Home on the streets
Kelly Kelvin goes to work as a certified nurse's aide before the sun rises and shortly afterward her husband Josh readies their three children for school.
The Kelvins live in a travel trailer blocks from an apartment they used to rent.
After a substantial rent hike, the Kelvin family found themselves homeless. The Kelvins have been among the dozen or so families living in vehicles on Southwest Fifth Street where it crosses Western Avenue.
"The last year-and-a-half has been hell," Kelly said. "Since we lost our home we've camped in the forest in a tent and lived with friends out of the area."
They've been on Fifth and Western since April.
There is no single data source that looks at homeless populations exclusively for Beaverton city boundaries, but Washington County statistics on homeless populations identify nearly 550 people are without permanent and/or stable housing. Due to the nature of homelessness, it is a difficult population to connect with and quantify.
Kelly was born and raised in Beaverton and wants to keep her children in their schools. Her daughter Dakota, 16, is on the Autism spectrum and finds moving around jarring. Gone are the days she participated in 4-H and won numerous ribbons.
"It's stressful. I'm not used to it," Dakota said. "School is my place to get away from this and hang out with my friends. I like to do well in my classes."
Colton, 14, also does well in school. When he graduates from high school, he plans to enlist in the military.
"I want to be in the Marines," Colton said.
For now he helps care for his brother Gabe, 10, and keeps the trailer and area around it clean. He said it's hard to get his schoolwork done under his current conditions, but he does it. Shortly after the Kelvins parked at Fifth and Western, Gabe was hit by a car and suffered a broken leg, exacerbating the family's worries.
"It sucks," Colton said. "I don't like it at all and I don't think my siblings do, either." He wishes he could have his own room and be warm at night. He said at school people make fun of him for being homeless. "It's embarrassing. I try to ignore it. It hurts my feelings," he added.
At their home on the street, many people are also unkind.
"Sometimes people go by and yell at us," Kelly said. "They call us freeloaders and white trash."
Josh, who is disabled and walks with a cane, is waiting for his Social Security disability claim to come through. He calls his family "rent-crisis refugees."
"We're tired of feeling like enemies of the state and second-class citizens," Josh said. "People tell me I'm not a man. But we're not sitting idle. We are trying to get back on our feet. We don't do drugs. We've never been in trouble with the law. We're good folks."
Residents in the area have mixed reactions to the homeless people who have set up camp on their street. A majority don't want them there and have become vocal at City Council meetings, citing health and safety issues and demanding action, which was spurred by comments made at the Tuesday, Sept. 5, council meeting by Stephen Crawley, a homeless man who said he was speaking on behalf of those living in campers on Fifth Street.
He said all of those living in the campers were working, but cannot afford to pay rent, the move-in costs and application fees.
Crawley said the homeless appreciated the efforts the city has made on their behalf by letting them stay and it gives them a sense of stability to lift themselves out of the situation. He said they were victims of harassment and threats from the community around them, but they also feel they have gotten support from a majority of those in the area.
He said he did not have any answers for the long-term, but was aware that the homeless situation for working people was increasing every day. The campers say they have a vested interest in what happens in the neighborhood and in the City of Beaverton. They pay taxes and have children who go to school. He asked the community be made aware that those who live in campers or on the street can be ordinary, working people.
"We want to find the common ground where we are responding to our resident's community safety concerns and balancing that with a compassionate response," Mayor Denny Doyle said. "We are working with community partners to connect people to appropriate social services. I've asked staff to bring council several options that address homeless camping on public streets over the next few weeks."
The space the Kelvins occupy is public property. The city does not have a prohibition in place regarding overnight parking.
Beaverton residents, concerned about a collection of campers that have moved into their neighborhood, took their issues to the Beaverton City Council.
Residents lodged complaints. Speaking at the Sept. 12 council hearing, Lesley Herren of Beaverton, chair of her Home Owners Association Board of Directors at her condominiums, told council she asked residents via a social media site if they were having any issues with the campers on Southwest Fifth Street and Western Avenue. Herren said she received 180 replies from her social media post in one week.
She said people are not able to use the bicycle path, walk their dogs or exercise in the area where the campers are located.
Herren shared stories of confrontational incidents that took place between residents in the area and the transient campers.
Herren also said the biggest concern was public health issues because of human waste on the streets, dumping in the storm drains and garbage left on the streets.
She said the transients were dumping human waste in their trash receptacles, which prompted residents to obtain locking trash bins.
Carrie Hunt of Beaverton said she has two children and she was representing the parents in Raleigh Hills area that connects into Southwest Fifth Street and Western Avenue via the bike path. Hunt said her family loved the fact that Raleigh Hills was a safe neighborhood and they encouraged their children to go out into the community. She said the children have not been able to get out in the community because of the unsafe environment that exists there now.
She said she appreciated the police and they were "nice and helpful." She said she would like to see the community get back to what it was more than a year ago.
Grove Hunt of Beaverton said he does not recommend portable toilets or garbage cans for those living on the street, because it would encourage more people to come to the area. He said the city "needs to figure out a solution."
Matt Merge of Beaverton told council that the neighborhood used to be a safe, family-oriented neighborhood. Merge said he and his wife used to take walks in that area, but they do not feel safe any longer walking past the campers. He said residents were organizing and would be back before the council.
Rick Kappler of Raleigh Hills, who was not at the meeting, said he sees the need to grow jobs and lower the cost of housing in Beaverton.
"They (the city) are not doing enough zoning," Kappler said. "We need better land use."
He called the area the "forgotten part of Beaverton."
'Come talk to us'
The Kelvins said they don't want to cause any problems and try to keep their area clean by sweeping around their trailer and removing all trash in a safe and sanitary manner. They said they want to communicate with people and develop an understanding as they rebuild their lives.
"Come talk to us," Kelly said. "Hear our story. You might never know who could be one misfortune away from being just like us."
Police have been called to the area to address a number of concerns including littering, noise, violence, threats and drug activity.
Beaverton Police Chief Jim Monger said it's a complex issue. Any of a number of circumstances can cause homelessness, he said, ranging from people falling on hard times to issues with addiction and mental illness.
"We have to look at each individual situation to assess needs and figure out how to help people best find services," Monger said.
He cited one incident regarding a man who had an apartment lined up, but was waiting for Social Security to approve his claim. "Once his claim was approved, he moved into an apartment and he's doing well," Monger added.
Homeless advocates assert that even once people are out of temporary shelter, they need continued help in addressing root causes that led to the experience of homelessness and assistance with transitioning into permanent, stable, adequate housing.
This is the case with the Kelvin family. They received approval for first and last month rent along with a security deposit from a social service organization, but there isn't any housing available in the area where they could sustain paying rent with their current income. They also attempted to find a space for their trailer, but also found there's none available to rent.
A committee has been formed by the City of Beaverton to address the homeless issue and outreach personnel are regularly visiting sites where homeless people gather to offer help and referrals.
Little big voice
A neighbor who lives near the cluster of camper trailers, Shannon Younce, was inspired by her 3-year-old daughter, Astoria, to speak up on behalf of the homeless.
"It was very organic," Younce said. "It wasn't some sort of public service project or something. My daughter wanted everyone to know the homeless people weren't scary, so first we went to the police department and Astoria told the police her new neighbors were nice people and then she talked to the mayor and I wrote the following to City Council:
"I've been a resident at the apartments here for four years, and they (the homeless) have been coming for approximately six months. There are several campers here now." Younce said she and Astoria have befriended some of the campers and they are people who have become some of her daughter's favorite friends.
"She and I ramble all over our neighborhood in the course of the day — usually two miles or more — we don't like to stay indoors. Consequently, we've gotten to know nearly every house, man, woman, child and dog in our neighborhood pretty well," Younce wrote. "The police have been keeping a close eye on the situation here, and the people on the street are worried. They've heard some people — I gather joggers and other non-residents who come through the area and are unfamiliar — have shared concerns about the situation."
Younce continued, "Having been neighbors with them this year, I wanted to bring them to the attention of some of the city leaders. They are not dangerous or disorderly. They do not litter — even if their vehicles are eyesores. There is no loud noise, music or activity. Nearly all of them are employed and most have a partner or family member with them. A handful are only a couple of months away from permanent housing. In short, they are as stable as anybody in that situation could be and not a 'problem' for the neighborhood. Many of us here in Springbrook apartments simply don't mind them at all and my daughter Astoria insists on visiting them almost every day now. She often brings a painting or wildflowers and they, in turn, adore her — often returning the favor with small handmade bracelets or compliments on her baby dolls. You can imagine how few people wouldn't be cheered by someone who likes them and pays them a 10-minute social call every morning when you live on a street. Given that they are on the radar these days, I simply wanted to vouch for them and let someone know they are not, in fact, threatening or disruptive, none of the permanent residents who live closest are terribly bothered, and as we all know, homeless people must eat and sleep somewhere. In short, they are the best encampment possible, given the situation."