Off Camera EXCLUSIVE
A Special Gift for Cody
KPIX Friends Help Former Bay Area, Sacramento Photojournalist Battling Homelessness, Illness
By Kevin Wing
If you have worked in the Bay Area or Sacramento television markets during any stretch of the last 30 years, you most likely know Cody Folster. Perhaps he shot your story or edited it, or his talent behind the camera or in the editing booth helped you to receive an Emmy for it.
Folster got his start in television news in Sacramento in 1987, when he became an intern at KRBK-TV Channel 31 (today’s KMAX-TV). The station hired him as a staff videographer the following year. He stayed on for 10 years. After leaving Channel 31 in 1998, he joined crosstown powerhouse KCRA as an editor for two years before giving the Bay Area a try to become a videographer at San Francisco’s KPIX for the next decade.
Up to that time, Folster’s life and career moved along at a nice pace. But then, his life began to change. It unraveled. In a very drastic, horrible way.
To simply depict what is now a very complicated life for this Alameda native, Folster became homeless. For a few months, he was living out of his 1999 Honda CRV – “98 square feet of room inside”, as he says. He has been living in a Sacramento hotel room recently, thanks to the help of his friends and colleagues from Bay Area television who have worked together to financially support Folster, putting a roof over his head and giving him some money to sustain himself.
What happened? Folster explained to Off Camera recently in an exclusive interview. He says a series of unfortunate circumstances began in late 2006, when his mother, Donna, became ill. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Folster left his fulltime position at KPIX to move back to Sacramento to care for his mother. She died several months later, in the spring of 2007.
Though Folster has two older brothers (all of them are spaced nine years apart from each other), he was the son closest to their mother, and she designated him to be the trustee of her estate. But, there were complications and implications that followed. Donna Folster had refinanced her home several years before, but it was never put back into the trust.
“Dealing with the house was like the beginning of the slippery slope,” Folster says. He was burning through his savings and using up his 401k funds to pay the mortgage and maintain the property. Finally, after dealing with foreclosure notices and all of the legal tangles associated with the property, Folster walked away from the house in 2009.
“After my Mom passed away, everyone went about with their lives,” Folster says, admitting that he and his brothers, Greg and Ladd, are not close. Cody Folster is 51; Greg is 18 years older, and Ladd is nine years his senior.
Folster was raised mostly by his mother. While a freshman at Del Campo High School in 1979, Folster’s father, John, passed away. “Then, it was just my Mom and myself. My Mom was the lynchpin of the family. When she passed away, I felt abandoned.”
In the years since his mother’s death, Folster’s life has spiraled downward due to the financial troubles he endured that were related to the complications of his mother’s estate, along with having a severe bout with cellulitis. This occurred around the time he had returned to KPIX for a second tour of duty. He was also doing double duty, as an editor at KOVR in Sacramento, to make ends meet.
However, the cellulitis affliction put him out of commission for three months.
“It was very painful. There was a lot of swelling,” Folster explains. “When I came back to work in 2012, I could only work part-time, from 25 to 30 hours a week. But, the cellulitis got worse. It wore on me. I wasn’t able to do my job to the best of my ability.”
Folster doesn’t place any blame on KPIX for reducing his freelance work hours to part-time. He says he began to realize, too, that working part-time at the station – and living in the Bay Area – was not going to work out. By 2013, he had left KPIX.
During his second tenure at the station, Folster lived in a TraveLodge, off Highway 101 near San Francisco International Airport. Some friends at KPIX who owned an in-law cottage in Pacifica offered to let him stay there to help him get caught up with his finances.
Eventually, Folster returned to Sacramento, and posted on his Facebook page that he needed a place to stay. A friend responded and showed him her apartment, but when he arrived, she saw what bad shape he was in from the cellulitis and told him to get to a hospital. He checked himself into Sutter Memorial Hospital to get his legs healthy again. Unable to pay his medical bills, he was able to benefit from Medi-Cal and Obamacare.
Still without a home, two Sacramento-area friends took in Folster after his hospitalization. He lived in an in-law unit behind their house, and remained there until August. While his friends also lived in Santa Cruz and weren’t living much of the time in Sacramento, Folster pretty much had the property to himself. The couple had been wanting to sell the property, however. And Folster, having financial difficulties due to the fact that his disability benefits had ended, was becoming more depressed. He was pawning anything of value. He felt badly for doing so, but Folster had to pawn his parents’ wedding rings. He got $550 for the rings.
“It was pennies to what they were emotionally for me,” Folster says. “I was in bad shape. I just wanted to be by myself.
Folster says his depression “got lower and lower”. On July 6, inside that in-law unit, he attempted suicide by cutting his wrists. He stopped, just in time. “I said to myself, ‘there’s got to be something better than this.'”
He wound up at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where he was placed on lockdown for four days before entering a crisis recovery center for a month. It was there that he began to talk about his issues, speaking out about his feelings.
With his friends wanting to sell their property, including the in-law unit he was living in, Folster moved out in August. He has been homeless since.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “That first night, I didn’t know what to do. I realized there was a truck stop on the edge of town, and I found a little corner there where I could park my car and sleep.”
That didn’t last. That first overnight stay there, someone from the truck stop knocked on his car window, telling him he had to move along.
In the fall, Folster decided to go public with his plight, writing blog posts on his Facebook page to tell his friends what was going on in his life.
Several friends and colleagues from KPIX started a support group for Folster. They even have an online group on Facebook called “The Cody Group”. In the spirit of giving, and spearheaded by KPIX News DirectorDan Rosenheim and present and former KPIX staffers Lindsay Stewart, Don Knapp, Julie Watts,Christine Samra, Roberta Gonzales,Valerie Harris, Leona Wong, Noel Cisneros, Anne Makovec, Eddie Alexander, Joe Vazquez, Mike Sugerman, Whitney Gould, Allen Martin, Sherry Hu, Steve Large, Marianne McClary, Ann Notarangelo and Mariana Thomas, enough funds have been raised to get Folster out of his car and into a Sacramento hotel room, at roughly $50 per night, through Dec. 21. After that, he could be out on the street again. Meanwhile, he has applied for Social Security disability benefits, but the process may take two or three more months. And applying for work right now, he says, could jeopardize those benefits.
“Physically, I can’t go back to doing what I was doing before as a cameraman,” Folster says. What he would like to do is teach photojournalism, admitting he just doesn’t have “the fire in his belly” to work in television news any longer.
“I’m so grateful,” Folster says. “Just the caring from everyone has been so overwhelming to me. Like I said, I didn’t ask for this. I’m enjoying this flood of love that I’m feeling from everyone. It’s just amazing to me. So many people. For me to express how I feel would be inadequate for the love that’s been shown to me. I can never express it in words the way I feel.”
“When his story got out, just about everyone wanted to help,” says former KPIX reporter Don Knapp. “For a lot of folks, Cody’s story was a dramatic example of how easy it is for a regular guy to slip off the edge.”
The care and support from his friends has inspired him, just as talking and writing about his situation has helped him.
“Hold on to everything you hold dear,” Folster says. “You can be one check away from my situation. If you have family, hold them tighter. You realize everything can change in a heartbeat. Hold onto it with a grip and never let it go. You never know what’s going to change.”
Editor’s Note: A GoFundMe account has been established for Cody Folster. If you can help, please click on the GoFundMe link below for more details and to contribute: