Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Homeless in Central Oregon: "It Sucks"

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 6:42 PM

We have it easy. This man does not.
  • We have it easy. This man does not.

I met this guy last weekend while working on this week's feature story. It's about being homeless in Central Oregon and you can read it tomorrow (we're going to press RIGHT NOW!).

Anyway, his name is Patrick. He spent two years and nine months in the Navy and now he's homeless. The image of him standing shakily next to his tent on that cold, wet Saturday morning remains burned into my brain.
Not be a huge bummer here, but Patrick's plight has made me quite sad.
Especially as the wind and rain continue, day and night. The storms have been waking me up at night but it's Patrick who keeps me awake.

Compounding Patrick's predicament is his arthritis. Some days he can't even leave his tent. His body aches that bad.
He's a nice guy, soft spoken and doesn't drink much. If all goes well, he'll be in temporary housing later this week. COVO helped him find the R.V. that he hopes to move into.

I hope this works. I hope he's able to get out of the woods soon. It's not going to get any warmer, or drier, anytime soon.

If you'd like to volunteer to help Bend's homeless vets, read how on COVO's website. It seems pretty easy. I need to sign up.
And you can always donate necessities like jackets, hats and socks as well as camping gear at COVO's new office, 123 Franklin Ave.

Here's an excerpt from my story:
Patrick, a two-tour Desert Storm vet, has been living in a tent in the Central Oregon woods for months, but he’s been without a home for much longer. Such accommodations only make the pain from his arthritis worse. Some days Patrick says he can’t leave his tent and must spend the whole day lying down.
I met Patrick, who preferred we omit his last name from this story, at his tent on a blustery and soggy day last week. On this day, he was up and moving around, albeit slowly.
A large man with a soft voice and clear eyes, he moves with a stiffness that suggests the hinges of his joints have ceased to function. Despite his pains, he was trying to dry out his gear after the night’s frigid rains left his possessions soaked.
“I had some chicken going [last night] but the rain snuffed it out,” Patrick says. “Buckshot got himself a treat.”
Buckshot is Patrick’s only companion, a beautiful and energetic six-year-old red heeler who Patrick has had since the dog was only days old.
While we take turns tossing a tattered ball with Buckshot, Patrick tells me his story. He outlines how, while in the Navy, he lumbered up and down flights of stairs with hefty, oversized equipment. He ran generators on the U.S.S Fairfax County, a tank landing ship, he explains. It was physical work on a rocking boat and Patrick thinks that’s where his arthritis stems from.
As Patrick and I talk in front of his sagging, camouflaged tent, it’s clear that his situation is very real.
As we played with his dog, Patrick stubbed his toe on one of the many rocks around his camp and I readied myself to catch him. I thought he was going to fall over—that’s how poor his movement is. His condition makes most jobs unfeasible. A former taxidermist, Patrick lost his job when the economy tanked, which was right around the same time that his arthritis became unbearable.
“It sucks,” Patrick says, staring off into the distance. Amazingly, he says he’s not bitter, despite the fact that most of the systems put into place by a country he committed almost three years of his life to protecting, failed him.
But help is on the way. Because Patrick has been proactive in working with COVO, Jesse Higgins, COVO’s homeless outreach coordinator, thinks that her agency will get Patrick into temporary housing as soon as this week.
Patrick only recently found COVO but he’s already begun utilizing their rapid re-housing services. Since COVO moved into a larger facility two weeks ago, the organization is able to house more agencies and store much more gear. And for that, Higgins is thankful.
“We couldn’t fit in the space,” says Higgins, a tall and cheerful woman who is working on her master’s in social work. She’s energetic and no-nonsense—necessary traits for a person in her position.
Higgins describes how cramped COVO’s previous location on NW Lafayette Avenue was and how much better their new spot is. COVO is now in multiple buildings on Franklin Avenue and has more than doubled its previous square footage.
Once per week, Higgins makes the rounds to known homeless camps where she distributes food, water, propane, jackets, socks and gloves to vets. She also hands out bus passes and provides cell phone availability and medical kits. Higgins is who introduced me to Patrick.

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