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Marysville homeless man gets job, home at graveyard
He hears only birds, trains and the wind.
If anything else moves or makes a sound at the Marysville City Cemetery, Donald "Shortstack" Oliver is likely to notice.
Until Wednesday, Oliver had been spending his nights in a tent on a river bottom.
But now he and his dog, Rosey, are in a trailer beside the historic pioneer graveyard at the north edge of town, out of the elements and away from the most dangerous and stressful aspects of homeless life.
"I'm the watchman," he said Thursday from the relative comfort of his new home.
The trailer — and the 58-year-old Oliver's selection as its occupant — is part the city's novel approach to a rash of cemetery vandalism. See slideshow of Oliver at cemetery.
"We were trying to figure out a way to curb the vandalism, and now we've got a volunteer caretaker," said Sgt. Chris Sachs of the Marysville Police Department.
The city had been able, years ago, to house a security guard, and pay for some maintenance of the site.
But budget cuts in recent years led to a near-abandonment of the cemetery, which holds Gold Rush-era gravesites, including military veteran, Chinese and Jewish pioneer sections.
"We're giving him (Oliver) a place to live, and he's going to provide a service the city can't otherwise afford," Sachs said.
Two incidents of destruction at the municipal graveyard and another in the nearby Catholic Cemetery — all in the last 15 months — had sparked outrage from residents, who wrote letters to City Hall and to the Appeal-Democrat, and spoke out at City Council meetings.
They lamented the crimes and destruction, pleading with officials to find a solution to the problem.
Capt. Mike Wilson of the Marysville Police Department had established a friendly relationship with Oliver during years of patrolling the former Hollywood Trailer Park.
"He's a reliable person," Sachs said of the soft-spoken, formerly homeless man. "He was chosen due to his longtime positive relationship with the community and Police Department."
City workers and volunteers secured and transported a used trailer from a tow yard to the cemetery off Highway 70 after signing a $1-per-year lease for its use.
They hooked up electricity and water Wednesday, and got their new sentinel situated.
Oliver, who once tried to preach a spiritual, drug-free lifestyle to folks living in Hollywood, had been hitting a brick wall in recent years, and was happy for the sanctuary.
"Come on now, tighten up your game," he would say to those slipping back into the lifestyle, he said.
Hardcore addicts made life outdoors dangerous. He was robbed more than once, and beaten up about a year ago.
Wilson's offer to move into the trailer came at just the right time, he said Thursday.
"It's excellent," he said of his new situation. "No more drama."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack.