happens. Still, it breaks my heart that in a community as small as Nevada City ANYONE is so invisible as to have to die alone, cold, probably hungry, under a public bridge. Hospitality House does a great job of feeding and housing our homeless, about 40 per night. However they cannot accept anyone who is under the influence at check in time, and many won't check in because they have dogs, which cannot stay at the shelter. A few weeks ago, I saw Bill Kelly by Bonanza Market. Once again I felt myself looking away from his face, avoiding eye contact. When I got in my car, I vowed that next time I found myself near him I would talk to him, find out who he was, even if only through a brief conversation. I was going to face my fear. I'm sorry I won't get that chance. A friend of Billy's, John Fletcher referred to him as "a sweet, kind man who had a problem with alcohol." I hope to attend any memorial for Billy. I would like to know more about this man, descended from the proudest of Americans. "Be kind to those around you. Every creature is fighting some sort of battle." God bless, stay warm.

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