Every Thursday afternoon, Corvallis residents John and Trish Borowski arrive at the Eric Scott McKinley Skate Park to set up a grill and tables filled with clothing, backpacks, canned and canned food, laundry products, hygiene products and other items. With the help of their friends and other community members, the group delivers food, prepares meals and distributes resources to community members who may be struggling with homelessness, poverty, unemployment or other precarious living situations.
The Borowskis have been doing this for over a year now, and while grateful for the support they have received from several residents, they still face animosity from some others who complain about the growing presence of people. homeless and camps around the city. .
“It’s easy to bastardize them, put them in a group and say that all homeless people are lazy, [or that] they’re all using drugs or using alcohol, and we’ve found out that’s not true,” John Borowski said. “Some people came from southern Oregon after the firespeople lost their homes and apartments because they couldn’t afford them — in the richest country in the world.
“People come from neighboring counties because those neighboring counties have no service,” said Hezekiah, a community member who regularly shows up at these gatherings. “People come from California, Washington, everywhere.”
Hezekiah was homeless for most of his life. Growing up in Michigan, he came to Corvallis about 12 years ago. He currently volunteers with the Corvallis day centerthanks to which he was recently able to find a job and accommodation.
“I’ve been virtually homeless since I was 17,” he said. “Right now, due to COVID, the men’s shelter is only welcoming a limited number of people, the women’s shelter is only welcoming a limited number of people, and there is a long list of them. [services] who take no one. But even before COVID, it was spiraling out of control, and not enough was happening in that department anyway.
people who help people
“I moved to Corvallis from Alaska about three and a half years ago,” said Tim Fankhauser, a community member who helps with cooking and distributing resources. “The moment COVID hit I lost the job I thought I would get when I got here, and at the time I thought, ‘Now there’s a lot of people out of work, not just because of COVID, but also forest fires which are an event’.”
During this period, Fankhauser was able to receive financial support from his family before finding employment, and later came into contact with the Borowskis.
“John and Trish and I got together, and I found out that they help feed the people in the park every week, no matter who needs it – if you’re homeless or unemployed or whatever,” said Fankhauser. “I found out it was out of pocket, so I wanted to do whatever I could to help. I try to help out and they have other friends to help out when they can. And I just think that’s so cool; it’s people helping people — not an organization, just people.
Just like the Really Really Free Corvallis Market and the Community fridge Corvallis, these people-led, community-based care efforts often emerge in or beyond moments of crisis when people – especially marginalized and vulnerable groups – are left behind or insufficiently supported by social services, organizations or decision-making. municipal, state or federal leaders. In the case of Corvallis and other cities in Oregonthese decisions include moving homeless people across camp sweeps.
“If you look at the history of homelessness in America, the only solutions have been band-aids. It’s like, okay, we’re going to build a shelter, or we’re going to do a feeding program, or we’re going to give out blankets once a month; that’s never, let’s find a solution that ends homelessness,” Fankhauser said. “I spoke to the city council a few times in meetings and said, you know, I don’t know the solution, but how come we don’t try to find it? Why can’t we find a solution instead of just constantly pushing it aside with the swipes? I think that’s what we do with anyone we don’t like or want to deal with; we just kind of push them out of our sight.
A bit like the others community organizers and advocates who have shown up in previous sweepsFankhauser sometimes had to negotiate with city and ODOT employees to give homeless people more time to pack their things.
“The other thing I tried to communicate to [City Council] it’s that, even with the sweeps, they’re not doing what they said they would do,” he said. “They said that when they did the sweeps, these people’s belongings would be stored – they would go straight into a dumpster. And the only time some of these people have been able to leave with their belongings is because people have come to defend them. I’ve done it before and said things like, ‘Wait, can we let her put her stuff in a bag first before we tear this thing up?’ And luckily, sometimes it works.
“The Oregon Department of Transportation and Corvallis Parks and Recreation are falling short,” Borowski said. “I went to three different scans, and on paper it says both departments will store their stuff for a month. And many times we saw them completely cleaning out tents and sleeping bags.
Fankhauser added: “The other thing is that [ODOT] brought in prisoners to help with these sweeps. We have no idea about their status with regard to COVID, and they have no idea about the status of COVID with the people who are here; they could take him straight back to the prisons.
On the morning of September 21, 2021, a sweep was launched by Corvallis Parks and Rec at Pioneer Park; ODOT inmate teams were to come down and help with sweeps later. It wasn’t until community advocates informed Parks and Rec employees that several people in the camp were showing COVID-like symptoms that the sweep was called off before inmate crews arrived. A testing site was set up by a Benton County Health Department employee shortly thereafter.
Camp sweeping and the cyclical waste problem
Some community members acknowledge that sweeps — or “cleanups” as they are often called by the city — aside from failing to address the root causes of homelessness, are just another band-aid solution to the waste generation.
“I would like to know how much money was spent on sweeps,” said Amy Wilkerson, another community member who helps with weekly food and resource distributions. “Couldn’t you have [spent that] on a building or a garbage can? Granted, it can get out of hand with the trash, but that’s because they have nowhere to keep the things they want.
“[City leaders] keep saying, okay, let’s do this for now; sweep the camps so there is no mess and the city looks clean,” Fankhauser said. “But then what happens is they go to another place where you sweep them, and then they go to another place that’s displayed, and it’s just this endless problem.”
Hezekiah noted, based on his own observations and experiences with homelessness in Corvallis, a correlation between the growing number of homeless people and an increase in the presence of litter in the city.
“When I got here there was a small tight-knit group of homeless people who were only camping across the river so it wasn’t all out in the open and there wasn’t as many waste,” he said. “I think it was probably after 2012 when I noticed more [unhoused] people started coming to the areas that the cops [and other city employees] now prevail. They don’t like what they are doing, but other people have been complaining about these areas for years because of the garbage that accumulates and because they care a lot about environmental conservation and the protection of ecosystems.
He added: “I have been there for a long time and I have never brought food to my camp, I have never started a fire. When I got here, I took three tops, three bottoms, a CD player and my CDs; I got rid of everything else. There are people here who take their whole lives with them, but I understand because they have nowhere to go.
Food and resources will continue to be provided at the skate park on Thursdays starting at 4 p.m. All are welcome.
From: Emilie Ratcliff