The Willamette and Marys Rivers both overflowed their banks on the night of April 9, and at Shawala Point, where the two rivers converge, the rising waters were especially active. Since that location, under the overpasses where Highway 34 crosses over the Willamette and interchanges with Highway 99W, is also a site where many homeless people camp, Tuesday night was a difficult time for these Corvallis residents.
With the winter shelter closed and legal summer campsites not yet available for rent, the unofficial sites under the bridges have been even more populated than usual. “I’d pay for camping spot, but there is no legal site,” said Daniel Hopkins as he pointed out how his usual camp site was still underwater, and he had moved to another which he had abandoned during the night for still higher ground closer to the noise of Highway 99W.
“Jason” likewise abandoned his usual site, and when he was unable to erect his tent in a new location, he unrolled his sleeping bag in the doorway of a nearby business. “I see the river today, I’m glad I moved when I did,” he said.
Shawala Point, named after the last Chief of the Kalapuyas to have overseen the land where Corvallis now stands, became an island. Local media reported enthusiastically on the police rescue of Diana Roberts, who was pulled off the island and landed safely on the shore before being issued citations for illegal camping and littering. No mention was made of the other two people on the island with her, who got off the island on their own. According to “Newport” and a person who didn’t want to give a name, a woman named “Lia” and a man were also there, but only Roberts remained until the police arrived.
Other people who didn’t want to give their names described Tuesday night variously:
“Cold weather!” said one of our homeless neighbors.
“My tent was nice and fine – I got baked and had a good night,” said another.
“We got posted by the police, that was the first thing they did,” explained another resident.
“Yeah, the utmost concern of the citizens of Corvallis was that people were camping illegally, not the people who were camping,” added one person, regarding their treatment by the police.
Homeless people experience life differently from the housed, especially in extreme weather events. Corvallis is a different town for them, not as comfortable and certainly not as safe. It’s not a place where people can take their security for granted, the way that their neighbors living even just a few yards away can.
-By John M. Burt