How the homeless survive in the Jefferson Westside
They rummage through dumpsters looking for their next meal. They stand like statues on the side of roads holding cardboard signs that ask for change. Sometimes they even knock on neighborly doors to ask for a washer and dryer. They are people who are homeless, without houses and money. However, the community of the Jefferson Westside assures they are not without friends, food, and shelter.
The community works together in several forms to make sure that the homeless have a place to go. One of the most involved services for the homeless is White Bird. White Bird is an organization aimed to “enable people to gain control of their social, emotion and physical well-being through direct service, education and community,” according to their volunteer training manual. White bird has many different aspects in achieving these goals such as a medical clinic, dental clinic, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling, crisis service center, and Cahoots (free crisis transportation service).
White Bird crisis worker and volunteer administrator, Benjamin Brobaker asks the question that many citizens ask themselves, “Where do they go?” Where do they go when there are not open public restrooms or places to shower?
“Eugene has done a good job of creating a safer environment, in whole the citizens can do more,” said Brobaker. Yet, he would like to see more services in getting people into cheap rental housing or even tent camps that would provide shelter for the homeless so they won’t be harassed for sleeping public.
“A lot of people say ‘not in my neighborhood,” said Brobaker when referencing resident’s outlook on the homeless issue. “I wonder about a country that is so opulent as ours that is unable to take care of people who slip through the cracks.
White bird has hired workers as well as many volunteers that help assist and counsel those who are living on the streets or living in poverty. They work closely with other organizations to help people receive the basic needs they deserve.
Stephen Coteswirth, a resident of the Jefferson Westside believes that there are so many homeless because there are many psychological patients that are dismissed that have nowhere to go. So they hitch a ride to Eugene or Portland in search for a community that has the services to help the needy.
“It’s more of a systematic issue really, instead of an individual problem. Homelessness just keeps politics from realizing their own problem,” said Coteswirth.
Coteswirth isn’t bothered by the homelessness in his neighborhood. “Where else are they going to go?” he said. Coteswirth admits he doesn’t give the homeless money, but said if he had a couple bucks he would give it to them.
According to the Oregon & Community Service One Night Homeless Count 2010 Report for Lane County there were approximately 12,000 people of all ages that were homeless. Some are sleeping on friends’ couches, some are in shelters, and some are on the streets. The report states that majority of the homeless people are males between the ages of 24 and 54. In 2007 Mayor Kitty Piercy appointed a “Blue Ribbon Committee” to seek financial support toward ending homelessness.
On freezing nights the community opens up Egan Warming Centers that provide a place for the homeless to sleep when the shelters are full.
The Egan Warming Centers started after 2008 when Thomas Egan, a retired army Veteran, died of hypothermia. Egan was homeless and had nowhere to sleep in the extreme cold. The Egan Warming Center Program is administered by the Society of Lane County, yet, has several locations of warming centers. The locations include St. Vincent de PaulFirst Christian Church in downtown and United Methodist Church in Springfield. Free LTD transportation is available for the homeless who need to be taken directly to a center on a below freezing night.
But warm shelter isn’t the only thing that helps them stay alive.
Places to find food are necessary too. Food for Lane County is responsible for majority of the food that is served at charity events and homeless services, and there are people lined up for months wanting to help volunteer.
“I get my inspiration from the cooler,” says Sue Harper, day kitchen manager at Food for Lane County. Lately she has dealt with
never ending pounds of chicken donated from the USDA and has been creatively making different sorts of food with it. Sometimes it is 365 pounds of strawberries or a 100 pounds of shrimp. Whatever gets donated goes through Harper’s mind and out on the table. This week the big thing was grapefruit.
“We never really run out of food,” said Harper. “We serve rice and beans if we don’t have anything fun to make.”
They got their last shipment of 378 cases of chicken in January and are still racking them up in the oven and shipping them off to the several places Food for Lane County cooks for.
One homeless service that receives food from there is Hosea Youth Services. Hosea offers food, clothes, showers and even hygiene products every Monday,
Wednesday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Eugene Evangelical Church in the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood. It is a drop-in center that assures homeless youth have their basic needs.
18-year-old Krysta Jenkins has lived on the streets for about a four years and has been going to Hosea Youth Services for about a year. Jenkins came from a broken home where she says her parents were neglectful.
“I went to go take care of myself,” said Jenkins. Jenkins resides around the Willamette
River so she can wake up to the sun shining on the river. But when she wants a hot homemade bowl of chili or needs a shower she goes to Hosea Youth Services.
Hosea Youth Services started out as a Saturday breakfast at First Christian Church for the general public. Then Mike Langley, the current center director of Hosea, found that a major issue was the youth slipping through the cracks of society.
“A lot of people think we bring it [homelessness] around, but what people don’t realize isthat they were already here,” said Langley.
Langley says a lot of the youth reside at the Monroe Park in the Jefferson Westside neighborhood and have been there long before Hosea moved to the Evangelical Church next door. On average there are about 30 people who show up for dinner.
“Couches often fill up with just people wanting to sleep,” said Langley. “It makes a big difference if they can come here.”
“Everyone in Eugene are so helpful, we [youth at Hosea] are all like a family. Everyone helps everyone and shares everything,” said Jenkins.
Hosea has a thrift store on W 6th and Adams that allows for the youth in need to gain work experience in hope of finding a job in the future. Many businesses and agencies will often call Langley when they are looking for workers to help the poverty youth who are unemployed.
Jenkins admits it gets boring living on the streets but is happy just to be living her life.
“A lot of people think we are rebellious ruskrats that only want to do drugs, but we just want to live it our life. It’s a short life and a lot of people here just choose to live it.”
Judith Voss brings excitement into the lives of people who are homeless. She created a self-expression theatre group Eugene Dream Weavers for the homeless and others to tell their personal stories to the public.
For Voss she felt helping the homeless was a calling. She had thought about doing this sort of theatre group for about a year since her nephew, who was living on the streets, took his own life.
“My life has always been like a service to other people,” said Voss. “I go where I feel there is a need to do a project of program.
Voss is a performing artist who has studied psychology and practiced counseling. In the beginning of each rehearsal they start off with a check-in circle to update everyone on their lives.
“Group bond and trust have a big effect on the project. If we didn’t have the check-ins I don’t think most of them would come,” said Voss.
The group has only been around for about a month, rehearsing the Evangelical Church in the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood, and is already gearing up for their first performance “A State of Grace.” They operate through Street code Theater and will be performing on March 26th, in the Wildish Theater at 7 p.m..
Bringing awareness like the Eugene Dream Weavers allows for families to prevent the situation of homelessness. Salvation Army helps supply necessities for not just homeless people but those who are living in poverty and can’t afford a full months worth of food, hygiene products and or extra layers of clothes in the cold weather. They also assist people who can’t meet their rent or electrical bills each month and necessary prescriptions. Majority of their clients are working families with low income.
Lane County. The event gives awareness to homeless people about the services available to them in Eugene. Sponsors for this event include City of Eugene, Lane Transit District, St. Vincent DePaul, United Way of Lane County, and many more. Then on March 26th the W.O.W. Hall is holding a listening Campaign to bring awareness to residents on issues such as homelessness. Sponsors include Hosea Youth Services, Free People Eugene, Free Photo Project, and others.