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Mill Valley’s (Homeless) Woman About Town

Longtime local resident has been without a home for nearly two years, a period during which she’s battled illness, prescription drug addictions, hunger and, most of all, being ostracized from her community.

Rebecca Chapman is homeless.

And that might be the only thing she has in common with stereotypes of homeless people.

For one, Chapman is no transient. For the past 21 months, she’s been homeless in Mill Valley, the wealthy enclave where she’s lived for three-quarters of her life. She's never panhandled, though . And a cursory glance at Chapman reveals a woman who could easily be on her way to the track at , sporting bright pink running shorts, red running shoes and a t-shirt. Oh, and she’s often seen wielding her white iPhone.

Chapman is far from anonymous, having grown up in Park Terrace, lived here for 36 years, attended and Tam High, worked at both and Living Foods before that and regularly patronized businesses all over town. Those deep ties to the community and lack of anonymity might be considered assets for someone who fell on hard times and ended up homeless in October 2010, and they likely were initially.

But while the 48-year-old Chapman acknowledges the unwavering support of a small number of local friends, she’s also seen her relationships with many longtime friends collapse under the weight of her own admittedly bad behavior towards them and people’s discomfort with her downward spiral. And while hunger, health and the oft-crushing weight of not having a place to lay your head at night have been overwhelming for Chapman, so has being ostracized by her community.

“You just don’t live down your worst moment in this town, “ she says. “It’s such a small town and a lot of people have watched me grow up since I was 12. It’s been shocking to see who has turned against me. But I would never claim to have done this perfectly. I was ugly, I do yell, I do swear and it’s often gotten out of hand.”

Chapman’s candor about shouting matches with local residents and business owners, and the clarity with which that candor comes, is striking. It’s also a trait that, coupled with her excessive drinking and use of prescription medication for depression and epilepsy, has burned a lot of bridges in town.

“She’s very well spoken and articulate about her predicament,” says Robert Green, the owner of the , who Chapman considers a friend. “But she’s also outspoken and as a result she gets her self into a lot of predicaments. She probably has very few people that she can fall back on because she’s alienated them in one way or the other.”

As Chapman tells it, the details of her spiral into homelessness in the fall of 2010 are complicated. She says her epilepsy became acute when she moved from the Miller Ave. Whole Foods to the new store on East Blithedale . She had a bad reaction to the store’s lighting, she says, to the point of even having trouble speaking at times, and took several leaves of absence.

Whole Foods’ officials could not be reached for comment about Chapman, who says the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement about what exactly was causing Chapman’s problems at the new store. "They just didn’t believe me,” she says. They parted ways in October 2010.

Chapman then informed the owner of the Homestead Valley cottage she was renting that she’d lost her job, and eventually was evicted.

“In their defense, I was acting manic and some of my behaviors were alarming,” Chapman says.  “I was being very unpleasant and I was also freaked out that everything was happening to me all at once.”

In addition to her erratic behavior, Chapman’s appearance also made a dramatic shift, as she cut off her long hair and dyed it, lost a dental bridge for her front teeth that stemmed from a childhood injury and morphed from a relatively mellow person into, well, something else.

“All of a sudden everybody thought that I was crazier than sh** – and when they would ask me, I would say I say, ‘Yup,’” Chapman says.

Much of Chapman’s story and predicament, is tied to her family, she says. Her parents died in tragic incidents 10 and 12 years ago, respectively, but had stopped being able to care for themselves long before that, she says. Chapman’s older sister, who she says suffers from schizophrenia, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2010, Chapman says. She currently lives in Washington state.

“People who know me and know my family’s story are just completely blown away by what I was able to survive,” Chapman says. “I really was the parent of these lunatic parents who didn’t want to feed or clothe me.”

Chapman says she occasionally receives small amounts of money from a family trust set up for her sister.

She uses that money for two things: to buy food and to pay for her iPhone, which she says is vital to maintaining communication with relatives overseas and keep track of her efforts to fix what she says have been mistakes on her medical records and government identifications.

Other than those efforts and her constant focus on meeting her “daily caloric needs,” Chapman says she’s working on a book, I’m Gettin' Homeless, that serves as a blueprint of sorts for off-the-grid living, and would love to shop it to publishing houses.

Chapman declined to say where she stays now, noting that she crashed for a while in a friend’s storage unit and in the back of the Laundromat on Miller Avenue before being kicked out of each.

“I can’t remember all of the places I’ve stayed,” she says. “I’ve had a bunch of different hideouts. But I always try to be very respectful of people’s property.”

Chapman says she’s tried services like Homeward Bound in San Rafael and found them to be scary, unsanitary and depressing. In a recent conversation, she seemed determined to move beyond her past struggles, find some income and move back to New York, where she lived as a kid and where she still has some family.

“I just want a better, normal life for myself,” she says. “Honestly, if somebody would've told me that I would’ve been homeless for this long, I would’ve been so freaked out.”

“She doesn’t want to be homeless,” Green says. “How she’s going to change that, I don’t know – it scares me.”

Asked if she wanted to remain in Mill Valley, Chapman responds with a quick “No.”

“A lot of people just see me as a parasite at this point,” she says. “Its too bad because I was serving them at Whole Foods and Living Foods for many years. But it’s just a relationship that’s gone bad. This is something that I don’t think you can really heal from.”

Ed. Note: An earier version of this story misstated the type of cancer Rebecca's sister has and the exact title of her book.

Rebecca Chapman September 18, 2012 at 12:25 AM
hey, megan. sorry! i hope my last comment wasn't taken the wrong way. it's just that i have to carry my belongings everywhere i go, am usually on foot for most of my waking hours, & can barely keep up with the calories i'm burning while i'm pretty much starving. so, the toothpaste was a grand idea, but i already had some! anyway, where you found me last time is often a place i'm hanging out in the mornings, so please feel free to come visit me there, o.k.? thanks...
Megan September 18, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Not to worry, Rebecca. Sometimes help isn't all that helpful. *I* am sorry. I will look for you there.
Rebecca Chapman September 19, 2012 at 05:47 PM
I gave my last speech to the mayor & city council members last night, in case anybody's interested in a further update...
Rebecca Chapman October 02, 2012 at 07:07 PM
wow! hardly any feedback from the microphone, i got a chuckle out of the audience AND i was nicely satiated from my deep fried meat & bean burrito plus coca-cola from safeway earlier (a definite, homeless 'fave') during my last night's speech to the mayor & city council. i wasn't planning on speaking again, but i'm still here in town for just a little longer, so i figured i may as well end on a happier note, if at all possible...
Megan October 03, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Hey, Rebecca! SO GLAD to read (and see via the City Council meeting online) that the stars are beginning to align for you, so to speak. I wish you nothing but the best now and in the future, and will always hold you in high esteem for the amazing courage and resilience you've shown through this very dark and desperate time in your life. I only wish I had known sooner, and been able to help in a more substantive way. This community has a lot to learn from you and the situation you've been through/are going through. I truly admire the guts it has taken for you to stand up and speak out.
Michael Banks October 03, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Well said Megan. I second everything you say.
Rebecca Chapman October 04, 2012 at 12:42 AM
thanks, fan club! you guys are great. the funny part is that i haven't even mentioned a whole slew of other details (because they're rather unsavory), but once i've found my way to a safer place for myself, those juicy tidbits will come out too. but, right now i'm trying to figure out exactly how to spend this surprise ten bucks. hmm... gelato? beer? pizza? popcorn? seaweed snacks? duct tape for the hole in my flip flops? P I Z Z A, it is! w/ pepperoni. & a coke. god, i love my homelessness sometimes. it's just so god****ed liberating!!!!!
Rebecca Chapman October 16, 2012 at 11:07 PM
celebrated my 2-year anniversary of being without a home by crying a lot, walking along the water, and giving a not very cheery speech to the mayor & city council members last night. it's a little more difficult finding these things on the city's website now, because of the way they're indexing them, but, for anyone who's interested, i did speak out about one of the people in town who's been threatening me with violence, so it would help to have some more of my fans' support on this one. thanks, all! and thank you, d'angelo's, for allowing me in last night to sit at the bar for a 1/2 bowl of spaghetti & tomato sauce...
Rebecca Chapman November 06, 2012 at 06:44 PM
i have yet to find my sense of humor lately, but i was still able to give an o.k. (i think) speech to the mayor & city council members last night, for anyone still following this story. i realize it's election day today, & that there are way bigger issues at stake, but i tried to address that too in my 'schpeal'. i'm exhausted, folks, so not as articulate as maybe a few weeks ago, but still trying to keep from being silenced on this issue...thanks!
Rebecca Chapman November 20, 2012 at 08:57 PM
a grim reception last night, which makes me wonder who's been talking to whom. anybody can make anybody else look bad out of context, folks, so maybe you (the general you, obviously) could still consider my words as having some validity, despite how convincing my falsified medical reports, employee records, etc. may seem. anyway, i spoke to the mayor & city council again yesterday evening, for anyone still viewing &/or listening to these speeches online...
Rebecca Chapman December 04, 2012 at 06:32 PM
well, after being completely derailed by one of my loveliest of friends first thing yesterday morning (we were drinking coffee & tea, he made me cry, i called him a bad name, you know...the usual!), i approached the city council with extra venom last night. and i didn't even speak about my homelessness, which was sad, & happy too, in a weird way. anyway, it's 8/6 city, 8/13 planning, 9/4 city, 9/5 parks & rec, 9/6 land use & mobility (MV2040), 9/10 planning, 9/18 city, 10/1 city, 10/15 city, 11/5 city, 11/19 city & 12/3 city, for anyone still following these speeches. hopefully i'll take a little break for now, as i'm trying to remain focused on my upcoming adventures. thanks, everybody!
Rebecca Chapman December 29, 2012 at 04:49 PM
stay tuned...my speech on 1/7 should include a response to the city manager, a welcome to our mayor & some really FUN homeless show & tell! oh, & i should be heading out of town very early the next morning, if we're all really lucky....
Dana December 31, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Rebecca! so glad to see you are still writing here. tried to text you. do you still have a phone? love u, Dana
Rebecca Chapman January 03, 2013 at 09:14 PM
beautiful girl! i've been thinking about you & 'hubbie' for days. my phone's not up & running yet ('cuz of that wacky spokane via greyhound fiasco), but i'm easily found around downtown mill valley, & sometimes sausalito &/or corte madera lately. sorry, i can't post my e•mail address publicly yet. anyway, sorry, i forget to check back here, as i feel a little guilty using this post as an ongoing bulletin board. but, while i'm here, happy, HAPPY new year to all my gorgeous beyond words friends & supporters out there. love you all!!!
Rebecca Chapman January 14, 2013 at 09:48 PM
not thrilled by the way i was being heckled incessantly by an audience member at last week's city council meeting. so, if any of my laughter &/or pauses seemed ill-timed, they were. but, i appreciated being able to speak freely (sort of); it's just unfair to be forced to talk & listen @ the same time. oh, & be mocked. anyway, i was gonna try & be 'big' about it & not say anything, but it's been really bugging me. i'll probably do 'homeless show & tell' @ tonight's planning commission meeting, though, just to (hopefully) make myself feel better...
Rebecca Chapman January 15, 2013 at 05:30 PM
gave a rather humourless speech to the planning commission yesterday evening (1/14). apparently they started recording late, so the beginning is cut off, but maybe that'll be fixed later. anyway, i just wanted to thank heidi richardson for looking me in the eye & listening, which is waaaay more than i can say for some of the others...
Rebecca Chapman January 23, 2013 at 05:05 PM
gave a more positive update at last night's city council meeting (1/22). the 'heckler' was still there, as was one of my other detractors (both on city staff, by the way), so i was a little distracted again. pretty unlike me to not go the whole 3 minutes, right?!
Rebecca Chapman February 12, 2013 at 09:11 PM
gave an emotional, but positive speech to the planning commissioners, & some city staff, last night (2/11), & i'm really hoping to give another more humorous speech to the mayor & city council next time they meet (2/19) as well. it'll be the anniversary of my mom's birthday, so we'll see...!
Rebecca Chapman February 22, 2013 at 10:39 PM
spoke rather grimly at public open time at (2/19)'s meeting, then again at 1:30 (1 hr., 30 mins.), more cheerily, for anybody still following...
Rebecca Chapman March 12, 2013 at 04:00 PM
spoke about losing almost all my belongings to the planning commission at last night (3/11)'s meeting...
Rebecca Chapman March 26, 2013 at 05:16 PM
gave a heartfelt speech to the planning commission at last night (3/25)'s meeting (right at the beginning of public open time), which was a follow up to my sweeter speech to the mayor & city council at (3/18)'s city council meeting, which doesn't start 'til 11 mins., 25 secs. in, & which i thought i already posted about here. anyway, these can all be found at http://www.cityofmillvalley.org, and the dates & times are listed in my comments above. sorry, if that's not clear enough. i'm tired!!!
Rebecca Chapman April 18, 2013 at 01:14 AM
spoke again at (4/1)'s city council meeting, at the beginning, and also about 3 hrs. & 45 mins. through, at (4/8)'s planning commission meeting, during public open time and at (4/15)'s city council meeting, also at the beginning. sorry for not updating this sooner, but i don't think too many folks are following this story anymore, plus i've been super busy. thanks, all!
Rebecca Chapman April 23, 2013 at 06:01 PM
spoke out again at last night (4/22)'s planning commission meeting, at the beginning, during public open time. this time with a couple of litle 'homeless vignettes' & a very special 'thank you' to all my pals over at sweetwater. i'm hunkered down at the library, doing paperwork today, so maybe someone else could let 'em know. thank, guys & gals!
Rebecca Chapman May 07, 2013 at 05:18 PM
gave a rather bland speech at last night (5/6)'s city council meeting. i guess i shoulda clarified that gifts of money are always welcome, as i'm barely making it from one meal to the next lately. because the real misconception out in the streets is that i'm not starving, maybe 'cuz my legs look so strong & i seem happier lately. but, that's hardly the case. i'm just getting better at suffering through this, that's all...
Rebecca Chapman May 14, 2013 at 05:14 PM
gave a fairly grim speech at last night (5/13)'s planning commission meeting. i know you're not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth, but in this case it was too hard not to. hopefully, the guy i was talking about won't be at tonight's community meeting, though, as i may speak out at that one too!
Rebecca Chapman May 29, 2013 at 02:04 PM
i've given a couple more speeches, at last week (5/20)'s city council meeting, & yesterday (5/28)'s planning commission meeting; still pretty moody from these constant drops in blood sugar, so please forgive my temperament, all...thanks!
Rebecca Chapman June 15, 2013 at 01:33 PM
i've given a couple of more speeches, at (6/3)'s city council meeting, where i got some good laughs, & at (6/10)'s planning commission meeting, where the microphone wasn't working, but they had me speak anyway...
Rebecca Chapman July 22, 2013 at 01:37 PM
i've given a couple of more speeches, at (6/17)'s city council meeting, and (7/15)'s city council meeting, & will probably speak again at tonight (7/22)'s planning commission meeting, for anyone still interested...
Rebecca Chapman August 08, 2013 at 11:37 PM
i spoke at (7/22), (7/24) & (7/25)'s planning commission meetings, and (8/5)'s city council meeting, for anyone still following...
Yet another Anon December 14, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Been thinking about you soooo much during this cold, cold weather, Rebecca. Haven't seen you for several days. Hoping that you are staying warm and fed.


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