Danny Quinn

It was my habit, over the last couple of years, to walk the bike path along the river in Gaddis Park. Over the course of a few months in 2020-2021, I noticed more and more unhoused people camping there — some with tents, some with nothing but cardboard and tarps. I also noticed increasing amounts of trash and garbage on the river’s edge.

In the fall of 2020, I finally asked one of the campers, “Why are there more and more people camping here?” The answer he gave me was that the police were telling all the homeless in town that due to COVID-19 restrictions, the only place to camp was Gaddis Park, and they would not be harassed if they chose to camp there. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but as the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021 progressed, I watched as the population grew until at least 50 to 75 people were bedding down in the park. Trash continued to build up. I would alternate between thinking, “These poor people, how can I help? to “Can’t they pick up after themselves? Why are they leaving all this garbage here?” I decided to try to help.

At first, my only focus was cleaning up the garbage — I was concerned that as the water rose with winter, all the trash would go into the waterway. And, after all, I didn’t know any homeless people. I started picking up trash, visiting the encampments regularly, leaving trash bags. And I met the people staying there. They were grateful for the smallest kindness; a smile, a word of encouragement. As the weather got colder, I got more and more worried about the people I had met — I brought food, gloves and propane. I became an “official” park volunteer and received a key to the park gate, and trash bags supplied by the city’s parks department.

One homeless friend, Jeff, started working with me, and would reliably meet me every weekday morning to fill and haul heavy bags of trash to the dumpsters. One citizen who regularly ran the bike path, Doug, would watch us, and also decided to join us. Together the three of us would work in the homeless camps, talking to the residents, picking up trash and distributing food, propane, hope and kindness. Sometimes others would join us, and some friends would donate money to buy tents or jackets.

Winter of 2021 progressed. We continued to pick up trash, and I regularly filled propane bottles to help people stay warm in freezing weather. We watched with interest as the city debated how to solve the homeless “problem.” There was no warming center established.

As spring came, official cleanups began. Gaddis Park is, after all, home to many great baseball fields, and that is its intended use. Notices were posted, and parks department and county work crews started dismantling camps, with the assistance of some of Roseburg’s very professional and kind police officers. Our little volunteer group (we like to call ourselves “Compassion with Action”) helped as well, picking up the trash and refuse that was left behind, making progress towards restoring the park to it’s natural beauty.

In late summer the police started notifying the campers they would no longer be able to camp in the park, and four months later that job has been completed. Our little group is staying on as unofficial “custodians” of the park, as we all use the park for recreation, and are happy to see other people starting to enjoy the park again, too. But the story isn’t over.

Because while Gaddis Park is “clear” of homeless campers, these people didn’t just disappear, and they didn’t suddenly become not homeless. There is no “navigation center” to house them and they have no place legally to camp. With a new winter just starting to show its fury, it is heartbreaking to see these folks chased around and upended with no spaces for them to take shelter.

The reasons that people become homeless are complex and not easily solvable, but while we are working on that thorny knot, these people are still people and they need shelter and warmth. We are calling on the folks of Roseburg to step up and find shelter for our homeless population. The city is filled with lots of empty churches and parking lots for cars and RVs, this seems the most logical place to start. Temporary shelters from the cold will be needed while we await the elusive navigation center. Just as I started a year ago volunteering, it is time the kind and compassionate people of Douglas County to do the same. Together we can find solutions, we need to put our minds and muscles to work to fix this now. No more meetings or commissions. Call your pastor, your priest and your minister. Compassion mixed with action will get our homeless population off the streets as the winter weather bears down on us all. There is no time to waste, our homeless population is in crisis. Please volunteer today and give some hope peace to the folks wandering homeless on our streets ... it’s the compassionate thing to do.

Danny Quinn, who owns a nursery in Glide, started the cleanup efforts more than a year ago. He saw the potential of the park and the adjacent areas, and his love of landscaping and people kicked in.

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(2) comments

Wretched722

What happens when the number of homeless exceeds the available space?

mworden

Thank you, Danny Quinn. Your efforts on behalf of the community and the unhoused are truly heroic. You have gone above and beyond to help.

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