- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

HERMISTON, Ore. (AP) - When Pamela Lund’s apartment burned down more than two years ago, she thought it wouldn’t be long before she had a roof over her head again.

Holding down a job long enough to make enough money to get into an apartment was made difficult, however, by anxiety and lingering health problems Lund said were caused by a severe allergic reaction to mold. She said family members, living in other parts of the Pacific Northwest, helped her purchase a vehicle months later but didn’t offer to let her move in with them.

The weeks quickly turned into months, the months into years.

“I’m living in my car,” she said. “But at least I’m not walking the streets anymore. I’m so grateful for that.”

She has particular reason to be grateful this winter. Several local spots that have traditionally been a haven for those without permanent shelter are no longer available to campers.

Trees on private property along the Hermiston Ditch behind Wal-Mart were burned down and homeless occupants trespassed. Volunteers for Hermiston Parks and Recreation cleared out a stand of brush off Theater Lane. The 14-day limit for camping at Sand Station is being more strictly enforced. And the city of Umatilla cleared out homeless camps along the Umatilla River and outlawed tent dwelling within the city limits.

Ministry volunteers say they’re not entirely sure where many of the area’s homeless are spending their nights. Lund said she hasn’t seen several of her homeless friends around town recently.

It takes a certain resourcefulness to piece together a life with no permanent shelter.

When it’s too cold to sleep in her car, Lund sleeps at the Hermiston Warming Station. On cold days when that isn’t open, she will stay awake all night, killing time inside Wal-Mart until it closes at 1 a.m. and then moving to a fast food restaurant that stays open 24 hours.

Breakfast is at Desert Rose Ministries, a small church on Main Street that offers coffee and oatmeal in the mornings. For a mid-day meal Lund knows which businesses offer free popcorn to customers, and in the evenings she might purchase food or get something at the Warming Station.

Lund said her income is made collecting cans or buying things at garage sales and reselling them to second-hand stores at a higher price.

“I try to make a little money every day,” she said.

Lund gets her clothing from local charitable efforts or from the lost and found at laundromats. She showers three times a week at the Agape House, which offers showers to homeless residents for $1. That service has been a “godsend,” she said.

“You know what the hardest thing (about being homeless) is?” she said. “It’s a shower. My hygiene is very important to me.”

She joked that when she finally gets her own place again someday, she’ll have a photo on the wall of herself standing in her new bathroom, grinning from ear to ear, because having her own bathroom is the thing she most looks forward to.

She has been on the list for Section 8 housing since last summer, and said she was told that it would probably take between eight months and two years to get a place. In the meantime, the only local homeless shelter is Martha’s House, operated by Eastern Oregon Mission, which is reserved for families who meet certain criteria.

“There aren’t a lot of resources for a woman my age without children,” she said.

Jason Estle said he started Desert Rose Ministries in part to help people like Lund. Being homeless can really eat away at someone’s self-worth, so Estle said he and other ministry members try to not only meet physical needs, but also provide support and positive conversation. Church members always make sure visitors know they will be prayed for by name, even if they don’t return.

“There isn’t a person on this planet that God doesn’t love, but some people feel unlovable,” he said.

That’s why they might stop applying for jobs after three or four rejections, he said, or give up on themselves in other ways.

“We had a woman come in and said she wanted some clean clothes because she wanted to go find a job,” he said. “When you hear that, that’s exciting. It takes a lot of courage to pick themselves back up again.”

Others have had run-ins with the law, he said, and tell him they are afraid that a home or job will make it easier for the police to find them. Estle said he always encourages them to do what they need to in order to get square with the law so that they can pay their debt to society and move on with their lives.

He said Desert Rose Ministries used to bring hot meals, sleeping bags and other items to homeless camps in the area but have had trouble finding them lately. He said he heard that some people were camping along the Umatilla River somewhere between Hermiston and Umatilla.

“We’ve looked for them,” he said.

Trish Rossell, a volunteer with the Hermiston Warming Station, said she has been surprised to see fewer guests than expected this winter. They have been seeing two to six per night, she said, despite the larger space at the ARC building this year. To increase numbers, Rossell said they are providing blanket-wrapped kennels for dogs on the porch. New Hope Church is also taking a van around in the evenings to 11th Street Market, Safeway, Wal-Mart and Fiesta Foods to pick clients up.

“We do have some regulars that count on us,” she said.

Rossell said she thinks some people who were camping over the summer have switched to couchsurfing, while she heard some people were traveling to the Tri-Cities in search of more resources.

“I don’t think there are fewer homeless people, I think they’re doing different things about their homelessness,” she said.


Information from: East Oregonian, https://www.eastoregonian.com

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