Homeless Amid The Virus

Photo by Dakota Gange

“If you really want to help these people, go get them some firewood, they’re freezing,” says a Corvallis citizen as he uses sticks, twigs, and branches to build a small fire in front of a medium-sized tent, in which sits a rosy-cheeked blonde woman, swaddled in blankets. She does not speak to strangers on this almost freezing Saturday afternoon, at the official Corvallis homeless camp sites, underneath the downtown Highway 34 bridge. Many residents of this area are resistant to talk, and ask to remain anonymous.

The property is owned by the City of Corvallis, in which this land is provided to those who are homeless and wish to stay, as long as they keep it clean (more official information to come on this). There is a large blue dumpster that is provided at the edge of the northwest sidewalk along the property, near the skatepark; “as long as we keep it clean, we can stay here,” says local homeless tenant Vern Jones. 

Long time Corvallis local, Vern Jones, says he’s seen an increase of about 30 tents since the official homeless camp opened up among the pandemic. “If you really want to help these people, go get them some firewood, they’re freezing,” says a citizen who stopped to help build a fire for a young homeless woman.

Jones is a Corvallis local, who has been homeless in the area for 10 years. When asked if he’s seen an increase in the homeless since the pandemic, Jones says, “There used to be maybe ten tents here, now there are forty.” Jones is an alcoholic, which “helps keep him warm.” He has no family, and the locals here only “tolerate him,” says the anonymous good citizen. 

This portion of the campsite is quite large, containing at least 15 tents in the main area. There are piles of clothes, trash that’s been bagged up, bikes, tables, and everyone is bundled up and blatantly cold, trying to make a fire in front of their tent. 

A tent sits a little further south from the main group, standing alone in the base of a few trees. Inside the tent is a glow with a small lantern, and outside is a large bin full of dog food, with a silver dog bowl on top.

To the south side of the camp there are other tents that have spread out individually, nestled in the base of trees and grassy fields. They seem to have means other than fire to keep warm, such heat lamps aglow in their tents. What they are doing to get electricity to power these lamps is still not clear. 

Another young man who chooses not to reside among the camp is 23-year-old “Piano Man” or “KeyBoard Kid” Damian Scott. “I don’t like the energy of it all [the downtown camp], so that’s why I sleep in the doorway [of a Corvallis store front].” 

Scott has been a street performer for 11 years, where he plays unknown, unheard of and unwritten music on his keyboard for the public. He’s been living in Portland and Corvallis for “a couple of months” after coming here from Kansas. He plans to stay here “at least throughout the winter.” 

 “What’s different [among the pandemic] is I’ve had to figure out where most of the people are, like the places that most people go to, to play music outside to earn my way. Like at maybe the post office or grocery stores. That’s something different. Downtown drags aren’t usually alive with people just walking around anymore,” says Scott. 

He taught himself how to play music, without ever learning to read it. Playing his keyboard is his only means of survival, and with the pandemic keeping musicians at bay, Scott has been facing basic survival needs.

He travels around the city with his almost four-foot keyboard, a blanket and sleeping bag equally as large, and a backpack. These are his only belongings, and he sleeps on cardboard to “keep the cement from sucking out the cold.” 

If you are a student at Linn-Benton Community College and are struggling with housing, food, utilities, education costs, and more, know there are resources out there easily accessible for you. You can access these resources through Roadrunner Resources, on the LB official website, where you will find a quick questionnaire to help LB determine the best way to help you and get resources to you quickly. 

There’s no doubt that the homeless crisis has indeed increased in the last nine months, and with that comes people from all walks of life.

Editor’s Note: There will be more to come on Roadrunner Resources and other resources available to the public.

Story and Photos by Dakota Gange

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