Homeless Campers in Eugene

By Bridget Reilly

           My camper remained in the Public Works parking lot for sex months.  This was a cherished milestone for me, but it was clearly not meant to be the end of the read for me and John.  He thought of it as merely a way-station, a place he would rest at only too briefly before itching a move on to something better.  It soon became clear that this place wouldn’t be acceptable to him for a very long, as there was too much noise from the train yard across the street as well as the heavy traffic that prevented him from getting proper sleep.  And he was very slow to comprehend why I seemed content to linger here indefinitely.

             I couldn’t picture myself having something even better than this little island of security, after all the years I had fought for it while having much less.  I didn’t know I could hope for more than being a homeless journalist who rarely gets paid for her work; I had been stuck on that plateau for so long.  If there could really be any thing better for me than that, I would be only too relieved and glad to find out.

             John gave up his space after a few months, as the noise had become intolerable to him; he went back to his old routine of frequently going to the woods to have some peace and quite.  Then in March I was able to move my camper to another city-owned parking lot in a much more convenient and civilized neighborhood downtown.  Our relationship continued on an off-and-on basis, as we had some other heavy personal issues to sort out, besides the stress of being homeless, before we could commit to being a full-time couple and planning for marriage.

             At the present time my camper is still in the same parking lot where it has been for almost a year, but I am spending much of my time in Crow, where John is renting his parent’s house while they are gone for the winter.  We are now officially engaged and starting to make serious wedding plans, although our future is still uncertain as to where we will live together as a couple, and how we will finance it.  Our dream is to find some little piece of land in the country that we can start buying while we begin building our own house, living our of our campers parked on that land until the house is finished.  Maybe we will ask for a down payment on such land as a wedding present.  Having a taste of life in the country, I feel it’s definitely time for me to move beyond that urban “homeless camper” existence and simply insist on something better.

 To use our great artistic gifts, and claim a share of wealth,

And have some comfort in our lives, and also keep our health

It is our birthright, after all, to claim the things we need,

So please, just help us find a way that we may yet succeed!!!!

                  To explain more of where this feeling comes from I will back tract a little.  During the early days of our courtship, John had taken me on a tour of the places in the countryside southwest of Eugene where he liked to hangout, and that also represented a good chunk of his family history.  He was not one of those homeless nomads who had migrated to Oregon from elsewhere, like I was.  He had grown up in Crow, and was descended from a good chunk of his family of Applegate Trail pioneers who had established themselves here a century and a half ago.  So he knew this whole area like the back of his hand.

             He showed me some places of his childhood; the School that he’d attended, and a very impressive cemetery where all his McCulloch ancestors were buried, the exclusive property of the clan.  It was all a rather awesome chunk of Oregon history that I’d never known existed beyond the borders of Eugene.

             But unfortunately the McCullochs are no longer landowners and there was no property left for John to inherit; that was why he was now among the ranks of the homeless “orphans” and had to join that community of camper’s industrial West Eugene, where we first met.  It was so strangely unjust, yet we would not be a couple today if the case had been otherwise. 

             The refreshing images of all those lovely green hills and farmlands remain in my mind’s eye as we pulled back into the cul-de-sac where my camper was where my camper was parked.  These drab industrial surroundings were quite depressing by comparison, and I began to appreciate better John’s need for those frequent retreats.  I was to see a lot more of the countryside in the coming months, and this little foretaste had been pleasant indeed.

             As our relationship continued, it became more clear to me that I would also become a rural Oregonian, as I know I wanted to stay with him.  We had began looking for some place in the country where we could perhaps relocate ourselves.  One day we went on another long drive even deeper into the farm country, dipping south into the Lorane area where we visited some of John’s friends who lived on two different farms.  He was putting out feelers for someone who might let us park both of our campers on their land, but so far no such invitation was forthcoming as long as we could not afford to pay much rent.

             Later that summer we attended his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  This event was at Crow-Applegate Church of the Nazarene, and it was here that I met many of his large extended clan, most of whom still lived in the area.  While I sat next to his mother having a piece of cake, she said we could go to their house and take a shower.  This was the first time I saw the mobile home on Vaughn Road where I am sitting right now.

             I loved that place and thought it would be heaven to live here.  The rural surroundings were so peaceful; we could never be his relaxed in the city.  I sate in a chair on the side porch and gazed at the soothing view of the green back yard while John took his shower.  I wished we could bask in this county atmosphere forever.  I am definitely a country person in my blood; even though I’ve always lived in cities and towns, all my ancestors were farmers of some kind of country folk, land this sort of place still feels more natural and right to me than any other.  I wouldn’t mind marrying into a clan of “hillbillies” to be a part of all this.

             Now back to the present.  As I am writing this is February 2000.  Almost three years have passed since the time represented in the beginning of this saga, and I have made great progress in my life in the way of personal growth since my battle for homeless rights began over a decade ago.  The program allowing campers to part their vehicles in parking lots is still in effect, though it is still only serving a fraction of Eugene’s homeless population.  It is also set to end in June of this year, after which it will have to be either re-funded, replaced by some other program or simply discontinued.  The city has had to admit that this program is working very well overall and has caused very little trouble for the neighborhood residents.  But there is still the question, what next?  Was it our intention to live in vehicles parked in city parking lots for the rest of our lives? Don’t we have any other plans?

             For many of us car-campers it has been very hard to conceive of having anything better than merely being left alone to continue in our accustomed lifestyles.  We are just grateful that the cops aren’t bothering us anymore.  Had it not been for all of John’s gently nudges, I might still be mentally on same plateau myself, but as it is, many things in my life have slowly changed for the better, and I am beginning to hope that we might find our way to a real life in which we can actually thrive, instead of merely treading water day-by-day.

            And this is where the NIMBYism sage ends, on a relatively happy not for me as compared to many of the other homeless who are less fortunate.  My life, which was previously so barren and bleak, is now permeated with the sweet sensation of love!  And John and I are looking at a future together in which we may yet heal our wounds from the past.  It has been a long and agonizing journey, but we are both survivors and are determined to enjo the years that remain for us.  It is ironic that, in a sense, we can thank the NIMBYs of Eugene for having pushed us into each others arms

 The End

  Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 43-July-August, 2000