Candidates talk about homelessness but not to those on the streets


Although political candidates in Oregon are talking about reducing homelessness, Jeff Widener said he still expects to live on the streets after the next election.

Widener, 65, spends most of his days at Marion Square Park in Salem. He said he couldn’t remember how many years he had been homeless. But he remembers all the chosen ones did to help him find shelter.

“Nothing,” Widener said. “All they do is chase us away. If you’re in the park after dusk, you get scared away. They give us intrusion tickets. That’s what they do.

Every day, about 14,700 people in Oregon were homeless in 2020, according to the latest data released by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. Tent and RV towns have sprung up in urban areas, but people are also lacking shelter in rural Oregon. Polls show that the crisis is a big concern for voters. In a survey last week in the Portland area for The Oregonian / Oregonlive, 94% of respondents rated homelessness as a “very big problem,” outweighing other concerns. The candidates took notice and lambasted Oregon’s current leadership. Some even have detailed plans to get out of the crisis.

But none of them actually talk to homeless people, Widener said: “We’re the real experts on this issue.”

He said the $861 a month he receives from Social Security as a disabled person is not enough. “It’s like money for sandwiches. He sure as heck isn’t going to pay rent,” Widener said.

Although he qualifies for Medicare, federal health insurance for the elderly and disabled, his monthly check is not enough for medical bills, he said. “I’m really sick to my stomach,” Widener said. “I have been to this park hospital twice in the past two months. I wake up, I can’t breathe. My heart is beating like crazy,” he said.

Widener does not intend to vote although he may register. Unlike many non-hosted people, he has a mailing address. It happens to be the park.

Malia Saunders, 20, lives in Marion Square Park in Salem. (Tom Henderson/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

A general mailing address

Polk County Clerk Val Unger said many homeless people can register to vote by giving her office their names and a general idea of ​​where they live, even if it’s of a park. Although they can register to vote without a specific mailing address, she said, they must have one to receive a ballot. The post office will not deliver a ballot to a park.

Bob Neron of McMinnville said he couldn’t even provide a park as an address. It shuttles between Joe Dancer Park by day and nearby Marsh Lane by night to obey local camping restrictions. Neron said he became homeless six years ago and political promises and public policies only made his situation worse. He sees no hope in the election, he said.

“It’s very frustrating for us here,” he added.

Neron said he would like to see homeless people involved in building their own temporary shelters on vacant land, possibly reusing discarded building materials. “It would be useful, especially for people who want to learn professional skills,” he said.

Dominic Smith, 32, who sleeps on the grass less than a mile from the State Capitol Building, said a good way to help the homeless is to stop throwing them in jail for petty crimes like sleeping on public property after curfew.

“I just wish people didn’t go to jail,” Smith said. ” It is my wish. It’s my heart. I’m like, ‘Is there another way to solve this problem here?’ That’s what I’m trying to work towards. »

Neron said he knows millions of dollars are allocated each legislative session to help the homeless. He just doesn’t know where he’s going, “Someone is getting money, but it’s not us,” he said.

McMinnville received $1.5 million from the 2021 Legislature for a “shipping center” to provide shelter and social services. Roseburg also received $1.5 million for a center, while Bend and Medford received $2.5 million and Salem and Eugene received $5 million.

Anne Aurand, communications director for the City of Bend, said Bend’s hub, the Lighthouse Navigation Center, helps people secure permanent housing, health services and public benefits.

Other centers are in various stages of completion.

“Some of them may claim to be open, but most are more like traditional shelters and don’t follow the state model,” said Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency in Salem. .

Jones said he understands why many homeless people have lost hope in the political process.

“They should be frustrated,” he said. “I’m frustrated too. It’s a slow process.

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