Jason Barnes Landing: Butch
A group of eight unhoused people between the ages of fifty and eighty-seven have built a tent-village on land that, according to Google Maps, belongs to Metro, a regional governing body. The land is near a roadway but not close to wealthy people’s homes. It’s in a forested area dotted with sweet peas and wildflowers, shaded by old trees. Some aggressive rats have shown up, but nothing they feel they can’t cope with. They have approached the mayor and the city council, the head of Metro, and several other officials including a state representative down in Salem. No one has said they can stay, but several officials have said they will “try” to help them.
They have all been “swept” numerous times in the past. (Swept: police order them to move, and if they don’t move, police return and force them at gunpoint to leave their possessions which are then confiscated and thrown into the garbage). They have been harassed, rat-bitten, abused, spit on, bullied, and disrespected in numerous ways. Some have been living on the street for ten years or more; others less than a year.
With the help of some allies who are housed and a few young, strong-bodied friends, they have built a camp where they hope to stay. Some want to get identification papers, apply for health services, and eventually move indoors. Some say they don’t care if they ever live indoors, but the hardship of living outside weighs more heavily on them as they age. One has cancer. If they live in community, they can support each other. Maybe in time they can even build a kitchen.
Someone donated $3000 to cover the cost of two portable toilets and the once-weekly servicing of those toilets for a full year. Someone donated a canopy and some sun-showers, and they were able to locate some very large (12 foot x 14 foot) pallets so they can move their tents off the ground. They established their village at midnight on June 26, and already today the police came by to issue them an order to leave. They are fighting that order, and they wanted me and another photographer to come document their work on building the camp so that they can fight for the right to stay there.
I was there twice today, for several hours, and I got to know and respect them all. I made the photos they wanted me to make: the tents, the pallets, the toilets, the showers; them working, loading in their belongings, clearing, cleaning. They also allowed me to make the photos I wanted to make: portraits. Here is my favorite, of Butch. It reminds me of a portrait in The Family of Man, a photography book I studied hundreds of times in my childhood and teens; and two more in Extras, of Ellen and Thumper. What a privilege to be with these weathered but indomitable spirits. They named their village Jason Barnes Landing, for a young unhoused friend who was hit by a car and killed last November as he was collecting cans for recycling.