It takes a village to house a village.
- as told by my friend, and co-worker,
Lead Park Ranger Jim, in Fairview, Oregon
Three days before Christmas, early on a Friday afternoon, a fellow Ranger and I approached a dilapidated motor home parked at Chinook Landing. I stopped because I had seen it there the day before and wanted to check in, make sure everything was ok, and to verify that the occupants understood the rules of the park, one of which includes no camping.
Almost immediately after knocking, windows filled with children’s faces.
Over the past couple of years we have begun to see this a lot. Motor homes parked in our facilities, parked along pull outs of roads that dissect our neighborhoods and along Marine Drive. Motor homes that have long ago worn out their recreational value have become constantly moving “homes.” I have seen these carapaces of nomadic lives surrounded by piles of, what people with nothing, consider everything. I have seen two of these blackened hulks parked along Marine Drive for weeks, the remains of fire that burned them to rubber. Having seen all of this, this was the first one I had seen spill over with children.
A bare-foot woman tightly clutching a bathrobe came out into the cold rain. She apologized. “So sorry,” she said.” We know we shouldn’t be here. We just need a few more hours.” I begin to think about rules. The rules against camping and the eighty dollar fine for failure to pay to enter the park. It all got muddled by the faces of kids, so many kids. Another woman opened the door, greeting me by apologizing…”I’m sorry, I have eight kids.”
Three days before Christmas with snow and ice in the forecast.
A quick call to Jen brought with it the approval for a fee waiver to remain in the park through Christmas. Jen told the story to Stephanie Rawson who, late on a Friday, sent out an e-mail to a multitude of emergency and social service organizations describing the situation. The temperature started to drop. A longer call to my mom and my girlfriend brought about a flurry of communication to local churches and websites. As it came time to close the park, I stopped the family as they were leaving.
Three generations, fifteen people, eight of them kids, happened to come to my park, our park, and now it pained me to see them go. I told them about a turn out along 148th where they might be able to park for the night and encouraged them to come back the next day. Problematic with helping so many of these transitory homes is that the frequency with which they are forced to move makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find when help becomes available.
I broke down Friday evening, unable to stop seeing all the kid’s faces in the windows. Three days before Christmas, I asked the family for a list of things they needed. I needed to do something. My mom and girlfriend needed to do something. Sitting in my truck, I read the list. I read it a couple of times. When I shared it, I would hear long pauses or an “oh my!”
This is not a holiday list. This is a shopping list of the very basics.
Formula, diapers, blankets, jackets both for adults and kids, socks, trash bags, propane, powdered milk, water and food. We see them everywhere now. I have seen need. I see it on the cardboard signs every day as I slow down to get on the freeway, in the tents huddled together next to freeways and the guy who has taken to setting up his bed under the overpass close enough to my house that he can see the holiday lights. I had seen it, but this list, those kid’s faces, made me feel it.
Saturday, one day from snow and ice, carloads began to show up at Chinook Landing. Loads of blankets, water, diapers, dog food donated by people in my mom’s church and neighbors in our moorage. Once again kid’s faces in windows, hard rain coming down as people are given things many of us take for granted by people just wanting to do something. At the front end of Christmas, snow and ice, local churches purchased three rooms per night at a Motel 6 in Gresham through Christmas Eve. Then two more days, then a local bank extended the stay through the first of the year. Each time I would talk to the family, words wouldn’t come. They had never asked for anything and people everywhere continued to give.
It comes now, like frayed ribbon ends blowing in the wind.
Call the people you know are the ones that get things done. We had gotten them what they needed. But it’s the holidays and this is beginning to be as much for those giving as getting. Snow and ice caused plans to shift Christmas morning. Shifted, not cancelled. Christmas day, three generations, eight of them children, and three strangers, shared the best parts of a holiday tucked between a coffee bar a hotel registration counter, a fake Motel 6 lobby Christmas tree and a brochure rack of all that a tourist might want to visit. I watched as a child who lives in a Motor home reach into her bag of gifts and give it to the child of hotel staff who was pulling a double shift on Christmas. I talked with the grandfather of eight and discussed his days with the Hell’s Angels, how he wasn’t sure about his belief in God, how all he wanted for Christmas was a roof over his family’s head and how I was his angel. I met a child named Nevaeh. “It’s Heaven spelled backwards,” her mother said.
Clackamas County Bank has set up an account under the name “Simpson Children.” Most of the adults are currently working day jobs and facing difficulties keeping everything together while saving for the required first month, last month, and deposit to rent a house. Donations are being taken to give them this start. You may do through this gofundme site or directly through the bank that has offered to open an account for the family:
Clackamas County Bank
(to find a location near you or for mailing purposes)
**note from me, Lupine, the author of the gofundme site:
This experience, during the holidays, while I sat with my family (including my 3 children), in my nice, warm house, with presents under my Christmas tree - gave me pause. It was both devastating and familiar (as I work in these parks too, and like everyone in our city, see so many who are living without houses). I immediately wanted to throw everything I had at this situation - to solve things, to fix things, to help those kids. I wanted to leave my house right then and do whatever I could to make Christmas happen for them. But I realized that I couldn't join Jim and his family in the Motel 6 lobby on Christmas day. But I could cook...I could donate clothes and money. But I needed to physically BE with my own family. It was Christmas. This family represents my family. A group that maybe never intended to be in this spot, or even together, but now, through the ups and downs of life, are together. And plan to stay that way. I want to support that - and I want everyone to have a piece of that intention, that hope and that feeling - that we are truly all in this together.
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