‘We are fallen people’: Homeless man stabbed at transit center defends Warm Room | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘We are fallen people’: Homeless man stabbed at transit center defends Warm Room

On a Friday evening in March while waiting for a bus, Francois Hughes watched an argument between two men escalate into a fistfight. When one of them pulled a knife, he knew he had to intervene.

Hughes, 48, stepped in to break up the fight but was stabbed in the chest by a 45-year-old man, who is now facing attempted murder charges.

The knife pierced Hughes' lung and part of his heart. His friends Chris and Melanie Maytum quickly jumped into action. Melanie held Hughes, who was bleeding profusely, while Chris tackled the suspect to the ground and held him there until the paramedics and police arrived.

Hughes was rushed to the hospital and into surgery. After three weeks recuperating in the hospital, he was released.

“There are two types of people there: People that want to be there for the rest of their life and people that actually want to take advantage of the Warm Room and eventually get out of homelessness.”

— Francois Hughes

The incident that occurred at the South Y Transit Center Station on March 24 was big news in South Lake Tahoe, in part due to the violent nature of the crime, but also because it occurred at a spot in town that has needed consistent police monitoring.

And because all four members involved in the incident are homeless.

"I'm here to talk about the stabbing, but also to clear up the bad press that the Warm Room has been getting," said Hughes earlier this week at the Tribune office.

He pulled up his shirt to reveal a two-inch gash stitched up on the left side of his chest.

"I saw a man pull a knife on another man. I love mutual combat, but when somebody pulls a knife out, it's a problem," he said.

Hughes has been homeless for four months and spent his first winter at the Warm Room this year.

"I've never been homeless before. I'm brand new to this," explained Hughes, who said he used to sell timeshares for Embassy Vacation Resorts (now Diamond Resorts). "My wife died two years ago, and ever since I've been trying to find myself."

Hughes did not want to delve into the specifics of how he went from a house near Cave Rock to sleeping at the Warm Room, but he did have a message to get out.

"It's not a destination for some; for some it's a way station," said Hughes.

"We are fallen people. I've met people who have made and squandered millions, had bad relationships, hopeless thoughts, whatever it is. The people at the Warm Room are great people, but God forbid if you ever end up like us," continued Hughes.

Chris and Melanie Maytum spent their first winter at the Warm Room this year, too.

"If it wasn't for the Warm Room being there, we'd be sleeping God knows where," said Chris. "In January our vehicle broke down. We've always had a vehicle and that was home. So once the vehicle broke down and it got towed, we were left on foot."

Without a place to call their own, it became difficult for Chris and Melanie to hold steady jobs.

"Once you're down, it's really tough to get back up," said Chris, adding that he previously worked as a correctional officer and did security for concerts and festivals.

"The people at the Warm Room are here to help us. Help us have a safe place to sleep where we're not going to get hassled by the cops. Maybe guide us a little bit in a direction where we can stand on our own two feet."

Neither Hughes nor the Maytums know where they will sleep once the Warm Room shuts it doors on April 30 — a later closure date thanks to an anonymous donation of $4,500 — but they are working to figure it out.

Despite the organization's best efforts, many of the roughly 125 homeless individuals who used the Warm Room this winter will be back out on the streets once the shelter closes.

However, some are taking advantage of a rapid rehousing program through the West Slope program Only Kindness, which helps people find housing and secure first and last month's rent.

"A few of them their next steps are to go to rehabs," said Nicole Zaborsky, a Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless board member. "The whole season we've done drug and alcohol programs, and then we have one of our staff that comes every Friday morning to just meet with individuals on a one-on-one basis to talk about their individual needs and next steps."

Throughout the winter the Warm Room has offered other programs to help individuals figure out Social Security and health care. Education and job opportunities are also offered to the shelter's guests, along with mental health counseling.

"I think one of the surprising things that we found is that right now our stats are showing that roughly a quarter of our guests are employed. I've found that to be pretty high. And I think a lot of folks are fighting to get a second job or more hours so that they can actually afford a place," said Scott Weavil, vice president of the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless board.

"Every night there are multiple people in full uniform from some of our local employers that stay here."

The high cost and demand for rentals on the South Shore is a contributing factor, noted Weavil.

This is the Warm Room's second season, and just like last year, the future location of the shelter is unknown.

"It's hard for us to sign a year-long lease because we don't have the financing at this point since we're a newer organization," said Zaborsky. "If the building is available, the property owner is definitely open to us occupying next year."

With a new year comes room for improvement, too.

"We do recognize that there have been some issues this year, and we are working very closely with the police department and other groups in town to help minimize those," said Weavil.