It has been a sad, strange week.
Jesus said that “the Poor will always be with you.” They really are. Traveling down my road this last weekend I noticed two familiar balls of fur bouncing around on the road. I hadn’t seen them for a while, these two little Pomeranian dogs who look like Tribbles from Star Trek.
I pulled over to the kerb, looked out for traffic and got out of the car. “Go home!” I yelled at them. Much like ordering billiard balls back to their pockets or herding tiny sheep with even less directional sense, they were duly disobedient, so I danced lightly around on the road and slowly guided them back to their driveway. I used to do this dance quite a lot, but hadn’t seen them for several months and was glad to see that neither of them had been flattened by traffic.
I walked them up the driveway, as I had months before. I noticed the homeowner come out of his doorway. I wasn’t too familiar with him. I noticed that the house was much less kept, the lawn was no longer a lawn, but a bloom of dried grasses and two vehicles were there, apparently none too mobile.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m your neighbor from up the road. I’m Colin. I saw your little dogs were out, and I recognized them.”
“Hi” he said. “I’m ‘R’ and I haven’t been out too much. I don’t get out much.”
It turned out that “R’s” partner had passed away back in July, and “R” had been in mourning since then. “R” had a military background; he was a Marine. His partner’s husband had gone off with another woman, and then these two childhood sweethearts had been reunited after the long years. Both of them were in their early 50s, but he had come home to their new common home and found her lifeless on the floor. She had had a heart attack.
“R” had been suffering ever since, and other family members have claimed the house — and are trying to get rid of “R.” He is now living in a house without power, water and little food. He has a military disability income of a few hundred dollars a month. He is in limbo. His dollars are insufficient for much movement to anywhere else. I am looking at resources that may help, but there isn’t a lot. The post office changed his key on the mailbox so he can’t even get his mail.
Later on this same week I got a call from a woman in Portland who my wife and I had previously helped by housing her dog when she was homeless. She had been quiet for a number of months, having moved in with a gentleman friend. She was homeless again. She is bipolar and she had, by her own admission, created problems where she was — and is there no more.
We got a call from her asking us to take her little poodle so she could get temporary help. We did. I drove into town and reclaimed our guest poodle, and met with this woman’s older friend who was opening her home to temporarily house our homeless lady. But she herself was in trouble. This woman’s landlords wanted to claim her place to re-rent for better money, so they had turned off her water and demanded that she vacate. She has a partial foot amputation, is disabled, and has also no place yet to go.
I was struck as I drove through the Portland streets as to how deteriorated things look in this stale, impoverished city. I notice half-clothed men lying prone on sidewalks, breathing but addicted and unconscious. It looked like a run-down Third World city. Police and ambulances passed these people by without stopping. The recent change in the Oregon law reducing possession of heroin and methamphetamine to misdemeanors instead of felonies has created a “Blade Runner” nightmare in the city where people are sliding into walking comas.
I stopped at a fast food restaurant to eat and a woman asked me if I could buy her some food. I said that I would be happy to help. The staff ordered her out as they didn’t like the ragged poor in their establishment. I managed to get the food and take it outside to her. No Christian spirit here.
To add to these local stories of being down and out, I received word from my colleagues in Puerto Rico who had been devastated by the hurricane. A team of people from England had flown out to help them in the reforestation effort in the forest areas. Unfortunately, U.S. immigration in Puerto Rico had stopped the team in the airport and sent them back to Limey Land where they could refrain from doing further good works.
Colin Brown is the former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boardman.