Disabled Homeless Man Walks to Raise Money for Wife’s Cancer Treatment

disabled homeless man walking to Sacramento

Another Truly Dystopian Story Being Spun as a Heartwarming Tale

In the corporate hellscape of late-stage capitalism we currently live in, we’ve become numb to a lot of the human suffering that exists for the sake of bigger profits for billionaires. But a special strain of this is the “heartwarming stories” about truly horrific things.

You know the type. They usually have titles like “Kid Starts Lemonade Stand to Pay For Mom’s Surgery” or “Woman Sells Kidneys To Make Rent.” 

Ok, I made that second one up, but it’s really not far off. We’re meant to see these as inspiring stories of ordinary people rising above the odds and sacrificing themselves for someone else’s gain. But what they really expose is what a poor standard of care our government gets away with providing. 

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that elementary schoolers shouldn’t be #hustling to try and make sure their mother doesn’t die. And you shouldn’t have to sacrifice an arm and a leg, or any other body parts, just to ensure your family has a safe, stable, and secure place to sleep at night. But these are the harsh realities that too many people face daily. 

When it comes to housing, healthcare, and all the other necessities of life in this country, nothing is guaranteed, and the safety nets are rotten.

A Plan of Desperation

All this preamble brings us to the subject of today’s heart-wrenching story, Jason Means. Means is a 61-year-old homeless man with arthritis so bad it hurts to tie his shoes. His wife, Laurie Tolen, helps him with that. 

Before the pandemic, these two were small business owners local to the Bay Area. They sold food items like donuts, coffee, or snow cones from a small trailer. But Covid hit the business hard and quickly led to eviction and homelessness. That’s when Laurie was diagnosed with cancer. 

A host of bureaucratic issues have prevented the pair from accessing aid. So Jason devised an idea to raise funds to pay for Laurie’s treatments and an RV to give her a more stable place to recover. He decided to walk from Martinez, California, into the state capitol of Sacramento, taking donations and raising awareness along the way. He set off on July 1.

Martinez to Sacramento

The journey of 100 miles is an ambitious feat for a man who relies on a walker and suffers from severe arthritis. Add in the summer heat, and it could even prove deadly.

But Jason did it. Upon his arrival in Sacramento on July 25 after the grueling walk, he hoped to speak with Governor Gavin Newsom about the situation he and his wife are in and about the larger issues of disabled and elderly homeless people in the state.

When Jason arrived, Governor Newsom was not available for a meeting. Instead, he met with Assembly Fellow Aldo Garcia, who praised his efforts and promised another meeting soon with Assembly Member Lori Wilson.

Jason’s Second Walk for Laurie

Jason and Laurie haven’t been satisfied with the limited response they got from the Governor’s office. According to them, many promises were made, but they’ve yet to see any results or even much movement. Their follow-up calls and emails to Garcia have gone unanswered. 

In light of this indifferent response, Jason has decided to perform a second, even longer walk for Laurie. He set out at 8 am August 14, walking from San Francisco to Sacramento. He intends to circle the State Capitol until “someone who is someone” is available to meet with him.

Updates are available on the couple’s GoFundMe page, where they’re still a long way off from meeting their goal.

There Are So Many More Jasons and Lauries Out There

Jason’s Walk for Laurie isn’t an inspiring story of overcoming obstacles as much as it is a wake-up call for those who have yet to see how bad things have become.

A person who was well cared for and had access to healthcare and the other basic resources that sustain life would not need to put his own body and health on the line to try and save his wife’s. Yet this is where we are in America. According to many people making decisions, it’s where they want us to stay.

Jason and Laurie are only getting what attention and donations they’ve managed to attract because their approach is unusual. Not everyone in their situation can walk 100 or more miles to raise awareness; if they could, it wouldn’t work. We’ve set this up as some sort of perverse meritocracy, where the people in the worst situations have to outdo each other in a game of suffering Olympics just for a chance at raising a little money to sustain them.

This can’t be the way we do things. We need housing, healthcare, and a basic standard of living for all people so that no one needs to put themselves through grueling trials like this one just for a chance at survival. 

Clear Your Schedule, Governor Newsom

Jason wasn’t able to get through to Governor Newsom on his first visit to the State Capitol. Maybe we can use our voices to turn up the volume on his message until the Governor can hear it a little more clearly. You can contact his office by submitting an email through the form on this page, using the phone number (916) 445-2841, or, if you’re old school, sending a letter to the following mailing address:

Governor Gavin Newsom
1021 O Street, Suite 9000
Sacramento, CA 95814

Let’s let Governor Newsom know that we haven’t forgotten about the elderly and disabled homeless people in California and encourage him to take a meeting with Jason Means when he makes his return trip. Or sooner; I’m sure the man could use a little rest!

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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