Taking shelter, assessing homelessness in Corvallis
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 00:02
Bunks are placed side by side. Tattered blankets and stained sheets cover the beds. Card tables and folding chairs ring the room where food will be laid out.
The Corvallis Cold Weather Men’s Shelter can sleep 40.
The yellow building located on Fourth Street sits empty until the transient men of Corvallis begin to line up. While volunteers shuffle throughout the building preparing the inside of the shelter for the night, bystanders hear chatter and the sounds of a community.
Many of the men sleep under bridges and many sleep in Avery Park. None of them have a good night’s sleep when the temperature drops below 30 degrees.
A man called Red around the shelter said he has been homeless for 25 years. He said he hadn’t eaten very much that day. “I’ve had very little,” Red said. “[I had] a package of Ruffles have ridges 2.78 ounces. This afternoon I had three dollars worth of chicken salad from Safeway and a super package of wieners.”
Red had just been released from the hospital for a bad cough and wheezing.
For Red, some of the simplest moments amounted to his greatest memories. He described how a cashier from Safeway had continued to be kind to him.
“There’s a lady who’d I’d ask for a nickel and she’d hand me a dime from her pocket,” Red said.
In Corvallis, funding for this shelter has always been a challenge. Aleita Hass-Holcombe, the president of the Corvallis daytime drop-in center and chair of the Corvallis Homeless Coalition, discussed how they looked at 25 other places before they found a new place on Fourth Street, and that the shelter they are in now is $10,000 over the original budget.
“It’s a struggle, but we don’t give up hope,” said Hass-Holcombe, sitting in the lofted area of the shelter.
The shelter is split into two levels. The small yellow building is the only place they have to go to get out of the weather. Hass-Holcombe discussed how no night is ever the same. The number of men in the shelter varies based on the weather; they haven’t had to turn anyone away yet, but Hass-Holcombe worries because they have reached 38 men twice.
Christopher Helton has been without a home off and on throughout the last couple of years; he struggled to remember the exact amount of time during an interview. When asked about the homeless community he discussed how struggling with poverty is not something that can be easily understood.
“Comprehension requires experience,” Helton said.
Helton said that he has been shot three times; once in the head, he described as he pointed to the inner bone in his eye, another time in his left arm and then the third in his hand. He described the ways that his injuries have affected his life.
“I feel like I’m looking through an aquarium all the time,” Helton said, keeping his eyes steady. “The headache never goes away, it never stops, it’s very frustrating.”
Helton experiences blackouts, eliminations and a lack of understanding from the surrounding community. While Helton described his struggles, he said that it was rare that anyone really took time to understand what he was going through.
“Most people want to give you their advice,” Helton said. “They don’t want to just listen.”
He recently started sleeping in the shelter because it was becoming too hard to sleep in his normal spot, under a covering in Avery Park.
The men in the shelter are all different. The ages range from as young as 19 to as old as 65. In Corvallis there are only 40 beds for the men struggling with poverty. There are an estimated 150 homeless individuals.
Hass-Holcomb doesn’t know yet where the shelter will be next year, or how many beds it will have.
Kristy Wilkinson, news reporter