A gory gash over Martha's nose looks like it needed — but didn't get — stitches. "It's too late for that," her husband George says.
He describes how, the previous night, another woman living in the homeless encampment by the Humboldt Bay smashed her fist into Martha's face. George says he thinks the assaulter was holding some heavy object like a bottle or stick. "She definitely had a weapon."
George and Martha have no phone to call police. They might have been able to ride their bicycles to the emergency room - but not in the dark. "Riding at night is suicide " George says. "You might as well lay down in the middle of the street."
Martha applied antibiotic ointment. She and her partner of 31 years, George, headed to the emergency room the next day.
Martha, born on the North Coast, doesn't want to be photographed and doesn't want her real first name used. Camping out by the Bay isn't safe, she says. Retribution isn't out of the question.
"It's dangerous down there," George adds. "A lot of people do drugs and stuff, methamphetamine. If you don't do drugs, you're an easy target."
"You're not in their clique," Martha interjects.
What about law enforcement?
"Police are always down there but that obviously doesn't stop anything," George says.
To survive on the streets, George says, it's important to keep priorities straight.
"We believe in hygiene," he says. "We take care of our bikes. We take care of our feet. If your feet are sick, you're sick. You aren't going to survive. “
They stay away from drugs.
"We're in our 50s so we're old enough to know better," George says.
The couple doesn't always live in Eureka. They spent some time in Oregon with George's mother before she died last month. But they always come back.
"There's a lot of nice people here," George says.
"And there's also a lot of gangsters trying to rob people for two or three dollars or threaten you with a knife for a bag of recyclables."
He shrugs."It is what it is. This is the real deal when you live on the street."
Near Safeway in Arcata, Star Constantine's holding a sign: "It's my 21st birthday."
A person walks up and hands her a dollar.
"Thanks!" she says cheerily. Her red hair's pulled back. She's bundled up in a blue jacket and Carhartts with embroidered hearts. Constantine's husband waits nearby with the couple's greyhound-Great Dane puppy. For the coming holidays, Constantine hopes to get food to - make her own holiday meal with friends.
"I'd like to do something for the kids," she says, referring to travelers staying in Arcata. In June, Constantine and her husband rode from Pennsylvania across the nation with a group of people. "Seven people and three dogs!" she says. The ride stopped in Arcata.
Since then, Constantine has explored the West Coast by hitchhiking, making short trips to Crescent City and to Mount Shasta. She'd like to stay.
In Pennsylvania, Constantine was a certified nursing assistant. When she gets on her feet here, she'll transfer her credentials, she says, and find work.
For now, the couple is couch- surfing and camping at Clam Beach. Constantine makes and sells beaded jewelry.
"Arcata is a wonderful place,"
Lea, 46, sits under a tree with an open 40-ounce Miller and a paperback novel. She calls the novel ii ash. "Just something to read." Because of the beer, she can't get in line for food.
Lea came to Eureka from Colorado Springs in September. She likes Eureka. The weather's better - no snow. "There'd be five inches or so by now in Colorado Springs," she says. "I'd rather deal with the rain."
For the most part, she expects holidays to be like any other day. "1 panhandle and make a little money, buy a couple of beers," she says. "I smoke a little pot. I drink. I read books. That's what 1 do."
Mike Wynn, 47, wants groceries for the holidays. Wynn moved to Arcata for a construction job more than a decade ago. He says he's worked on building projects including the baseball stadium and the Arcata Transit Center. He has children. His oldest daughter must be 30 by now.
"1 probably wouldn't be outside if I was in touch with them, to be honest," he says.
Wynn leans on a cane holding an unlit cigarette and “Any Help” written in marker on a cardboard sign. A man walks over and hands him a dollar.
"God bless," Wynn says.
Wynn can do odd jobs if he doesn't have to walk too far or climb a ladder. He was shot in the leg
four years ago after a disagreement, he says. He can walk about 25 feet without the cane.
"I'm a good mechanic, too," he says. "But I don't have any tools."
Wynn says he's enlisted the help of a lawyer to get his disability checks.
For now, he's making do.
"This is where I get my groceries from," he says, nodding to his cardboard sign.
Wynn has heard of a food pantry in Arcata but doesn't know where to find it. He may attend a Christmas dinner but not if it's held at the Veteran's Hall. He doesn't like the building.
"Holidays are all right," he says. "I'll probably see if a church is doing something."