Homeless — In their own words: Part II


Why they stay, what they wish they could fix and the dangers of being homeless

This is part two of two part series. Part one can be found here.

Feb. 9, 2019 — “I love this place,” Hobbit said. “I love the people. I’ve known Sue for, heaven, 10 years? I’ve known most of these people from Helping Hands and I love them dearly. They don’t sit and belittle me because I have a backpack or I’m dirty or I stink or whatever. They don’t do that.”

Hobbit was sitting in the Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter on Monday, which had just started to serve a warm meal for its guests.

It was 6:30 p.m., 32 degrees. When the temperature is expected to reach 32 degrees overnight, the Emergency Cold Weather Shelter opens at the church. Sometimes it will open if it’s a few degrees warmer when there is rain.

For those like Hobbit who don’t have cover from the elements, the Cold Weather Shelter is a brief oasis in a region without a permanent shelter.

“There’s good moments, like when I go to Helping Hands on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or the soup kitchen on Tuesday and Thursday, and get a hot meal for free,” he said about the moments he looks forward to. “I get in a warm place and hang out with good friends. Like I said, I know a lot of these people.

“But after that, my choice is to go to the corner. ‘Cause I gotta get my cigarettes or my two beers a day. And then I go to the park and drink my beers. Find a little cubby hole to crawl up in, and wait till dark. If the cops catch you, you’re going.”

A volunteer walked up, smiled.

“Can I get you guys some food?” she asked. “We’re going to cut off after a while.”

“I know that, I’ve been told that,” Hobbit replied. “I’ll eat before the cut off.”

“It’s getting pretty close, so why not?”

“Is it good?”

The volunteer nodded.

“Right on,” Hobbit said as worked his way to the kitchen, where Jamie and half a dozen volunteers were serving up home baked food.

“Tomorrow I’m fixing a whole turkey,” Jamie said. “A soup with a bunch of vegetables, and dinner rolls, and there’ll be a salad and desert. I’m not rich, but I just enjoy helping. That’s all it is. Spreading love.”

On Monday, the menu had enchiladas, macaroni and cheese, green beans, tomatoes, chips, queso and buttered bread.

“I just want an enchilada and macaroni and cheese, please.” Hobbit said.

“No green beans?” Jamie asked.

“Well, they haven’t killed me yet, but not a lot!” he said as the kitchen volunteers laughed with him. “I just don’t want to throw food away.”

A volunteer began serving a full enchilada.

“Can I have half of that, dear?” Hobbit said. “I just don’t want to throw it away. I hate to waste food.”

He made his way back to the table. Sitting there was the man with the coffee, who remained mostly silent throughout the night, and James, who was first described as “quiet” but spent the bulk of the evening speaking on a wide variety of topics.

James’ conversation shifted toward changes. 

“Homeless, jobless and penniless”

“I don’t complain a lot, but I’ve got a solution to all of this,” James said. “All you have to do is change building codes and get little tiny villages for tiny houses. We can do sanitation and that sort of thing. Most people don’t want that big a house. All they want is a place to sleep, where they can get warm. And that’s it.”

“If we just changed our building codes and changed the way we think about housing itself, we can literally put up tiny little villages. The people would just love to live together and help each other out. We’re an aging community, and a nation. That would be one of the best solutions we could come up with. There’s plenty of people out here that have carpentry skills and could build something if we could. Most people from Habitat for Humanity are building houses themselves, just pitching in,” he continued.

“Just programs like that would be awesome, instead of having this decrepit situation where people are so desperate — literally desperate, wondering where their next meal is coming from, wondering if they’ll be out in the cold.

“You know, we just have to start somewhere. We said in the 1960s, “We’ve got to start at the highest level.” But it never worked. All we hippies tried to get together, and it just didn’t work.

“I could live in a shed, though. I really could. I could live in a little shed, have a little fold down bed, you know? The tiny homes are really fantastic little homes.

“There’s always the issue of sanitation, but that can be solved. And that would provide more jobs… Even if you have to have more Honeywagons,” James said with a laugh.

Hobbit’s thoughts on change went to how homeless people are viewed.

“I say people get a backpack, sleeping bag, and follow me,” he said. “Then you won’t be able to call nobody nothin’. I’m betting you would change your mind about a homeless man. Let people be people. It don’t matter good, bad or ugly. I don’t go break into homes, I don’t steal, I don’t lie. I’m not a bad person because I’m homeless.”

Hobbit began to talk about some legal issues while he ate. He often winced when he bit down, taking only small bites.

“In that wreck, I broke my neck and lost my teeth,” he said. “And now I can’t even eat. I’ve lost 40 pounds in three months.”

James asked, “You’re going to be hungry every night, huh?”

“I can’t chew,” said Hobbit. “I went to the dentist and to get another plate made, but I can’t get an appointment until April. How stupid is that? I have OHP and Trillium. It’s just, there’s not a dentist in this town until April. I can go to Eugene, but where am I going to stay in Eugene? Been there too many times. No.”

“Scary place,” said James, shaking his head.

“Yeah, scary as s**t,” Hobbit replied.

“There’s all the same problems as there is everywhere, there’s homelessness, and crime,” James said. “And you don’t know anybody. You don’t know your way around and that kind of thing. You don’t have any money, and you don’t know anybody. And you’re lost, you know? You don’t know what your next turn is going to be. It can be an adventure, I guess, if you have that kind of spirit. But me, it scares me. You’re homeless, jobless and penniless.”

Hobbit pounded his hand on the table, saying, “Washington Jefferson Street Park in Eugene. There were 200 tents in that park, that they let you put up. But if you get 200 homeless people together? The first night, someone got stabbed. They shut it down.

“I know someone here who was going to back the homeless people [with a camp]. Everybody in this town shut them down. They made a camp out in Veneta, and there’s 12 of us. You can camp there, but there’s no work there. There’s nowhere for me to hold my sign.”

James nodded, “I hear you can’t do that in Springfield now, either, because it’s illegal for someone to hand money from the car to somebody else. Alright, so we can shut down the fast foods then.”

“I was in Eugene, and a lady pulls up and she pulls her window down,” Hobbit recalled. “She says, ‘Here.’ I told her,’ I can’t get up and get, ma’am. You have to throw it because of the law.’ She wadded it and threw it at me. You can’t hand somebody no money, but you can throw it at ‘em. I just reached up and picked it up.

“It is free speech. I’m not askin’ you for nothin’. I say, ‘Anything helps, God bless.’ I used to write, ‘Need work.’ And then a lady pulls up and asked, ‘What do you do?’ I said, ‘Not too much, but I’ll wash your car, I’ll scrub your toilet.”

“Got any painting?” James added. “Start washing the windshield, people will come up and do that too, but that’s dangerous, going up to people. I heard about a guy who was beat to death doing that. This was a long time ago, in New York. A guy just came up and started washing the dirty windows, then …”

 “A lot of respect”

A volunteer came by, saying, “You all have to come back tomorrow.”

Hobbit laughed, saying, “I guarantee you I am. You just tell me you’re open and I’m here. It’s cold out there. I put down that tarp and lay on it. Every morning I wake up, my sleeping bag is wet from the moisture, the warmth of my body. From the cold ground coming up.”

“Put the cardboard down, yeah?” James asked.

“I have. It soaked the cardboard. Still, I have to go dry my sleeping bag every day. This is the first time in three days I haven’t had to dry my sleep bag. I’m so proud!”

“You look happy.”

“It don’t take much to make me happy.”

“You’re flush.”

“I know!” Hobbit exclaimed. “I don’t have to spend $2 on drying my sleeping bag or walking two miles to do it. See, in Eugene they have a place where they come get you. And they’ll take you, wherever you want to go. They don’t do that here. It’s gotta be like Canada. Everybody’s got the same damn insurance.”

“We’ll never get it right,” James said, but Hobbit was passionate. “You need to do that. This government should have one insurance, everyone the same. Just because you’re a millionaire don’t mean you get better treatment than me.”

Hobbit focused on his food, scraping the last bit of enchilada.

“That was really good. Now I’m full.”

James laughed. “Told you so, you gotta eat!”

“I could have ate more if I didn’t eat the cookies first,” Hobbit said. “It was delicious. This morning they had scrambled eggs and sausage and hash browns and mushrooms. And the lady asked if I would eat it, and I said, “Nu uh.” I don’t do it. It would put me to sleep. Where am I going to go lay down during the day here? You can’t. You’re laying in your sleeping bag, you get a camping ticket. You cannot lay in your sleeping bag. They call that camping. Camping is when you put up a tent–”

“–And light a campfire and set up house,” James said.

“Yeah! That’s camping! They got the wording wrong, here.”

“Truly, it’s sleeping.”

“Dan Frazier is the code enforcement officer, I know him personally,” Hobbit said. “He caught me by Fred Meyer across the street in a field. He said, ‘Two more blocks that way.’ My legs hurt, broken. Metal. I say, ‘I can’t walk that far.’ He said, ‘You gotta walk that far.’ So that’s when I decided to just buy a 12 pack and go. I was at Fred Meyer one day, he walked up, and he said, ‘Good boy.’”

The whole table laughed.

“He’s really mellow,” Hobbit said. “Dan Frazier, I think everybody should be like him. He’s really nice.”

“He’s reasonable,” James added.

“A lot of respect for him,” Hobbit said. “He will tell you, ‘Please leave.’ He’ll say please, tell you where to go. And he’ll come back the next day to see if you’re there are not. If you’re not there, he’s happy. I love that guy. I just wish the cops are like that. I guess they’re doing their job, they get harassed by so many people.”

“It’s hard to address a growing problem,” James added.

“I think everyone should just mind their own businesses,” Hobbit said. “I don’t go knock on your door and ask you to move two blocks.”

The table broke out in laughter.

“I was in Eugene one time with a friend and we’re sitting outside McDonalds,” Hobbit recalled. “And I see this cop come. My friend said, ‘He’s going to hit us, dude.’ He walks by us, goes into McDonald’s, comes back with a cardboard container. It’s got two cups of coffee on it. And in his hand, he had two bags. And in the bags were two sausage egg McMuffins. And also, in that bag was a $5 bill. And I got it from a cop. They’re not all bad.”

“You can’t demonize them,” James said.

Hobbit agreed. “There’s many good cops. If you treat them with respect, they give it back to you. If you get all snotty and ‘Blah, blah, blah,’ they’ll say, ‘Really! I’m the boss.’”

“They put their life on the line for us, they’ve got to have some respect,” James said.

“I agree with that,” Hobbit said. “All they want is respect. You talk to them nicely, and it’s over. You go in there and yell, ‘You have no business–” Trust me, they do have business being there.”

James smiled as he shook his head. “Then they’ll start doubling up.”

“‘Smells like you’ve been drinking,’” Hobbit said. “Oh yeah!? ‘Well I think you need detox.’”

The sound of flute music suddenly filled the air as a nature documentary began to play on the television. Wild horses on a vast prairie filled the screen.

“They are the last known free roaming living part of frontier history,” the narrator said.

Hobbit groaned.

“Oh no!” he said, laughing. “I’ve seen that last night, it’s so stupid. Like we could afford a horse.”

James was more wistful — “I’d love to have some land for a horse.”

They gazed at the horses for a moment.

 “To save people”

“They take 50 percent of the tax money to support the military,” the man with the coffee said, breaking the silence.

“Over,” corrected James.

“A little bit over. Instead of spending all that money, why don’t they develop a plan for housing for homeless people? That would create jobs.”

James echoed the man, saying, “Develop the infrastructure. The bridges, the roads, the electric grid. Even back when George Bush was in Iraq, they were spending billions a month on war, when they could have been spending that money on jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure and having a great nation. At the same time, the people in Washington, when they’re spending money on the military, these are creating jobs in places for people that otherwise might not have always had jobs. We’re military arms production, that’s a job.

“But sometimes we’re not spending it here, they’re spending it halfway around the world. We could easily be spending it here. If the military is half of our budget, then it should be feeding our own people. We gotta talk to our government, but we can’t. We elect our representatives that don’t represent us.”

Hobbit nodded — “Back when this all started, when they put the man on the moon, you could spend $30 million putting a man on the moon, but you can’t spend $30 on taking a man off the street. “There’s something wrong there. You have individuals who get free money from the state because they have a baby. Say you’re the father and you take off, you and her don’t get along, instead of getting child support, she gets a free check. Why don’t you arrest that sucker and make him go to jail until he gets a job?

“You should take care of your own kids. I have four daughters that I raised from birth to marriage. There’s no reason for you to have a child if you can’t take care of them.”

Hobbit winced a bit as he stood up, plate in hand. He smiled as he walked toward the kitchen.

The mood at the table changed as the man with the coffee spoke up.

“Taxpayers are paying all this money to kill people all around the world, seems like a better way to spend the money would be to save people.”

He paused, looked at Hobbit putting his plate away.

“He’s not going to make it through the winter, I don’t think,” he said. James looked down, shook his head.

“No,” he whispered.

Silence.

The man with the coffee narrowed his eyes.

“He’s really got it hard. It’s really pitiful. And it’s a shame to treat people like that.”

"You won't be looking for me" 

It was just after 7 p.m., the kitchen had closed. People were beginning to head out or fall asleep.

A couple went into a dark room, sleeping on the floor.

‘You guys want air mattresses?” asked Pastor Greg Wood, president of the shelter program.

“We’re using the ground, bro,” the man said.

“You’re tough, I understand,” Wood replied.

The couple said they had been sleeping on the ground for so long, their backs got used to it.

Wood talked about their pet policy, allowing guests to bring their dogs in during the night.

“They’re better behaved than most of the children we get in on Sunday,” he said.

Wood asked Hobbit how the interview went.

“I did nothing but speak politely and very proper,” Hobbit replied.

“I want you to be completely, brutally honest,” Wood said.

“I did.”

“You told him you were thrown out last year?” Wood asked, laughing. Hobbit laughed as well.

“I’ve never been thrown out of a shelter, never.”

Wood joked, “Whenever I get told to leave places, I always say, ‘You know, I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.’”

“I’ve never been thrown out of nowhere,” Hobbit said, smiling. “When I went to jail, they told me to go. ‘Hell no, you keep me.’ At least you won’t be looking for me.”

The whole group broke into laughter.

Hobbit asked when this article was going to come out. In two days, we replied. Hobbit laughed.

“I’m going to buy that paper so I can read it,” he said, putting his hands up in the air.

“I wanna see ‘The Hobbit!’”

Flags are placed before 9 a.m. on the days that the Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter will open. Pick up begins at 5 p.m. with dinner served at 6 p.m. Breakfast is served at 8 a.m. the next day.

Transportation is available from Siuslaw Public Library, 1460 Ninth St.; Safeway, 700 Highway 101; and Fred Meyer, 4701 Highway 101.

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