Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

When Kate Hamon retired to Amador County more than a decade ago, she bought houses and opened a gift shop. Now, at 78, the Army veteran and great-grandmother of 11 is looking for a job.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A view of Mokelumne Hill, a town between Jackson and San Andreas in California's Gold Country. Some nearby areas are among the poorest in the state.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Kate Hamon walks to a homemade trailer that she is loading up with possessions. The elderly are dealing with tough financial conditions in the foothills of the Sierra.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Kate Hamon loads up some of her possessions as she moves out of the home.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Seniors line up at a food bank giveaway in Sonora. During the fall and winter months, the food giveaways become much leaner, with less produce and nutritious fare.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

The Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency sponsors a food bank for impoverished people in the foothill counties. There has been a marked increase in the number of seniors going to the food bank. A volunteer places a sign along Highway 120 in Groveland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A man reaches into a box of squash at a food bank giveaway in Groveland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Ed Barrera, 70, right, retired in the Sierra after working in San Bernadino. He struggles with back pain and heats his home using a wood-burning stove. He cannot afford to heat with propane.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Cecilia Dominguez, 67, left, is deaf and has been living in a small hotel in Sonora. Unable to pay any longer, she is moving to San Diego, where she says she has family.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Cecilia Dominguez, 67, left, is deaf and has been living in a small hotel in Sonora.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Cecilia Dominguez prepares a meal of ramen noodles.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Andrew Diaz, 72, has had multiple surgeries on his back and is unable to work. He shares a mobile home with his wife Karen Diaz, 64, who has allergies that prevent her from working.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Andrew Diaz, 72, and his wife Karen Diaz, 64, are overwhelmed by things piling up in their mobile home.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Andrew Diaz, 72, unable to work because of multiple surgeries for back trouble, lives in Sonora with his wife, Karen, who cannot work because of allergies.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Known among homeless people as the Lost Highway, an abandoned stretch of road in Sonora is a camp for homeless people, including the elderly.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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By Esmeralda Bermudez

It was a dream to retire here — in a quaint little town atop a hillside, among the pines and the quail and the Main Street shops. When Kate Hamon arrived more than a decade ago, she had it all.

Now she is on the phone with Kmart, hustling to get a job.

“Please, please keep me in mind,” she tells the manager. “I can start any time you like.”

Work is hard to find around these parts, especially when you’re 78 years old.

For many retirees like Hamon, who came to spend their golden years in California’s Gold Rush region, life has not turned out the way they’d hoped. Prospectors once came chasing riches; seniors arrived with retirement plans and enough money to buy homes. But a dreary economy turned everything upside-down. Now many scrape by on a fixed income, a tough thing to do in a place so isolated.

Across Amador, Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, seniors make up 20% of the population, twice the state average. About 1 in 3 gets by on less than $20,000 a year.

They count on churches, senior centers and outreach groups for the most basic needs: food, heat and rent.

At the Interfaith Food Bank of Amador County, 600 retirees collected food this year, double the number in 2007.

“Seniors who once used to donate are now standing in line,” said director Kathleen Harmon.

In Tuolumne County, food bank workers are finding more people 60 and older living in trailers on private land or in the woods. Some are forced to move every few weeks.

Hamon, a great-grandmother of 11, knows others have it far worse. She’s a proud woman, an Army veteran, trying to avoid public assistance.

The retired purchasing agent moved from San Jose to Amador County in 1997. She bought two homes, one for herself and one to rent. She also invested money and opened a gift shop in the cozy town of Jackson, next door to the busy deli.

But about three years ago, her homes went underwater, the investment turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and business was so slow that she had to close her shop.

Now she has to somehow survive on her Social Security check of $800 a month.

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