The crisis that is homelessness in Salem Oregon

Well, it looked like it was going to be a winning day. I was supposed to take Jo to DMV, but I was about 5 minutes late & he was not at the agreed meeting place, by the time I got there. It was some stupid thing, like I forgot the meetup time was 7:45am & was thinking my leave time was 7:45am. The point is, people who have been living on the streets, for long, no longer have any reason to believe someone is going to keep their word, so even a 5 minute lateness is a breach of a promise.

But then, the most amazing thing happened & one of our gals under the overpass warmed up to me over a pack of cigarettes. I did not know this kind of gift is the kind of gift that often causes abused people to understand you care about them, but it seems to have something to do with understanding how much they want something, even though you don’t want them to want it, but you give it to them anyway, that seems to trigger that response. I’ve had it happen before. But this gal is really closed off to the rest of the world. I mean like people just want to know her name. She mentioned coffee, so I said I could get some coffee & the next thing I know, she’s in my car & we’re happily driving to McDonalds for a caramel frappé, then to Carl’s Jr for a sausage, egg… & OMG! I forgot about the boycott. I apologize to BLM. I was caught up in the moment & those sausage, egg & cheese biscuits are so tasty.

So we get back to UGM & there is a man there, who cannot walk well enough to take care of business, so I find out his SSDI has been suspended, he doesn’t know if he has OHP & he is sure he doesn’t have food stamps, so we make a call to SSA & get the SSDI reinstated, then Disability & Aging Resource Connection to check for OHP & food stamps & get a pending appointment. I contacted another source & got a link for Lifeline – Oregon Telephone Assistance Program (OTAP) & made plans to get a DMV appointment to get ID replaced. We shopped at the UGM Store for clean clothing & went back to UGM, where I received an urgent call from another acquaintance, who said he was ready to get into Bridgeway, Buckley House or whatever, so I excused myself, saying I’d be back later & took off.

So the Previously desperate person (of the phone call) had quelled his withdrawal symptoms by obtaining 2 large beers & chit chat was back on the table. I tried to put some options on the table, but knowing I have no control whatsoever over the outcome, I quietly went on to the next thing, which was getting mail for people who couldn’t get to Arches & delivering it. I did manage to obtain the expected food stamp & debit cards, for someone in the hospital, but also, learned my really adorable & disabled friend who’d been bounced from downtown to Wallace Marine Park, suffered lost or stolen cards, wagon, supplies, had been in the hospital for hip surgery, after a bicycle accident, dumped Back on the street by the hospital, lost 10 pounds (he couldn’t have weighed > 80, last time I saw him, not even a week earlier) & been rushed back to the hospital, without much chance of survival. I’m sitting there, with my car window down, in shock, explaining that I just recieved a link, to file a complaint about Salem Hospital patient dumping, but obviously that action is too late for this person. I know I don’t have time to do everything that isn’t on someone’s radar, but this feels tragic. “If only,” keeps ringing in my head, like the peal of church bells at a national tragedy. Well, except in the case of George Floyd. I guess that was such a common national tragedy & embarrassment, someone was standing at the rim of the bell, to silence it.

So I carry on anyway, & get the mail delivered, heeding a second emergency call for anti-toothache gel & the previously requested reading glasses of different strengths, because we can’t figure out why the last ones squish everything into a Corona virus design. That seems to go well, except that I can’t figure out how to get to the right location, to waive to this genuinely precious soul, because I’m in a hurry to get back to the DMV appointment making & free phone assistance, but I do break lose (with anxiety & a yearning to have a magic wand) & get back to the place, where I left the first man, this morning. Oh, & I just happened to have a walker, with a seat, which only needed 1 part, which NW Hub provided, for the man who couldn’t walk, but when I got back there, I saw an ambulance, then a fire truck. I sat on a 5 gallon bucket (purchased to make a portapotty for someone) typing on my iPad & iPhone to get a hotspot internet connection, but that was too slow, so I decided to simply squint at the phone & all the while, this creepy feeling that the ambulance was there for my guy, kept growing. I started talking around, to,locate him & sure enough, the ambulance was there for him. He was incoherent. I picked up the walker to store it, left my name & phone number, in case his other things needed to be picked up & went to my car. My very good day was going to Hell.

I threw in the towel & headed to Cascades Gateway Park, to fulfill a promise to friend L, who needs help filling out a complaint form about excessive use of force by the Salem City Police. (I witnessed the bruises myself; yet another forced eviction from Salem hospital for having suicidal ideation). I can’t find her, but I find at least 1 of the people, in need, she texted to me about, this morning, & start a dialogue about General Assistance in Oregon, which no one had told this guy about, so I go through all the things available on a phone (applying for GA, getting appointment with DMV, etc.) & decide the most important thing we can accomplish in the time allowed (for today) was to find his medications, because he is suffering from congestive heart failure & is likely to die within another day or 2, if he doesn’t find them. At the same time I find the person our guy in the hospital is trying to reach, but he’s trying to help the guy trying to stay OUT of the hospital 1st & so it goes …

I try to find the couple both friend L & the Salem Park Department alerted me to, (not your traditional unsheltered folk, scared & desperate, unsuitable for street life) a couple with their 18 year old disabled child … I cannot find them. I cannot find the person I visit every night at about 7pm. I cannot do 1 more thing. I go home. I appeal to you to let Gov. Brown & Mayor Bennett know, in no uncertain terms, it does not have to be this way. We do not need to persecute the poor, the disabled, people of different races or different beliefs. We need to stand together, as a community, where, as my mother would say, “It takes all kinds to make a world.” Gawd bless you Mom. I love you & you will forever be in my heart & mind & soul. And I am ever so much better for it.

And to all a good night. (Except for the unsheltered, because we know it’s going to be a shite night for them). Oh, well.

Written by Jean H.

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