The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Homelessness a hard reality for local couple with few options


March 7, 2018

GYE AND SHANDA DEARDORFF are parked at the Highway 20 scale shack east of Sweet Home where they occasionally parked overnight until a deputy told them they had to move on. At this time, in mid-February, the couple was homeless. By the end of the month, they found a space to rent.

They were asleep when a Sheriff's deputy knocked on Shanda and Gye Deardorff's door.

When they answered, the Deardorffs were told what they'd heard a lot: It's time to move on.

Gye wondered exactly where "on" is located. He happily would have gone there.

The Deardorffs had it better than some. They had a roof over their heads, but it's a 1989 recreational vehicle. They just had a hard time finding a place to park it overnight.

This particular night, about a month ago, they were parked at the scale shack east of Sweet Home off Highway 20.

Since then, the Deardorffs have been able to find a space to rent and a place to park their RV.

The couple say they were frustrated – and remain frustrated on behalf of the homeless. Fifteen months earlier they were renters in a home in Astoria. Gye, 57, drove long-haul trucks and log trucks but had to retire due to a disability. The couple survives on a Social Security disability check of about $1,190 per month.

Their rent was $475 for years, Shanda said. Then the owner turned the property over to a property management business, which determined the rent was far below the market rate. When their rent nearly doubled, the Deardorffs had to move out.

Uncertain where they would go, they sold many of their possessions and donated more to a neighbor and a thrift store. They put what remained in a small storage unit and purchased the RV as an alternative to paying high rents that would wipe out most of their income.

"We had the truck," Gye said. "We went out and bought the trailer."

They moved to the Sweet Home area because they have family in Sweet Home. Their initial plans for a place to park their RV didn't pan out, though.

The problem was they couldn't find a place to park it. They had applications in at trailer parks that might accept them, but several parks were full or do not accept RVs older than 10 years. They've also been looking into assistance programs, noting that the wait for HUD housing is long.

The deputy who woke them up at the scale shack told them they could camp above milepost 22 in the Quartzville Corridor for two weeks before moving above milepost 40 for another two weeks, Shanda said. That was a long way from town, and it would cost them a lot of fuel to stay that far up the corridor.

In the meantime, the Deardorffs stayed briefly where they could find permission from a property owner, sometimes in a parking lot and other times in a driveway. They also paid to stay in campgrounds and use showers until their money ran out.

Overall, Gye said, he has had more dealings with police officers in 15 months than he has had in decades.

"It isn't just about us," Shanda said. "I know somebody else who lives in basically the same situation. We've met other people."

They've met a variety of homeless, from a couple who once had more than a million dollars and are now living in an RV, to a woman who had a job, who sleeps in a tent every night.

Shanda said she understands that "this is a community, and they want to look good. Nobody wants them in their backyard – but if it's not us, it'll be somebody else."

It can happen to anyone, she said, noting a quote from a homeless woman: "You know, I used to be somebody. Now I'm somebody else."

The poor will always exist she said, and "this needs to be talked about. This is a community problem."

It's more than finding a place to sleep, Shanda said. The homeless have a hard time finding a place to take a shower.

Showers can be had for $12 at truck stops, Gye said. They cost $3 at the swimming pool.

"That's one of the things that's been hard for us," Shanda said.

Electricity is hard to find too, Shanda said. They used to stop at Sankey Park in the morning and plug in their coffee pot, but the power was cut off. With sleep apnea, both use CPAP machines during the night. They use their RV and pickup batteries to power those.

City Manager Ray Towry said that power should still be available at the park.

Haircuts are a problem too, Shanda said, wondering about whether the community could rally to provide haircuts to the homeless – "instead of stomping on them and kicking them when they're down."

Beyond all that, "there's dignity in having a place of your own," Shanda said.

Shanda did find an upside to homelessness, she said. After getting rid of most of their stuff, she found it liberating.

Possessions require people to keep and protect them, she noted.

"You don't possess that stuff. That stuff possesses you. I don't think I ever want to go back to having as much stuff as we did before."

The Deardorrfs are friendly, with a sense of humor and generally positive outlook, but it has a strong underlying sense of frustration, prompted by that sarcastic hunt for the land of "on," the undefined destination where they were supposed to move.

"There's a reason we are going through this," Shanda said. That may be to be a voice for the homeless. "You don't have to look far to find worse than you."

She thinks that perhaps God wants her to speak up on their behalf.

"It's going to make the community look better if they're proactively dealing with the homeless problem," Shanda said.

Shanda spoke last week with the City Council about their experiences. She met County Commissioner Will Tucker recently at a Manna Meal held at the United Methodist Church in Sweet Home and shared their story with him.

As the sun went down the evening of Feb. 9, a Friday night when the Deardorffs still had no place to call theirs, they were parked at the scale shack, talking with a reporter. While relating their experiences, an acquaintance saw them and pulled up.

"Did you find a spot?" he asked.

"Still waiting to hear," Shanda responded.

Their prayers were answered by the end of the month when they found a place.


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