Les Cloyd stands in his tent as he explains his plight to the Enterprise the weekend before the cleanup began. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)
ONTARIO – As city crews razed a homeless camp north of Ontario last week, folks who had called the area home for months or even years shared their plight.
Their stories had a common thread: we’re looking for a hand up, not a handout.
Jose Rodriguez, who came from Seattle before settling along the river in Ontario with his partner Crystal Trivette, has been camping in the area for about five years. The couple had no idea where they were headed a couple days before the cleanup.
[Watch a video of folks displaced in the clearout here]
“I don’t know yet, but I will figure it out,” Rodriguez said. “I just need a little bit of help, just a little push. And from then on, I can do the rest myself.”
Trivette, who arrived back at her camp with two plastic bags full of plastic bottles slung over her back, had a smile despite knowing that she only had a couple nights left before the cleanup.
Trivette said she is expecting a child in the coming months; she appeared calm and collected as she sat on a foldable lounge chair in front of her makeshift home in the woods along the river that would soon be gone.
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Only feet away, a blue, tattered tent peeked out from behind the brush and trees. Inside, Les Cloyd, also from Seattle, weathered the autumn chill.
Cloyd said that his wife died of ovarian cancer, and then after moving to Idaho where his mother lives, he had a stroke.
“I’ve been homeless ever since,” Cloyd said.
Cloyd’s plan was to return to Seattle but he wasn’t sure how he would get there.
Meantime, Trivette and Rodriguez stood in the middle of their camp, surrounded by a vast array of salvaged items and mismatched furniture. A modified shopping cart sat in the middle of the camp and served as a makeshift stove where the couple prepared their meals.
Trivette said she is around four months pregnant. The couple has a son who is currently in foster care and will be a year old in November.
Trivette said she has no doubt she could get her son back if she could find a home and stable income.
In the couple’s makeshift home, she kept shards of broken mirrors she uses to make jewelry.
“I may be homeless, but I’m not broken,” she told the Enterprise as she shared her hopes of one day owning land and a log cabin with Rodriguez.
Trivette and Rodriguez said that, aside from the unfortunate case of the cleanup, they have control over their situation.
“We’ve never asked for any kind of money or help from anyone and we’ve survived just fine,” Trivette said. “I mean we work hard.”
Rodriguez nodded in agreement, a sense of pride on his face.
“It is typical. It is,” Rodriguez said of the city’s actions. “To tell you the truth, I don’t ask them for nothing free, I never asked nobody for nothing. I’ve worked in construction for 30 years. I know how to build things from the top to the bottom,” Rodriguez said. “We only need a little push. That’s it. And from there on, they can leave us.”
One time, Trivette recounted, the couple was provided help with paying for a hotel room, but she said that she’d rather have had help with the first month’s rent instead.
“My biggest concern would be more help for housing,” Trivette said. “And how we can go about getting into housing a lot quicker.”
Trivette said a major hurdle for her and Rodriguez is paying the first month’s rent.
In a thicket adjacent to Cloyd, Wayne Perrin and his partner Kristina Porter occupied a large blue tent that was bequeathed to them by another homeless camper who had moved on.
Perrin said he and Porter came to the area from Alaska because it was too cold there. And after a couple of years being homeless in Corvallis, the couple eventually ended up in Ontario.
“Everywhere in town that we’ve been, we’ve gotten moved,” Perrin said. “There’s no spot in town for anybody that is homeless out here.”
Perrin and Porter came to the area because they both had family nearby, but things didn’t work out.
The couple said that they lived by the river with their child at one point, but the child was soon taken away.
While getting into housing is one of their priorities, Trivette and Rodriguez have their own personal goals of acquiring some land and building a home.
Given Rodriguez’s background in construction, he has the skills required to one day realize the couple’s dream, and said that if it was possible, he would just buy the land from the city and build his own house.
“The city, they don’t even use it for nothing. I don’t say they give it to me. They can sell it to me, you know. And I’d be fine with that. Just the lot. With that, I can make my own home,” Rodriguez said with a grin and an air of confidence.
Trivette said they would probably stay with friends after the loss of their river camp.
Trivette said she descended into homelessness after being widowed. She moved from North Carolina to Boise and made her way to Ontario.
“I used to have a house with a pool,” Trivette said, “and I didn’t appreciate it.”
Perrin indicated that he wouldn’t mind moving back along the river once the cleanup is complete.
“I would love to come back here. I don’t care, I just don’t know where we are going to go until then. It’s hard, even packing up and stuff is stressful, because now we have to haul our stuff around in a shopping cart for now?”
Ontario City Manager Adam Brown stood next to Perrin and listened to him explain his plight.
Brown told Perrin that the crews will only be working during the day and that it would be possible to come back once they left.
“There’s nothing stopping you from coming back at night, and staying,” Brown told Perrin.
Perrin said packing up the tent every day, and then setting it back up each night would be a burden.
For now, Perrin and Porter don’t know what they will do. Perrin said he is no stranger to being pushed out, and said he and Porter have been in similar situations about six times in the last five years.
“This is the first time we’ve cleaned up on the river,” Brown told Perrin. “Because this is a relatively new phenomenon having so many camps, it’s probably from the last year.”
Perrin told Brown that he understood why the city would want to clean up the area, but if things were different and there were more options for people like him and Porter, they wouldn’t be in this predicament. He added that he fears sleeping on the sidewalk in sleeping bags, but that might be the only option.
“Now it’s getting to the point where really where can we go?” Perrin said. “Like really, there’s not anything here. There’s no homeless shelters, there’s nothing. And that’s the hardest part.”
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