This is the fourth entry in a series titled, “Ties that Bind.” Links to the previous three entries can be found at the bottom of this story.
For over a decade prior to moving out to the Land of the Mohicans, Carl lived in the same humble apartment in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.
“I lived on Cumberland Avenue for eleven years,” said Carl with a bitter tone of frustration, “when the lady that owned the building died, her nephew took it over and decided he wanted to renovate it so he could charge more for rent.”
This is a consistent theme around Portland, and has been for years. As more and more neighborhoods in town become gentrified, more and more middle and low income earners are finding themselves unable to keep up with the ludicrous costs of living overtaking the city.
Bayside, which is basically the only remaining neighborhood in downtown Portland that hasn’t yet been taken over by upscale condos and wealthy transplants from away, is beginning to feel the pinch.
For Carl, one of the friendly men who invited me to visit him in the Land of the Mohicans, the rising costs- or the lure of them for his new landlord- didn’t price him out of town like they have to thousands of homegrown Portlanders, they forced him out onto the unforgiving streets.
“The new landlord wants to get everybody evicted from the building so he can renovate, so he started looking for reasons to kick us out,” Carl explained.
He continued with his voice shaking, “I had some friends, or people that I thought were my friends, who needed a place to stay this past winter.”
“People were dying out on the streets, freezing to death under bridges and in their tents, so I let a few of them crash in my living room for a while. When the landlord found out about that, it was all he needed to serve me my eviction papers.”
After drawing out the process as long as he could, he eventually was dealt a court order to vacate the apartment that he had called home since 2004.
“I wanted to fight it,” he said as he blinked away tears, “but I felt so powerless.”
“The first couple of nights on the streets, I slept on a park bench.” He lowered his head as he wiped his eyes, “I couldn’t believe I was that person, that homeless guy with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.”
“I had some friends that I wanted to reach out to, and some family, but I don’t ever want to be a burden on anyone.”
After a few nights of battling the cold in the park, he finally gave in and went to Portland’s Oxford Street shelter.
But shelter life can be frightening, and extremely taxing on one’s emotions and mental well-being.
Here’s an undercover video that I shot with my camera phone at the shelter this past winter for a piece called “Behind the barriers at a Portland homeless shelter”:
“That place is like a jungle, there’s drugs all around, people are always fighting and having meltdowns. And my God, the bedbugs there will eat you alive.”
Before long, Carl felt like he was ready to reach his breaking point.
“I needed to get out of the shelter, but I had nowhere to go.”
That was when Phil stepped in and told him about the Land of the Mohicans.
“It was still pretty cold out,” remembered Carl, “I think it was April, but I figured anything would be better than the shelter and out here at least I have friends to be with and talk to.”
“All throughout the winter I invited people who needed a safe place to sleep to come out here and stay,” said Phil. “I’ve been homeless for fourteen years, mostly living in the woods, and I know this sort of thing isn’t for everybody, but out here you get a sense of peace and safety that you just can’t find at the shelter or on the streets downtown.”
“When I heard from Carl that he was struggling, I told him to come stay with me for a while until we could find him a tent. So we bunked together for a few nights, then we found him his own tent and we’ve been neighbors ever since,” Phil explained as both men smiled.
“I’m hoping to find housing soon,” said Carl, “but it’s nice knowing that if I can’t figure things out, at least I have this place to rely on until winter rolls around again.”
When asked what he’ll do if he’s still homeless come next November or December, he thought for a moment:
“I’m not sure what I’ll do, it’s definitely something that weighs on you when you’re homeless, thinking about the winter months, but I try to just take each day as it comes.
This isn’t exactly what I envisioned for myself at this age, but at least I can still sit and enjoy the sunset from my front door.”
“At least I can still find some things to smile about.”
To be continued…
In the next entry, we’ll get to know Phil. He has an incredible tale to tell.
To see the first entry for this series, titled “Human stories from a Portland shantytown,” click here.
To see the second entry, “Meet Portland’s homeless city council candidate,” click here.
And to see the third entry, “Hanging on to hope,” click here.