I began this story in Eugene, Ore. After I arrived in town, I checked into the Best Western hotel before I went out on the town to talk to the area's local homeless community. As the day grew later, I focused on where I would make my first trip. I jotted down some notes and a few questions to ask the people I’d interview.
The next day, I went out into the city. As I left my hotel room, I happened to spot a homeless man near West 1st Avenue. I wanted to talk to him. I went inside a local corner store to buy two sodas and offered this gentleman one. He gladly accepted.
We struck up a pretty good conversation. He said his name was Luther and that he was from Alabama. I could certainly tell from that southern drawl. He told me he came to the west coast to see something different. He said that he had been homeless for eight years. A bad marriage and a lost job caused him to lose his home because he was unable keep up on the mortgage payments.
I told him I was stranded and asked about the local shelters. I didn't tell him I was with a street paper for fear of him running away. I really wanted to talk to him. Luther pointed me in the direction of the Eugene Mission, but it didn't open until 7 p.m. to take in new clients. So it was Luther and me all day. We went all over Eugene and Lane County.
Luther showed me all of the soup kitchens and other homeless hangouts. I actually had a very good time with Luther. He said he was about 60 years old. He has stayed at the Eugene Mission from time to time. While Luther and I were hanging out, I saw an all too familiar scene: the homeless carrying around sleeping bags and blanket rolls. Overall, however, the homeless situation didn't seem as bad as it was in D.C., Seattle, or Los Angeles. The numbers did not seem as high in Eugene.
As it grows later, Luther and I make our way back to the Mission. I decide to check in for dinner and have a nice evening meal, and what a meal it was. Even breakfast the next day was delicious. There was bacon, eggs, ham, milk, pastries, doughnuts, juices and all sorts of cereals and fruits. For a minute, I thought I was eating at Miriam’s Kitchen in D.C.
Then we were sent on our way to do what ever. I met up with Luther again and we hung out some more.
The weather was chilly, but not viciously cold. To get out of the elements, Luther and I went to the public library downtown to read newspapers and keep warm until the shelter opened up again. This is exactly what I used to do when I was living on the streets. The public library was the place to go when the weather got too cold.
We roamed around the library looking at books and reading papers from other cities for a while. Then we just sat and talked. Luther was very hurt by losing his wife and family. His wife left him and he had no idea where she went. He really poured his heart out.
As we talked we saw the local police roust homeless people for sitting in one place too long.
I wanted to make a call to Mayor Kitty Piercy's office. Harassment of the homeless is in every city and needs to stop.
I understand private property, but a city park bench should not be taken away just because a person is homeless. I see dividers on park benches to keep the homeless from sleeping on them, but the homeless will sleep on them anyway.
As I continue my story from Eugene the drama carries on. Tempers flare at the American Red Cross shelter—living in close quarters just isn’t for everybody.
Coming up next month: I attempt to talk to More Betterman from Eugene, Oregon. Please tune in on WOL-AM1450 the More Betterman Show.
August Mallory was the first vendor for Street Sense. He now lives in Seattle and is on the board of directors for Real Change, the Seattle street paper.