Homeless in Pahrump

Lost in the haze-Charleston Peak

The first time I met Richard, he had come to kick me off the place where I was camping. The second time I met Richard, it was to find out why he has dedicated his life to helping the down-and-out in Pahrump, Nevada.

Pahrump looks the way its name sounds: a thud on the tongue. It’s a thoroughfare between Las Vegas and Death Valley—the last stop for gas, groceries, and the slots. (This is Nevada, after all.) Pahrump is a used car salesman in a polyester suit. It sprawls across the valley, its noxious breath obscuring the 11,000-foot Charleston Peak to its rear. Its temperate winters attract snowbirds and bums, and I saw plenty of the latter.

In fact, it was a homeless guy who told me where to camp. “It’s all BLM [federal] land,” he said, with an expansive sweep of his arm. “You can camp for free anywhere behind town. It’s a gold mine back there.”

That last statement was hyperbolic. But sure enough, trailers that had seen better days were scattered about on the broad “fan”—land that slopes from the Spring Mountains to the town. It wasn’t a gold mine by any stretch. It was a trash heap littered with broken glass, crushed batteries, bits of metal, a child’s shoe. I’m still surprised Oreo’s feet and my tires made it out intact.

unloved land

I found a place to camp that was near enough to walk to the wifi hotspot at Burger King and far enough from the neighboring trailers to feel comfortable. AND I had six bars on my cell phone, so despite the surroundings, it was maybe a copper mine for me. Until Richard pulled up in his red truck and told me I was on someone’s land and that I had to leave.

He was wearing a John 3:16 hat, so I knew he wasn’t really a hardass.  After some banter, I learned about Richard’s work with the homeless in Pahrump. (Many of my neighbors were shacking up in trailers he had provided for that purpose.) He’s the town hero to the homeless and maybe a gadfly to those who prefer to ignore the obvious. After two years of nonstop advocacy—all volunteer–he’s beginning to gain traction. He founded his 501(C)3 corporation: Helping Hands 4 Jesus and has a crew of “Red Shirts.” (His volunteers wear red shirts with the Helping Hands logo.) For a guy who, by his own description, only knows about dealing drugs and bartending, Richard is incredibly organized and effective, and Pahrump seems relieved to have someone doing the dirty work. 

Richard’s story is remarkable. “I was a drug addict with a gambling, alcohol, and porn problem,” he says, “and I lost three wives because of it. I was homeless myself for ten years. I lived under bridges, in tents. For a while I lived in a cardboard box on the east side of LA. I held up signs that read, ‘Needs work. God bless you,’ and I’d hope that nobody gave me work, because I didn’t want it. I just wanted the money for my habits.”

Eventually, he became so disgusted with himself that he attempted suicide. “The next thing I knew I was on my knees, sobbing, ‘Help me…’ ” And God did. Almost overnight he lost the addictions, but completing the journey toward rehabilitation proved more difficult. “I went from church to church, but I didn’t have any help, so I slid back into bad habits. I had one foot in the devil’s camp and the other in Christ’s.”

This phase last for 17 years, until one day he had an asthma attack that almost killed him. He was diagnosed with severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and was given months to live. “I was on hospice care. I couldn’t bathe, eat, or breathe. I fell into a deep depression.”

After a year of this, he prayed again. This time he promised there would be no wavering. Both feet would be firmly planted in Christ’s camp. He would be God’s man, completely committed to service. After a day or two, he was off oxygen. Then he “graduated” from hospice care. That was two years ago.

Richard and the red shirt

Richard is by no means well. He still has serious breathing problems and is disbled for all intents and purposes. But he’s done more in two years for the needy in his home town than many of us do in a lifetime. Because of his physical limitations, his work mostly involves organizing, but he also gets his hands dirty.

Case in point: Mr. Tom. When they met, Mr. Tom had been homeless for years and was dying of cancer. He no longer moved from his bunk in an abandoned trailer. “He went to the bathroom right there,” says Richard. “Fortunately, I had just had nose surgery, so I couldn’t smell a thing.”

Mr. Tom was so devoid of hope and humanity that when Richard left him in a motel for a night with a set of clean clothes, Mr. Tom just slept on the floor, too debilitated even to shower.

Richard showed him how. He literally shaved the baseball cap from Mr. Tom’s head, along with the mat of graying hair. He peeled off his clothing and scrubbed away years of filth from his body. Photos of the process show the transition from a hooded specter to a small, bald man who looks like a lost puppy.

Mr. Tom is slowly failing, but now he lives in a trailer with water and electricity provided by Helping Hands. Richard still goes there every morning to clean him up and make sure he has provisions for the day. The man who can’t breathe changing the diaper of the dying man has a certain poignance, don’t you think?

Richard’s current project, which he is working to sell to the city, is Eagle’s Wings, a “Rehabilitation Center” where people who’ve hit life’s speed bumps harder than most can live for a while and get help. It’s an ambitious project, but perhaps not more improbable than any other part of Richard’s life.

Helping Hands 4 Jesus, 645 E. Simkins, Pahrump, NV




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18 Responses to Homeless in Pahrump

  1. Anton 30 November, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    I think the work that Richard has done is amazing and selfless. I’m trying to locate an individual who was last registered as homeless by the police in Pahrump. Her name is Deyan Sheldon and her family is concerned for her well-being. It’s a long shot, but is there anyone in Pahrump that knows her? If so, her family is worried and we would like her to contact me.

    • steven may 5 December, 2016 at 10:55 am #

      we have Sheldon,s in our EXTENDED family good chance we are kin.
      Steven May

  2. Marc 4 January, 2015 at 12:41 am #

    I have a friend that just literally was, tonight, kicked out in the cold with her daughter. I was called and I went to retreive them and I placed them up in a clients home who lives out of town. They can only stay for a couple of days. So, this question is for Richard, since I’ve been reading about you alot tonight, who or where can I direct them to go and to whom to see. Right now they are trying to geet hold of some other relatives…Thank you for any consideration….Marc

  3. annette mayberry 12 December, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    I am moving to Pahrump,NV and I would like some resources shelters,food banks, foodstamps,drivers licence, list of hotekls,and of course any job listings could someone be so kind to give me what they can and mail it to 2115 portis ave st Louis mo 63110 Annette mayberry thanks so much we as a family are grateful for your time hope to hear from someone soon.

  4. anissa 3 October, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    We just arrived in Pahrump NV
    And right now we are in desperate need of help for couple weeks or maybe up to 3 weeks…
    its me my 2 kids and my friend and her bull dog
    Tomorrow I have to enroll my kids in the middle school here
    If anyone cab help please come by we are saddle west parking lot in Pahrump
    My cell is 580-743-7527

  5. Karen 6 June, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    I am from Indiana and have a friend on FB that is in Pahrump Nevada he has stated just within a day that he is now homeless and has no where to go. He was last staying at walmart/park, his name is James Ross. Please help him in finding shelter until he can get back on his feet again. The only thing I can do is pray for him and his safety in hopes that someone of a caring heart will help him.

    Thank you and God Bless.

  6. Maria Martin 29 May, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    I ran across your website just by accident and I really appreciate your great service. Keep up the good work. If I became homeless I would not ask for help, that is just who I am. However, I do appreciate your contribution to society.

  7. trusmisel 28 May, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    I came across your site looking for homeless shelter in Pahrump.. My brother has metal issues and now fines himself home less. he lives in Pahrump. and I know you probably know him. Phil. I need to get some clothing out to him. can you help?

  8. Amy 5 January, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    I can say I stumbled by this website purely by accident. I am doing a research paper for school about being homeless and I was trying to get a number of homeless people and about any homeless shelters we may have. I can say it brought tears to my eyes to not be able to find any homeless shleters here in town. I litterly live right down the road from you and I have seen the van many of times. I think it is great what you are doing. I think Pahrump if they do anything for us needs to open a homeless shelter especially for nights like this when it is only 22 degress outside. Thank You for caring about the homeless in the area and keep up the good work. I am still researching the number of homeless people in the are but after coming across this article I felt compelled to comment.

  9. Tom Zachary 25 January, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Hey Richard, keep up the great work. I help out down at Mercy Center here in Augusta, GA. It’s a homeless shelter and day center for the needy in the Harrisburg and Cherry Tree communities. Right now I’m leading the Celebrate Recovery, a Christ based 12 step program, and have recently turned over the AA & NA meetings to a sober member to run. Mercy is also trying to get a 5 acre building (the old castleberry’s canning plant) turned into a community center. There’s lots of work to do everywhere, and we have a lot of ministries at it here. One of my favorite is The New Hope Bridge Ministry, a homeless church under the 15th St. bridge in Augusta.
    My wife is out in Pahrump and I’m planning on coming out this summer. Say, is that the old Jesus van from New Hope Fellowship on West St.? Sure looks familiar. Looking forward to meeting you someday soon. May God richly bless you.

  10. Debbie Gordon 13 September, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    I’m glad to call Richard my friend. I met Richard at my church when he started “Helping Hands For Jesus” and He is such a blessing to the homeless and our community. Richard goes above and beyond any requests that he gets to help the people here in Pahrump.

    Gods speed~~~Debbie

    • Richard R. Fenton 5 January, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Kate, Richard here. Thought I’d give u an update. I have retired. I retired in Oct. 2012. I finally moved Mr. Tom in with me. He stayed with me for about 2 months. He was rushed to the hospital in November & put on Hospice in Dec. after they did all they could for him. Mr. Tom came home & die on the 8th of Dec. Mr. Tom was a big part of my life for the past 4 years & I do miss him. My health has turned from good to not so good. My asthma has taken a toll on me these last few months, but as long as I don’t over do it or get too far away from my machine (that helps me breath), I’m ok. It goes without saying that I found it a honor to serve my God & community. I have never felt so complete as I did these last 4 years. I look forward to serving again when I’m able. For now I only pray. Sometimes that’s more than enough. Thanks to all my great friends for all their support. Richard

  11. Linda Mitre 12 September, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    Wow! What a blessing we have in Pahrump, just when you think there is no one out there who cares for our fellow man or woman. Just when you lose hope in any of Churches here in Pahrump, comes a fresh breath of hope in mankind. One man has made a differance in our town . We need to back him up with prayer and moneis to keep his calling from Yeshua going. He can’t do it all alone. Thank you Richard!!!!!

  12. Richard R. Fenton 12 September, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    Kate, thanks for the nice words, you were an inspiration to me. I really enjoyed our time together. As Roy and Dale always said, “Happy Trails”. Hope you will get in touch next time you come our way. May God bless each day you have left and may they be full of health and prosperity of all kinds. Your friend………….Richard.

  13. Desiree Collins 12 September, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Richard is a treasure in our desert! Glad to see he is getting some much deserved recognition. We accept donations on his behalf at Cup of Faith Christian Books, 2250 E postal Dr Pahrump.

  14. Marcia Davis 1 May, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Very moving, Kate. Thanks for sharing your experiences. You sure know how to find a side of America that most of us don’t see day-to-day, and I appreciate that.

  15. hoz 29 April, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Well, there’s more to Pahrump than gas, groceries and slot machines, but you know that…

    How bout an interview with one of the “working Ladies?”

    • Kate 29 April, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

      Well! I sure missed THAT part of Pahrump! Is there a female counterpart to Richard?