Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

T he chili and cornbread enticed Phillip Braesch to Community Connection in Baker City, and he wanted to share the food with his friend and neighbor, Miles Jones.

So Braesch returned to the A-Frame RV Park on North Cedar Street where the two men live in separate motor homes to retrieve his friend and bring him to the Help for the Homeless Resource Day Wednesday.

Jones, 37, and Braesch, who’s 53, both admit they are luckier than many. Both have warm, dry places to live. But they don’t always have as much food to eat as they’d like or enough money to buy other supplies.

So they happily made their way to Community Connection at 2810 Cedar St. where they found sustenance in the form of a steaming bowl of chili and a chunk of cornbread.

Both men completed questionnaires to help Community Connection meet requirements of a point-in-time count of homeless people in the community to comply with terms of a federal grant the agency receives.

“This was a one-stop shop for services,” Mary Jo Carpenter, Community Connection manager for Baker County, said of the event.

In the past, Carpenter said her staff has gone into the community to gather information about people considered homeless. The staff would then report the information back to community partners.

“We seem to be hearing more about homelessness,” Carpenter said.

So this year, the hope was that people in need of assistance would come to Community Connection, where agency representatives would provide information about a variety of services such as the Department of Human Services’ Supplemental Nutrition Program SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and its self-sufficiency program; the Oregon Health Plan; alcohol and drug services; programs for veterans, mental health,The Salvation Army and more.

“The goal was to provide services to improve their situations,” Carpenter said.

The agency was awarded a $300 private grant, which was used to provide goodie bags that included blankets, socks and hygiene items, a $20 grocery gift card and a transportation voucher to ride the fixed route of the Community Connection bus or trolley system.

Wednesday’s visitors, who totaled about 15, ranged from single adults to families with children.

Amanda Reeves, assistant manager at Community Connection of Baker County, said the agency representatives gathered to help not only people who had no place at all to live, but those who are doubled up with multiple families in one house and are overcrowded, or those living in a travel trailer they wouldn’t choose for a permanent home.

Homelessness also includes those living in their cars, sleeping in tents or living in quarters that are considered uninhabitable because of lack of running water and utilities, Reeves said.

“Baker has a real problem right now with housing,” she said. “People can’t afford what’s here.”

And some people have come to Baker City because they’ve heard there are “great housing opportunities,” she said.

While the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority does have housing specifically for low-income people, most units at apartment complexes such as Green Acres and the Grove Street Apartments in Baker City, and duplexes in Baker and Haines, have a waiting list of up to 18 months, Reeves said.

Houses subsidized through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also are an option for some, and Reeves says she always suggests that people seeking shelter apply for HUD housing.

Otherwise, she’s quick to advise people to consider the option of moving to a larger community that might have more resources.

“They have better job opportunities, better housing opportunities and shelters,” she said.

The closest shelter is in Boise, although La Grande and Pendleton have warming centers to help people through the coldest nights. Those resources are not available in Baker City.

Kim Virtue, the Baker School District’s homeless liaison, attended the Help for the Homeless event and met with families whose children attend Baker schools to link them with other service providers. That’s what she does throughout the year as she works to improve the situations of the students she serves.

Clothing, coats, gloves and other items are available at Marla’s Mall at the North Baker Campus at 2725 Seventh St. Personal hygiene items and other supplies also are available at no charge to all who need them. The Northeast Oregon Compassion Center, housed in a wing of the Baker City Church of the Nazarene at 1250 Hughes Lane, also offers clothing and other supplies.

Holli Diamond is The Salvation Army’s Eastern Oregon field service center director. She says her organization provides vouchers for one-night stays as well as gas vouchers to help needy travelers. Food, clothing, cooking supplies, if needed, and bedding and tents also are available at The Salvation Army.

Diamond said most homeless people she serves are transients traveling through. During the winter months they either keep moving or make friends who will welcome them to sleep on their couches for several days.

“Eventually they run out of houses to stay at and move on,” she said.

That’s Reeves’ recommendation for those who have no resources.

“If you have no income and no shelter, you might want to move on,” she says.

As for Miles Jones, he said he wasn’t really looking for help when he attended the Wednesday event. He has been disappointed with services offered to him in the community.

He said his best help has come from John and Michelle Dollar, owners of the A-Frame RV Park where he lives.

Jones moved to Baker City last year after he became homeless in Ontario. He said when he first moved to Baker City he had high social anxiety and it was difficult for him to be around people, but over time he has been able to relax more. He does odd jobs cleaning up around the RV park and helping customers.

Jones says two convictions — more than 10 years apart — for drunken driving, and complications that have made it difficult for him to complete drug and alcohol classes, have left him without a drivers license and made it difficult for him to find work.

Jones graduated with honors from Ontario High School in 2000 and studied fabrication and welding at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario. He also was trained at the Nevada School of Construction.

He has found that working in an assembly line is not for him. He says he’d like to find a job in a garden nursery or working on a farm or ranch.

But Jones says he doesn’t need public agencies to set him on a course.

“After being homeless, I learned I don’t need society’s help,” he said.

His friend and neighbor Phillip Braesch, on the other hand, says he’s found the help he was looking for in the community, and at Wednesday’s event, from Beverly DuBosch.

DuBosch is a former drug and alcohol counselor and administrator who worked for New Directions Northwest for 23 years and for the Eastern Oregon Alcoholism Foundation for two years. The 72-year-old has come out of retirement to work 20 hours a week as an “assister” for Northeast Oregon Network (NEON).

See more in the Feb. 2, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.