Local man discusses his past, present tribulations in a homeless state
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 20:02
They sleep on park benches, in door frames and under Foster’s Bridge. At any time there are 150 people without jobs or shelter who call Corvallis home. These individuals all have different backgrounds, ages and education levels but they are all struggling to achieve the daily necessities.
Many say they sometimes go days without a meal.
As the only soup kitchen in the area, Stone Soup, serves Corvallis and surrounding Linn and Benton counties.
Kevin Weaver, Coordinator of the HELP program, an organization that helps Corvallis and Linn and Benton counties homeless move off the streets, said that most people don’t think about all the challenges that face the homeless. First Christian Church has the only accessible public restroom in the city.
“At any time there are roughly 150 homeless people living within Corvallis,” Kevin Weaver said. “Assuming on average that you have 1.25 poops per person, that’s 187.5 bathroom visits a day. Added all together that is over 50,000 bathroom visits a year in one restroom.”
This is the only place that the homeless can legally go to the bathroom. In Corvallis, defecation in public can result in a fine as large as $60. John Phillips doesn’t have $60.
“If you are homeless you are lost, you are simply lost, simply lost,” said Phillips, a former plant foreman for Weyerhouser, a wood distribution company, who has been homeless for three years.
He was one of dozens eating a spaghetti dinner at Stone Soup on Sunday. Phillips said he and his ex-wife raised seven children, two of whom are foster children, in Junction City. His family is still there, he said.
The longest Phillips has gone without eating is four days, he said. But it had also been a long time since he’s had a conversation, and he preferred to share his story to eating the meal.
“This is really fun. This is better than food,” he said. “Besides, I can go a day or two without having a meal, I’m not so scrawny.”
He pushed up his sleeve to show off his arms. They were white and thin. The veins of his arms protruded from under his skin, but compared to many of the people at the soup kitchen he wasn’t so scrawny.
He sat in the back office of First Christian Church, telling his story. Donated clothes, bandages and medications filled the small room. Phillips couldn’t sit still. He rocked. He scratched at his arms and pulled at his sleeves. But his eyes were steady.
Phillips thought back to when things fell apart.
“My wife and I were having a scrap because I was drinking too much, too much, too much,” he said.
When asked about whether he was sober, Phillips responded, “That’s not the right question to ask.”
But he didn’t offer the right one. Instead, he said he was “sober enough.”
“It’s (Alcohol) the only vacation to being homeless,” Weaver said during a phone conversation.
Drug and alcohol abuse affect 50 percent of the homeless. That number rises to 70 percent among veterans. Phillips said virtually everyone living on the streets abuses alcohol. First Christian Church hosts an AA meeting every morning in addition to the soup kitchen.
Substance abuse for many homeless men and women goes untreated.
Phillips likes living in Corvallis, he says. People are generous, and the students at OSU are kind. He offers one suggestion to students who might dismiss their beer cans after a long night.
“If you’re going to party, if you’re going to have a good time, bag up your cans so the homeless people can have your nickels,” he said.
For Phillips, and many others, these cans are their only source of income.
Phillips said one meal is provided everyday.
It wasn’t the food he missed most from his previous life.
“The worst part is the loneliness,” he said, rocking back and forth.
Kristy Wilkinson, news reporter