9/29/2017

It’s surprising how much time I spend in parking lots.  I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise given how much I drive for my job, traveling to & fro Cave Junction, Grants Pass, Medford area, Brookings, Crescent City, etc.  I can tell you the best lots for shade in the summer, relaxing spots to eat lunch and read a good book, or the most quiet (and safe) place for a short power nap; I could probably point out which lot along the Rogue River is used for drug exchanges (I don’t park there anymore).

People do interesting things in parking lots; perhaps they don’t realize those of us sitting in our cars tend to look up sometimes.  I like observing people wherever I roam. I’ve been accused of stalking before, but it’s not like I follow the same people, right? I’m just curious.

All that being said, I witnessed a few things this past week that have been haunting me, so I knew I had to share to get them out of my head, so to speak.  On Tuesday, I was parked next to a small motel in Grants Pass and noticed a family headed toward their room, or at least I assumed they were a family.  Five people, including two young men, one young woman and two small kids who looked about four or five years old.  The most striking thing about them was that the two guys were dressed in military/camo outfits, with huge green backpacks. The young woman also had a huge backpack and was trying to herd the kids into the room.  You could tell they had been walking a long time and their faces clearly showed relief to be opening a hotel room door. We’ve all seen these families, however they may define family, who are weary travelers, with no place to call their own.

Thursday I had a steady stream of meetings and events in Medford; starting with our United Way Board meeting/Campaign lunch, ending much later after a dinner event. So, in between a couple meetings, I parked in one of my favorite spots by Barnes & Noble to check messages, etc.  I parked in a shady spot, next to a little green pickup on one side, another commuter on her phone on the other side.  I noticed a young man on his phone by the pickup, and didn’t give it a moment of thought as I went into Starbucks for a drink.  When I got back to my car, he wasn’t there anymore, but this time I actually looked at his truck. And noticed the car parked very closely next to his looked like someone was living in it.  There were towels propped up in the windows to create some privacy, and THEN I saw the bags of clothes, pillows, and a cooler in the front seats.  His pickup bed also had bags I assumed were their personal belongings and an old microwave for cooking. I waited as long as I could before my next meeting to see if he, or anyone else, were coming back to the vehicles.  At the very least I was going to offer them the gorgeous plate of cookies I had won at the UW luncheon.

Ironically, the dinner event I attended was the 30 year anniversary of the Medford Habitat for Humanity. While listening to the guest speaker share her story of poverty and homelessness, all I kept thinking about were those young people in the Barnes & Noble parking lot.  Did they have kids, were they ‘working homeless’, had they been evicted…like I said, I’m pretty curious. It bugged me so much, I went back there after the dinner and was hoping they would be there and I could buy them dinner. They weren’t. It upset me, a lot.  The minute I saw my husband Scott, I burst into tears and told him about the two cars.

I know we all see people in these same scenarios all the time, I certainly do. But on my drive home, I reflected on the United Way Campaign Kickoff we (US Bank) had at our Medford Main branch.  I presented the ‘Cross the Line’ exercise so many of us have experienced in other like meetings. The last statement was to ‘cross the line’ if you’ve ever been homeless. I was the only one in our group that crossed the line.

A long, long time ago, I lived on a cattle ranch with my then husband and our infant daughter, Savannah.  When she was 7 months old, he lost his job, and with it, we lost our privilege of living there.  Even though we had family members who lived near us, staying with them just wasn’t an option for us at that time. But luckily, a couple he was studying with offered us an apartment on the second floor of their home, in exchange for some rent and some work around their property. In today’s world, it would be considered more of a ‘couch surfing’ arrangement. About two months into the arrangement, we went away for the weekend, and when we climbed the stairs to what was supposed to be OUR living space, that family was sitting on our couch, eating our food and watching our TV…and didn’t get up to leave until we asked them to.  It didn’t seem to bother my then husband, but I was done. So, I swallowed my pride, asked my cousin for help; she didn’t hesitate to give me money for a small rental house and came the very next day to help Savannah and I move out.

Not a terrible story by any means, but what if my cousin hadn’t been able to help me?  I think it’s important to add here that the month prior to us having to leave the ranch, Savannah had been in the hospital for 10 days with viral meningitis; we came very close to losing her.  But all the time my husband took away from work (unpaid), added to a strained working relationship, plus outstanding medical bills, put us on that slippery slope to homelessness.  We were lucky; altogether my experience was no more than three months before things changed for the better. But I’ve never forgotten how it felt to not know where we would end up, and I am so grateful for the life my family has now because of it.

When I go back to Medford next week, I’m going to check on those two cars next to each other in my favorite parking lot, and if the cars’ owners are present, I hope they don’t mind if I say Hi and ask them if I can buy them dinner.

Deelia Warner, US Bank