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UCC does not have lead dust results on Flegel Center

Umpqua Community College does not have results from the lead dust testing at the Flegel Center, despite a Tuesday press release claiming that low levels of lead dust were found in the building that will be used for housing students.

“We do not have the results,” UCC Director of Communications & Marketing Tiffany Coleman said Wednesday. “UCC was notified, by the owner, of the results. We chose to communicate this information on our behalf — not the owner’s — as part of our ongoing effort to be transparent.”

A press release sent out by the college Tuesday stated, “Two small storage rooms on the first floor, both of which had been deemed as non-living quarters, tested positive for low levels of lead dust.” Coleman, who sent out the press release, said she has not seen any results to back up those statements.

The News-Review reached out to property manager Faith Construction on Oct. 2 and Wednesday to get the results of the environmental testing done at the old armory but has not received any information.

Coleman suggested the City of Roseburg may also have the results from the environmental testing. City Recorder Amy Sowa said the city does not have the results. An address for the property owner, Sweetwater Trust, led to a mailbox.

UCC President Debra Thatcher continuously claimed that safety is the college’s main concern in Tuesday’s press release, as well as during an Oct. 2 board meeting when the subject of lead dust was first discussed.

Thatcher could not be reached for comment and will be out of the office until Oct. 24, according to an automatic reply from her email account.

Lead dust testing was reportedly done at the Flegel Center after April Ehrlich, a reporter for Jefferson Public Radio, inquired about the possibility of lead dust contamination at the center. Ehrlich, who previously worked at The News-Review, reported in 2016 that former National Guard armories with indoor firing ranges were at risk for having dangerous levels of lead.

The News-Review asked UCC Athletic Director Craig Jackson during an interview in September about the possibility of lead dust being found in the building. Jackson said at the time all testing had been completed and the building was up to code.

The Oregon Military Department closed indoor firing ranges at Oregon armories in 2014 due to lead dust contamination.

The Flegel Center, which was used as an armory from 1914 until 1977, had a firing range in the basement of the drill hall.

The building was leased by the college to accommodate out-of-town male students. Most of those would be student athletes who could see cardiovascular problems, increased blood pressure, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems if exposed to toxic levels of lead dust.

Originally the move-in date was scheduled for Tuesday, but has been delayed indefinitely.

“The original goal was a lofty one — irrespective of the additional testing which, contrary to widespread belief, has not caused delays. It is too soon to commit to an exact move-in date,” Coleman said.

Students who were planning to move in to the building are staying with host families while attending UCC.

Army veteran Earl Suggs spent a month living his car, but now has a home

For about a month in the autumn of 2016, the only roof over Army veteran Earl Suggs’ head was the top of his 1993 Honda Accord.

Suggs had moved to Douglas County from Portland the first part of September that year. He had lived here before, but with no job and no apartment he spent his first few weeks couch surfing between the homes of his brother, his sister and a friend. Sometimes that was OK, and sometimes it wasn’t, he said. At his brother’s home, for example, he laid awake at night tossing and turning on a small uncomfortable sofa in the living room.

It was almost October when he gave up on the couches and began sleeping in his car instead.

Today, Suggs has a home, thanks largely to the intervention of Tonya Hall, a social worker with the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans Office.

According to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 37,800 homeless veterans in America on a given night in January 2018. Of those, about 23,300 were on the street and the rest in emergency shelters and transitional housing. Those numbers, while high, represent a dramatic decrease from 2010, when HUD reported there were 74,000 homeless veterans across the country.

That’s due in part to a strong push by the VA to reduce homelessness among veterans over the past decade. Suggs had been living in his own apartment for a year by the time that January 2018 count was taken. He’s one of the VA’s success stories.

Back in the fall of 2016, though, Suggs’ future was looking pretty bleak. Once he moved into his car, Suggs parked behind Ben Irving Reservoir outside of Tenmile, near where his sister lived. Couch surfing had been difficult, but this was worse. It was very dark at night, and increasingly cold.

“I lived in my car out there for at least a month. The mind really starts to work when you’re sitting in a car and the only thing you’ve got is a flashlight for light, and it’s pitch dark and the batteries are going dead,” he said.

Suggs said he received gas money from his relatives, but he couldn’t use it to warm up the car at night.

“You couldn’t sit there and run your gas all out because then you wouldn’t be able to go into town the next day. So it was dress warm and hunker down,” he said.

For food, he would either go to a friend’s house during the day or use food stamps to buy what he called picnic stuff.

“I always had food in my car. Just stuff that would keep, and I had an ice chest so I could take bologna and mayonnaise with me. But most everything else was out of a can, crackers, bread, you know. And fresh water. The basic necessities of life, and that was pretty much it,” he said.

The year before, he’d been living with a different relative in Portland. But Suggs said there was a lot of drinking in the home and he didn’t like being around it.

Before moving to Portland, Suggs had worked a variety of jobs in Douglas County. He had spent some time as a custodian for Roseburg High School, worked at a grocery store and a restaurant, and drove for Sunshine Taxi for seven years. Then he had contracted prostate cancer and it moved him to reconnect with relatives he hadn’t seen in a while. He moved to Portland to be near them, but when his living situation got worse, he decided to return home to Douglas County.

He was 61, with no money and no job. Couch surfing and living in the car both seemed preferable to sleeping at the Roseburg Rescue Mission, he said. He worried he’d be bullied at the shelter.

“When you’re dealing with the homeless, you don’t know what somebody’s got. You don’t know what kind of mental condition they’re in,” Suggs said.

After he moved into his car, the air grew chillier and chillier until one cold night in October his sister knocked on his car window.

“Alright follow me home. You can’t stay out here anymore,” she told him.

So it was back to the couch, but now he was sharing the living room with his sister’s mother-in-law, who was dying and slept in a hospital bed. That was pretty rough, too.

Ultimately, it was his stint in the military that saved Suggs. He had served in Germany during the Vietnam War Era, assigned to patrol the wall that at that time divided East and West Berlin. While it wasn’t combat experience, it was enough to qualify him for housing assistance through the HUD-VASH program, which helps veterans obtain Section 8 housing. Hall, the VA social worker, helped Suggs find a home in January 2017.

Suggs has lived at the Rose Villa apartment complex for more than two years now. He said Hall was a bit worried about the place’s reputation at first, but he is thrilled. He said it’s recently been painted, and cameras have been installed. The apartment is small, but there’s a common area where he enjoys spending time, and where he said he sometimes hears live music from other tenants in the apartment complex. Most of all, he was thrilled to have a real roof over his head.

“I was probably the most grateful person in this town,” he said.

VA advocates offer housing vouchers in quest to end veteran homelessness

On a Tuesday afternoon in February, three homeless men sat with veteran advocates Vern Jorgensen and Tonya Hall in a spare room on the third floor of Building 2 on the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus.

They were there to learn the hoops they’d have to jump through to obtain the golden ticket of veteran housing — a HUD-VASH voucher.

The voucher program is one of the VA’s tools for pursuing its mission to end veteran homelessness in Douglas County. That day, the VA had 12 of its allotted 111 vouchers left.

Jorgenson injected humor into the proceedings and subtly let the veterans know he was an Army vet himself, that he understood them. He wanted to help these men feel at ease.

Maybe they hadn’t had a real home for years. Maybe they were struggling with drinking problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment, but he believed they could dig their way back out of the hole.

“The second you give us all the documentation we’ve requested, you go to No. 1 on the ready list,” he said.

The program doesn’t end when participating veterans are handed the keys to their new homes. Case managers will routinely visit to check up on them.

They’ll want to be sure there’s some furniture in the home. They’ll offer to hook them up with services like mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment. They’ll offer work opportunities at the VA.

But first, there was the paperwork. There was an income qualification and a service qualification. Single veterans couldn’t earn more than $1,596 a month. If they served before 1980, they only had to have served one day. If they served after that, they had to have served at least 2 years or have been injured.

And they couldn’t be a registered sex offender.

The whole idea, Hall explained, is to help the veteran who’s been in a bad situation get stabilized.

It had been a long time since Nate (not his real name) had been stable. A 30-something father of three who served in the Army and had post-traumatic stress disorder despite never having been in combat, Nate had been couch surfing with two sons and a daughter, all under 13, for the past three years.

Nate said he didn’t drink or do drugs. Tobacco was his one vice, he said. He stayed home with his kids, so he could be considered a homemaker or unemployed. But it was clear he wanted a job. He brightened considerably when Jorgensen suggested a vocational rehabilitation program that offered compensated work therapy on the VA campus.

“I’d love to work here, actually,” Nate said.

If Nate wasn’t able to find a couch, he’d be on the streets. There was no shelter in Roseburg that would take him and his children — ages 12, 10 and 4. If he was a woman, he could have stayed at the Samaritan House. But the Roseburg Rescue Mission doesn’t offer housing for dads and kids to stay together.

He’d never been married. He won custody of the kids after he and his girlfriend grew apart.

“We became toxic with each other, so we called it quits before every day became verbal combat,” he said.

Nate joined the Army in 2004 and stayed for six years, becoming a specialist. He was stationed in Japan during part of his service. He joined the Army because the Air Force told him he had a better chance of being struck by lightning than getting in and he didn’t want to be what he called the Navy’s boots in the ocean.

He had been homeless twice over the past three years. This time, it had been about nine months since he’d had a permanent home.

Jorgensen was optimistic about the chances of Nate getting approved for HUD-VASH. Through the course of asking Nate about his situation, Jorgensen made notes on a checklist. In the end, he scored it. Nate had 24 out of 40 points, an average score. It was a good score, Jorgensen said, because it was high enough to show he needed help now, but low enough to suggest he wouldn’t need it forever. He was likely to become a successful graduate of the program.

And since he had kids, if Nate jumped through the hoops right away he could move to the top of the list.

First, he needed to provide a social security card for everyone in his family, bank statements for the previous six months, SNAP income statements and proof he was eligible for VA benefits, among other things.

If he was successful, caseworkers would visit him for the next year — once a week at first to see how he was adjusting and after that, the frequency of visits would stretch to once every few weeks and then to once every three months.

“We expect you for that year to better yourself, get some furniture, pay off your debt, so in a year you are able to step out,” Jorgensen said.

Army veteran Monte Noffsinger found a home at Orchard Knoll transitional housing complex on the VA campus with the help of VA caseworkers.

Noffsinger served from 1985 to 1988. He was a tank crew member with a unit that trained to respond anywhere in the world in 72 hours, but the unit was never deployed to do that.

Still, Noffsinger suffered injury as a result of his service. During a training exercise, an electronic explosive device detonated two feet from his head.

“I don’t know why I lived, I don’t know. I can see the smoke go past my head. I was instantly deaf, instantly unconscious. It wasn’t lasting very long, but I woke up and I couldn’t hear nobody,” he said.

He said either that incident or the gas he was exposed to during training damaged his brain. He’s lost most of his childhood memories, he said.

Noffsinger was able to work after he left the service, first at a mill whose name he’s forgotten and later at a Weyerhaeuser plant in Eugene. He left his job, accepting a buyout during the 2008 housing crisis, and then wasn’t able to find full-time work. He worked odd jobs, mostly temporary, after that.

Not long ago, he began to have problems he attributed to lingering effects from the accident. He kept losing his balance, he said. Then he had a stroke.

Today, he has to walk with a cane, and can’t walk in a straight line because his sense of balance is off. No employer would touch him, he said. He moved in with his daughter and cared for his grandkids in exchange for room and board. Then they were evicted.

Without money or housing, Noffsinger wound up in an emergency shelter.

“I’m not a druggie. I’m not a criminal. I don’t have any negative background at all. I’m the anomaly. That’s what the guy at the shelter called me, the anomaly, because everybody there has problems with drugs, law, alcohol or something else and I just happen to be the one dude there that just happened to be there,” he said.

“I was caught with my pants down. I could see it coming, but there was nothing I could do about it,” he said.

His fortunes began to turn around when he called the VA and got hooked up with the homeless veteran advocates there. He hadn’t even known the program existed.

HUD-VASH Case Manager Breana Pritchard helped him find a spot at Orchard Knoll and regularly checks up on him to ensure things are going OK. It’s a tiny apartment, but it’s home to Noffsinger.

“This program has been a lifesaver,” Noffsinger said.

About Elliot: Additional details emerge about homeless man who calls himself Elliot Ness

After our story in Sunday’s News-Review about “Elliot Ness,” the homeless man who frequently occupies the bench outside Roseburg City Hall, we received calls from two people who were able to fill in the gaps of his life story.

One is a local relative, who asked that we not publish his name. The other, Margaret Rammage, is not related, but used to bring him a hot breakfast each morning. She also had communicated with Elliot’s half sister in 2011 and showed us emails that laid out Elliot’s story. The profile we’ve compiled below is based on what we learned from these sources.

Jeffrey Short, who currently believes he is Elliot Ness, a police chief from Heaven, is believed to be schizophrenic. He began having delusions in his late teens.

He was born in Seattle in 1955 and grew up in Roseburg, attending Roseburg High School at least through his junior year.

He has lived here most of his life.

His parents died when he was a young adult, just as his mental illness was spiraling out of control. They were Ben Short, who died in 1976, and Mildred Short, who died in 1974. He has a sister, Judy, who is developmentally disabled, and the family has lost contact with her.

Jeffrey Short is a veteran.

He worked for Roseburg Forest Products in Riddle and then he joined the Marines when he was about 19. He served in Seoul, South Korea during the Vietnam War Era, but wasn’t in the service long before he was discharged due to his mental illness.

The relative said Short is entitled to be buried and receive services at the Roseburg National Cemetery.

“I don’t want him to go away and be buried and nobody knows him,” he said.

Short began to show signs of mental illness in his late teens, the relative said. He talked about being the president of the Timex watch company and drew circles on the ground for aliens to land inside.

At some point, Short drove to California on a motorcycle, got into some trouble and was involuntarily committed to a mental institution there.

The relative recalled receiving calls from him begging them to get him out of there. In the 1990s, he was released from the institution and returned to Roseburg. The laws around mentally ill patients changed at that time to ban most involuntary commitments.

Short used to camp under the bridge by Stewart Park and eat out of garbage cans. At one point he frightened some children playing on the playground there, and their mothers called police. Rammage said after that Short was jailed for a while, but when he was brought into court he identified himself as “Jehovah,” a name that matched his delusional beliefs at the time.

Rammage said Short occasionally would eat meals or stay at the Roseburg Rescue Mission, and his face peers out of one of the mission’s mailings from around 2006 seeking donations for its Thanksgiving dinner. Later, she said, Short stayed under the Deer Creek Bridge near the Roseburg Public Library.

Rammage’s maiden name was Short, but an in-depth genealogical search showed her she wasn’t related. Rammage first met Jeffrey Short in 2006 after she had back surgery and her doctor ordered her to walk every day. She introduced herself to him while he was sitting on the bench outside City Hall, and he introduced himself as Jehovah.

He began to call her “one of the mayors.” He liked to write on adding machine tape. Once she asked him for some of it, and he gave her an 8 inch piece that was covered in words that indicated how disordered his thinking was. He had written “MAWELTORO,” and “them against me need special investigating them and me said siren” and several other words and phrases that don’t make sense. He referenced a place where he wrote his mother lived “now,” apparently unaware that she died decades ago.

At that time, he ate breakfast every day at the Daily Grind, a cafe that was across the street from City Hall but has since closed down. Later, he became upset when a friend wasn’t allowed to eat there too. He went into a rage and knocked things off the counter, Rammage said. The cafe owners quickly were relabeled in his mind as part of a communist conspiracy against him.

The Roseburg Rescue Mission too, she said, became part of the communist conspiracy in his mind.

Eventually, so did Rammage.

For years after Short stopped eating at the Daily Grind, Rammage brought him hot breakfasts she made herself — oatmeal, hot tea with lots of sugar and a banana. She sometimes gave him new sleeping bags or other items to help him stay warm and dry.

But one day in 2012, she carried a Chinese green tea in place of her usual Red Rose tea and he decided she, too, was a communist. She thinks maybe the Chinese words on the tag set him off.

After that, she didn’t feel comfortable continuing to help him. But she still worries about him, and wishes he could get help. Unfortunately, she said, he’d likely assume that anyone at an agency who could help him is a communist too.

Eight years ago, Rammage communicated with Short’s half sister, who was living in Washington. The half sister, Sharon Short Gostomski, had not heard from Short in 30 years. She emailed information to Rammage about Short’s background and family tree that matched the information given to us by the local relative. Gostomski died in 2016.

Rammage finds it heartbreaking that Short lives the way he does.

“He literally fell through the cracks and the streets became his home,” she said.

The relative we spoke to said Short has had a very, very hard life.

“When you live on the street with nothing and you live out of garbage cans and you sleep in the briar patch and you sleep under a bridge all your life, basically, that’s hard,” the relative said.

The relative said it hurts to watch, but Short won’t accept any help other than food.

“What do you do other than shed a tear?” the relative said.