Homeless in Corvallis: The Changing Face of Poverty

by Caitlyn May

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

We’ve all seen them. Their clothes, layered and varied, are tattered. Their hygiene questionable. Often, there’s a shopping cart, filled to its limit with nothing of traditional value. Signs, asking for money and offering a blessing, jut out just an inch more when someone approaches the vicinity. More often then not though, passersby do just that; pass by.

Homelessness has etched a stereotypical mascot into our collective conscious but in the face of a crumbling economy and a poorly structured educational system, “homelessness” is becoming a much broader term with more than one definition and a much more complex image.

“People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.”-Sheila McKechnie

Anna, for anonymity sake, is in the fourth grade. She likes pink zebra print and hot dogs. She has a younger brother. Her parents are married. She holds no characteristics that would set her apart from any of the other children in her class. Except at the end of the school day, Anna has no home to go to.

The crashing of the housing market brought down with it more than home prices. Those who had purchased homes at the peak of the market found themselves in houses worth far less than what they’d paid. A rippling effect saw them lose their jobs and they were soon watching their problems and mortgage payments, ballooning. Anna’s parents were those people. When their home value fell, the water came up and soon they were upside down and left some place they never thought they’d be. In line at the food pantry.

In the most tangible way, the hunger for food is driving lower income families to modern day breadlines. All the while, a deeper hunger for financial stability and a separation from the hidden stigma persist. In Corvallis, when the hunger grows to a steady throbbing, residents are forced to seek out greater help.

Stone Soup, serving from two separate locations, is attempting to fill as many empty stomachs as it can. According to the organization, “From the small group who served one meal a week, Stone Soup has expanded to over 100 volunteers, who serve seven days a week to the many who are now in need of food. This group of volunteers includes members of many faith communities and OSU student organizations, as well as members of the community at large.”

The free meal is just one of the dozens of opportunities for a hand up. In 2006, the Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition was formed after the growing need in the community was recognized.

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”-Bill Clinton

Anna’s homeless status stems from the failure in the economy. Others, however, fall subject to the state of being without a home when their own minds fail them. According to the Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition, many members who find themselves being aided by the services it provides, are found as they attempt to seek help elsewhere. According to the organization, “Over time, a strong partnership has developed with the Benton County Health Clinic. Many health problems that previously went untreated, or were addressed in our hospital’s emergency room, are now addressed by establishing a medical home for each individual.” Both the coalition and the clinic have taken steps to combat one of the most obvious contributors to the homeless issue. Assigning case workers and working together, the two entities have devised programs to counsel those with mental health issues.

Used as a broad term, mental illness garners images of out of control individuals, void of common sense and purpose. However, as the homeless picture changes, a more focused illustration is taking shape. For reasons beyond their control and out of the realm of modern medicine, individuals find themselves unable to hold a nine to five, making rent impossible. A mortgage out of the question. Fully functioning in a world that has no allowances for them, some Corvallis residents are fighting homelessness while battling mental illness, creating their own morbid catch 22.

“I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” -Author Unknown

In 2011, Partners Place opened, offering a stable tether for the chronically homeless to tie their hope to. Managed by the Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition, the facility offers a safe haven for those unable to obtain their own housing. It aims to teach and inform, so as to see its residents rejoin the working force when possible or simply offering a roof and warm bed. Case workers work together with residents to form a goal-oriented plan focused on the future.

While Corvallis certainly has outlets and outreaches to aid those without homes, the challenge to do so is constantly mounting. An education system that pushes students along, the economic turmoil and unavoidable mental instability all contribute to the overall homeless picture in Corvallis. The face of homelessness is evolving. For every stereotype on the corner, there’s a class of Annas. A product of their circumstance, looking for a hand up whether it be a coin in their cup or the encouragement of a counselor. While their situations vary and their appearances provide stark contrast, the homeless of Corvallis are there. On the street corner, in the classroom. All without a home.