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By all accounts, Genny had little interest in company or small talk. She tolerated the social workers, cops, mental health counselors and church staffers who approached her over the years with offers of help. But she brushed off their suggestions of motel vouchers and bus passes and clinic visits. Delve into her personal life, and she’d respond with steely silence. Like hundreds of others who sleep on Sacramento’s streets, she was a puzzle of intelligence and delusion, endurance and vulnerability, need and stubborn denial.

Marie, a retired nurse, and James, a retired chef, lived in an apartment just a few blocks from midtown’s B Street Theatre, and got their daily exercise by walking to the post office on Alhambra and Q Street. Along the way, they often saw homeless people, mostly disheveled young men who railed at invisible enemies. Both held a deep moral conviction to help those in need. So they volunteered at nearby St. Francis of Assisi church and at the Loaves Fishes homeless services complex, and passed out gloves, socks and other provisions during their walks.

As far back as Diane could remember, her mother had been subject to dark suspicions and volatile mood swings, but her mental condition never was discussed at any length. When her girls were young, Genevieve suffered what family members described as a “nervous breakdown” and wound up in a psychiatric ward for a few days. When she was older, Diane remembers being told her mother had paranoid schizophrenia. But it’s not clear when or where the diagnosis came, or whether she had ever sought treatment.

In 2012, with the pastor’s blessing, Genny set up camp in the side entrance to the elegant Faith United Methodist Church on J Street. For months, the Rev. Barbara Horikoshi Firebaugh had made small talk with Genny whenever the two crossed paths en route to a nearby Subway. She told Genny the church entrance needed to be clear for Sunday services, but otherwise she was welcome to stay. Genny complied, disappearing early each Sunday and returning in the afternoon. She interacted with some of the church staff, once alerting them that a door lock was broken, and occasionally accepted leftovers from congregational gatherings.

People also gave Genny money, which she typically stuffed down her shirt. One morning in October 2013, police arrested her at one of her midtown sleeping spots, charged her with illegal camping and took her to jail. When she was booked, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Lisa Bowman,
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deputies found $6,681.70 stashed beneath her clothing, with many of the bills virtually glued to her skin. She was given a check for that amount when she was released later that day, Bowman said. Genny took the check. But, with no bank account or identification, she never cashed it.

Sacramento police Officers George Chargin and Michelle Lazark witnessed Genny’s stubborn resistance for years as they patrolled the streets of midtown. It was part of their job to respond to complaints about illegal campsites, rousting homeless people from their sleeping spots. On cold and rainy nights, Chargin and Lazark sometimes sought Genny out to offer a voucher for a hotel room, but she steadfastly refused. More than once, the officers said, they considered taking Genny to a hospital, where she could be held for 72 hours as a danger to herself.

As a young mother, Diane wanted to be everything that Genevieve was not. She read and sang to her daughter, made sure her teeth were brushed and her clothes clean. The family gathered around the table each night for dinner. Stephanie attended the same schools as her friends from first grade until high school. Although Diane and her first husband divorced after 18 years of marriage, they did so amicably. Diane went on to remarry, and Stephanie grew up close with both of her fathers. She knew stability and unconditional love.

The coroner had identified Genny through her fingerprints. Her full name was Genevieve Lucchesi, the Boyers were told, and she was 77. Cause of death was listed as cardiovascular disease. She had arrived at the morgue with the clothes she was wearing, a Del Taco gift card, business cards from El Hogar Mental Health Clinic and the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, and $24 in cash. She also carried a check made out in her name: $6,681.70 from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department’s inmate fund, dated Oct. 25, 2013.

Diane agreed to speak about her mother, she said, to help illustrate the destruction that mental illness can inflict on families. She counts herself as an example of someone who survived, even thrived, in spite of it. Stephanie is thriving, too. She is 34, with an easy smile and cascading blond hair. She has a husband and two young sons, loves to cook and decorate, and works as a teaching assistant with special education students. With continued treatment and family support, she’s learned to work through and manage her depression.
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