Last week, the Homeless Leadership Coalition (HLC) held a Point-In-Time Count throughout Oregon to survey those who are homeless. A complex issue, the definition of homelessness encompasses those who have no permanent housing, whether sheltered or unsheltered—sleeping on streets, living out of cars, motels and campsites. The annual effort is twofold: to gather data to best assess the needs for state and federal funding and to address and identify those who are struggling to find affordable housing— a controversial and growing issue in Central Oregon. As part of a new series examining the housing crisis, we share stories from those currently affected. These are a few of Central Oregon's homeless people.
George 49, Redmond
Homeless for a few months
"I was on a roofing job, shoveling snow off a middle school when all those roofs were collapsing, when I slid and fell. They didn't give us a harness or anything to use, they were trying to save money I think, so when I fell, I broke my leg pretty badly. They're trying to say I can't get workman's comp, but I'm going to fight for it. I can't afford the hospital bill.
"As far as an income, a full time job, a roof over my head, I ain't got that right now. I'm kinda hurtin'. It's hard because before this fall I was just getting my life together. I had just started classes for engineering and drafting at COCC, 'cause I know I want a better life for myself. If you don't try, you won't get anywhere. I think we should have a right to work program for those of us who are struggling. The community has got to work together and have a partnership. An equal partnership between us and the community.because you don't get anything if you don't put equal parts in. It's like a relationship (laughs), I learned that from my first marriage.
Brenda 46, Redmond
Homeless for three years
"I've been homeless for three years. I lost my place because it was $565 a month and overnight it went up to $850. I couldn't afford it on a $733 income. I went looking for a camper, and got one for $3,000. I finally paid it off this past summer, but it doesn't have sewer or water in it and I don't have anywhere to park it. I had it in a trailer park and was using their water, which ended up having E. coli in it. I ended up in the hospital last September; my kidneys and liver tried to shut down. My body tried to feed itself on its own muscle. I was in there for two months, couldn't walk at one point and now I have a $80,000 hospital bill. I'm disabled. I have a sister, Jamie, who has three kids and is now homeless. (starts crying) It's really sad. The people sold the house from under her. Now she can't afford anything because of all the security deposits, $1,000 here, $1,000 there. How much is enough?
"The bad, sad part about it is that there isn't enough resources in Redmond for people that are homeless. It's really sad, people out there aren't getting help. Neighborhood Impact paid vouchers to CoEnergy so that people could stay warm and all of them are freezing out there because they keep saying they don't have propane. It's really sad. It's a pretty hopeless situation, because we know we're not going to get housing. There's no housing. Who can afford three times the rent? I thought about moving out of the area. But I'm from here. Born and raised. I have kids your age and grandchildren. So why should I move?"
Homeless for two+ years
"I've been here for over 50 years. I've seen this area change a lot. It's good in a way, but those who have been here are getting squeezed out. The biggest problem I've seen, is that houses have gone up, they've been up for over a year and they are sitting empty. People want to rent, but can't because it's too high, and even if they could, they need first and last month's rent. I stay at my mom's in the winter and BLM (camping) the other times. I live off of $52 a month, from food stamps. They cut it down. I applied for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) but they turned it down. That was after the VA had me in for an MRI which showed a 9 by 14 mm chunk off between the L4 and L5. I'm a human pinball machine if I step off the curb wrong. I don't know which toes will work.
"I served in the U.S. Air Force. I gave SSDI access to all my VA paperwork but they said no. The VA turned me down because it's not a VA-connected disability. If I get my feet kicked out from underneath me again, it may take a month or so to get back up, but I'll get back up. I've worked in the mills, throwing parts into hydrofluoric acid, I've done drywall, IBM mainframes before that, but then the Internet came around and wiped out that. I had to be re-trained and everything with that I have to use my back.
"I have a daughter and two grandkids that keep me going. I haven't seen my grandbaby, but sometime soon. I might move to Monument, because I could work on my staffs there. I started carving because I was unable to move on the porch and someone brought me a stick. I can do it morning, noon and night. But I need a place to do it.
Luke 34, Bend
Homeless for one year
"I grew up in a place where you could easily get shot and robbed. It was a hard situation. So I know tough times and I can see when people give up and throw their lives away. I've seen it so many times. A lot of people don't try, and it makes it harder on everybody else. They take advantage of the system and give us a bad rap. But I think it's hard because once you're down, it's hard to get back up, you know? We sit together, when it's cold and try and keep each other company out there in the camps, but I see a lot of people throwing their lives into a bottle or snorting stuff because they don't have anything else. They don't have hope. So, those things give them a tiny bit of joy.
"I think the (communities) in Bend and Redmond are trying, but I just don't know if there's any more housing? It doesn't seem like it. The last year when I had an apartment, it went up $200 in one month. I mean, how are we supposed to afford that if we're on a fixed income? You're not even close to where you need to be. Everyone's short on their bills. It's gonna be a while before it gets better.
"It's survival mode out here. Some people will survive, others will get swallowed up."
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
Donate — Funding critical resources is the number one way you can help to alleviate homelessness.
Advocate — Attend City Hall Meetings, Get Involved, Speak out. Educate.
Volunteer — Sign up to work an evening shift at your local homeless shelter. Answer phones, sort mail, serve food, wash dishes, distribute clothes, babysit kids, etc.