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Nowhere to Be

Young & homeless in Lane County

Photos by Trask Bedortha.

They’re musicians, derby girls, runaways and train hoppers. Some of Lane County’s homeless kids are just taking some time to travel and escape a dull future, for others, it’s life on the street that they want to escape. Some have been to jail; some have been befriended by cops. Just about all of them wish that instead of looking at them like their existence is a problem and a blot on the city, passersby would look at them like human beings. One homeless youth who goes by the name of Angel told EW, “I just want to say that a lot of homeless people get judged when they’re holding their sign, or when they’re walking down the street, and I think more people should stop and actually try to figure out their story before they judge. Not all of us want to be out here. It’s not fun. I don’t think any of us really enjoy looking like slime, like we don’t have any worth.


Shannon H. (Bubbles) age 21, Columbia County, Ore.

Bubbles is a single mother of two young girls (2-1/2 and 15 months) who don’t live with her. She has been on and off the streets since her early teens. Although she still “surfs houses now,” she currently has a living situation, however volatile. She said she was expelled in “fourth, fifth, sixth” grades, and never went to high school. “My parents are dicks,” she says when asked how she ended up on the streets. For a while, “I fell into a drug loop,” Bubbles says, during which time she was doing both methamphetamine and cocaine. She said she often found that “being a cute little girl” people tended to respond to her better when she was living on the streets, giving her money and food. Right now, Bubbles plans on getting her drivers license, saving up some money and moving to Arcata, Calif. “I’m not quite sure what I’m doing or where I’m going,” she says, “but I think I’m going south.”

“It’s tough sometimes. Nobody even wants to look at you.”


Chelsea (Mouse) age 16, Roseburg 

Mouse spent most of her life in Eugene with brief stint in California. She was shuffled through “a whole bunch” of foster homes. “I was basically taken away from my family,” she says. “That was pretty tough. They called me an angry child. I think most people would be if they were moving from home to home and didn’t get settled down at all.” Still, she believes she received a “pretty good education,” though “it’s hard to get a GED when you’re on the streets.” Mouse says, “I prefer the streets to walls,” she says. “It’s freer; you don’t feel controlled.” To get by, Mouse solicits “spange” (spare change) and gets help through food stamps, teen feed programs, Goodwill and churches, all of which she’s grateful for. “God, I’m hungry sometimes,” she says.

She says Eugene, is “terrible,” especially when she’s hassled by cops just for sitting on the grating under a tree on the sidewalk. “If it’s city property and I live in the city, doesn’t it belong to me, too?” She says she usually sleeps in a tent or under the Washington-Jefferson Park Bridge, “but that’s not safe and it’s full of tweakers.” Another big pain is using the bathroom, Mouse says, pointing out that, at most places, restrooms can only be used by folks buying something. “I’m really tempted just to flip them off,” she says “and tell them to fuck off and the horse they rode in on.”


Linkus age 19, Nashville, Tenn.

Linkus, aka Zig-Zag, has been homeless in Eugene for about two weeks. He sleeps mostly at one of the downtown pits, though sometimes he camps by the river. Linkus calls himself a traveler and gets around by hopping freight trains. He makes money by playing guitar in front of grocery stores and downtown. 

He says, “I actually chose to become a traveler, because I felt like there was so much about this world I didn’t know, and to just go straight into college is like having an opinion chosen for you. It seems like the singular path that all of the mainstream media is trying to send us on. ‘Go to college, and you’ll get a job,’ which, of course, isn’t true in a lot of cases. Basically I just wanted to learn more about the world and more about myself.”

He says, “Eugene has been pretty hospitable, even though it’s harder to make money here. The people are just friendlier in general. They’ll actually carry on conversations with you, treat you like human beings. That’s one of the hard things about Eugene, that it’s just so chill that you don’t want to leave.”


Aaron S. (Ogre) age 21, Portland 

Ogre spent his first 14 years in Portland before his parents divorced and he, his mom and his stepfather moved to St. Helens where he went to high school. “I didn’t really know anyone,” he says. “No one knew me. It was that awkward phase, and I was just really weird.” Ogre hasn’t seen his biological father in years. “He didn’t really play too much of a role in my life,” he says. His dad was “just a bad guy.”

Ogre says he lives on the streets by choice and quit his job to do it. Everyone talks about “living today like it’s the last day, but nobody does.” His reasons for leaving home and hitting the streets were “a very sort of angsty rebellion thing.” He left home because it was too controlling and structured. 

He says he plans on heading south toward San Francisco. While in town he’s been sleeping nights in the wooded area behind the Amtrak station. A good day, for Ogre, means “waking up after getting a full night’s sleep” and getting high.

“You learn to live with the idea that a normal person looks at you and thinks you’re diseased.”


Adam P. (Fresh) age 22, Denver, Colo. 

 Raised by a single mother, Fresh’s father was out of the picture: “Ultimately he’s a tool and I don’t like him at all.” After moving every three years, he and his mother ended up in Spokane, where he went to high school, dropping out his sophomore year when his mother moved again: “I just kind of detached really bad.”

Fresh ran with gangs on the streets in Portland and ended up doing coke and other drugs. After “a gnarly couple of months,” he moved into a house in Springfield. It burned down, and he’s been “trying to keep on keeping on” ever since. Fresh says he’ll try to make money with a “witty” sign asking for help, but he never straight up asks people for change. He tends to sleep behind the train station at night. “It’s a pretty good place just to get off the beaten path.” The biggest challenge is steering clear of tweakers who steal stuff. Upon waking, his first goal is to “find a way to manifest a meal.”  He says, “You eat like a rat. You eat when then there’s food and you kind of eat a lot of it.”

He says that when it comes to getting off the streets, “a lot of it’s on the individual to rectify the situation.” His long-term plans include joining the military, after he gets some tattoos removed and clears up a few past legal tangles. “It’s one step at a time.” 


RaeLynn Thornton age 20, Cottage Grove 

RaeLynn is aging out of the foster care system. She says, “I was in foster when I was younger. I got returned home, then when I was 15 I got placed back into foster care. I was all over the place. I finally found peace in one of my homes and wound up staying there.”

She says at age 18 kids begin aging out of the system, but they have services at least until they are 21. “They don’t completely drop us, but they wean out of our lives.” 

Her 19-year-old sister is out of the system and is homeless. She began rejecting the help from the foster system: “She started acting up, so they closed her case,” RaeLynn says. “I personally believe that most foster kids have a lot difficulties; we have a lot of challenges that we have to overcome.”

“It’s kind of tough,” she says about transitioning out of the system. “It took me a while to find support people I can trust. You know that feeling where you feel like you can actually really trust somebody? I share some information, and if I can trust them not to say anything, then I’ll share more.” She adds,  “Just being able to find somebody that you can look up to and be inspired by means a lot to foster kids.”

“I think they just need to have hope,” she says. “I was in the foster system and I’m succeeding.” RaeLynn is starting her third term towards a psychology degree at LCC. 


Cassie & Britteny Moss age 12 (almost 13), Eugene 

 Twins Cassie (Cassidey) and Britteny, together with older sister Katelynn and mother Jennifer Moss have been living in cars and motels since early 2009. Jennifer has been on disability for over 12 years, and has been recently taking courses at LCC. She says she is in the process of starting a nonprofit foundation, the Universe Provides Fund (look for it on Facebook and Yahoo Groups), which will help people find creative ways to make ends meet. She says the twins were born prematurely, have allergies and psycho-social issues. The girls have been diagnosed bipolar, Aspergers’ and “a billion other things,” Jennifer says. She is currently homeschooling them, and they say they are looking forward to Brattain House’s three-week summer camp.

The girls interrupt the interview periodically to remind Their mother, “Don’t forget the food box,”  Food stamps, Jennifer Moss says, don’t go far enough to get her daughters the fresh, organic food they need, “which is why they are so excited to get a food box,” at Springfield’s Brattain House. If it were not for the food box, the family would run out of food for a week or more each month. Britteny says living in the car, shelters and motels is “good, I like it,” though sister Cassie, speaking with a slight lisp, adds that while she likes “that we get to go all over” she doesn’t like “that we get squished” in the Ford Windstar minivan they call home. 


Katelynn Moss age 15, Eugene 

Despite being homeless, Katelynn manages to go to Thurston High School, hang out with her friends and is on the Roller Derby Junior Gems traveling team. “I get my homework done at school,” she says. Her derby name is “Black Bubbles” and she lights up when she talks about skating with the Grease Monkeys. She says she originally wanted to be a cheerleader, but her family couldn’t afford the $567 it would cost when she attended North Eugene High.

Her mother, Jennifer Moss, says the family used to have a home, but “nowadays a lot of people are like us, on the brink of being homeless. We just didn’t have a contingency plan.” She says her disability makes it difficult for her to complete classes and hold down a job.

Katelynn isn’t always comfortable letting other people know about the way her family lives; she doesn’t like asking for help. Not even all her friends know about her family’s money troubles and nomadic lifestyle. “It’s kind of sad. I can’t tell them where I live, and why I can’t go to Hollister and shop,” she says. “I won’t tell them I live in a motel.”




Photos below by : Shannon Finnell, Andy Valentine, Sarah Payne


Frankie, age 18, Riverside, Calif.

Frankie’s been hopping trains since he was 14, and dropped out of high school in ninth grade.” I went back because everybody said I couldn’t do it and I did it for a month and got straight C’s and was like, fuck you. And I dropped out again. I had to get back on my train.” He says he left home because, “My mom told me to go panhandle for my own damn cough medicine. So I said, ‘All right, later dude.’ I’m not joking!”

Frankie plans to head for the East Coast where he says he can find some work doing landscaping. He sleeps under a bush or a bridge, unless someone “adopts” him and fellow traveler Shalina and takes them home. He says, “I’m usually drunk before 9. I was drunk before 6, but it didn’t count because I didn’t go to bed first.”


Shalina, age  21, Tacoma, Wash.

Shalina has been traveling for about a year she says. “I went all three years of high school, but I only went because I wanted to be prom queen. Got nominated. They wouldn’t let me take my crown because I wasn’t graduating.”

She plans to head soon for the East Coast where she says she has a lot of stepfamily. Like Frankie, she sleeps under a bush or a bridge with their two dogs, Lush and Charlie. 

Shalina plays the banjo and says, “I started playing music when I went on the road, so yeah, it would have to be like, music. When I was up in Portland I was busking and I got two people within an hour asking me to go and record with them. But I don’t think I’m that good yet.” She says she almost wasn’t allowed to get food stamps when she revealed she sometimes makes $100 to $200 in a week playing banjo. 

She and Frankie eat from trashcans, get Subway sandwiches when they can and go to homeless dining halls. 


Angel, age 15, from Alaska, raised in Oregon

Angel has been on the street, “a good couple of years,” and sleeps most nights at the pit. She can’t stay at the one homeless shelter that takes kids because, she says, “They have really out-of context rules.” Also, she says, the staff wants to call her mother in Marcola: “We get along, but we can’t live together. We just tried it again, so I can go into rehab.” She adds, “I’ve been clean off dope for about 24 hours.”

“I can’t go to the Mission without a parent. So, they pretty much put me out there. I think they just need more youth services, and I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon,” she says.

 To eat and make money, “I sell drugs, not my own, but I help my friends out. I hold up signs, and I have people who give me money just to give me money.” She says one Eugene police officer sometimes buys her a bagel with cream cheese. 


Tyson Gunningham, age 16, mother lives in Hawaii

Tyson dropped out of high school as a freshman. He’s been homeless for three years, and “basically since I was 2, my family traveled around a lot, and I finally just left to be on my own a couple years ago.” Before that he lived in trailer parks all over the nation, and says his family was essentially nomadic. 

“I’ve slept at a house for the last week. My friend is letting me stay at her house for a little while. I’ve stayed on the streets a few nights but sometimes I got to a house.” He says he’s also been sleeping on the doorstep outside of John Henry’s in downtown Eugene.


Tim, age 20, Radcliffe, Ky.

 “My entire family has been made up of criminals, addicts, alcoholics and car mechanics,” Tim says. He’s been homeless for about two months, he says, and lives on the doorstep outside of John Henry’s. He earned his GED from an adult education center and recently got a job at the Wendy’s on Franklin Boulevard.

He left the South because, “Kentucky seemed bland, you know? I just wanted to see the world for what it was.”

 “I want to be a carnie; it’s my life dream to own a traveling circus.”



Jesus, age 16, Eugene

 He calls himself Jesus because, “I was on mushrooms and decided that, not unlike Jesus, I see everything for what it is.”

Jesus says he was raised by a normal family in the Whiteaker area and was homeschooled til about halfway through high school. He’s been homeless since he was 13. Jesus used to live in a traditional homeless shelter, now lives on the doorsteps of businesses in downtown Eugene.

He says that nobody ever gives homeless people — much less homeless kids — the time of day to hear their stories. “Living outside of society, trying to keep equilibrium with everything around.”

He manages to make an average of $10 in an hour (on a good day) by asking for change.


Tyler, 18, family lives in Nashville, Tenn.

 “I spent most of my teenage years in mental institutions and rehabs, and a large time in juvie and jail. I just realized that there was nothing much for me around home so I decided I would try to look for something. I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I didn’t want to go home.”

Like many homeless teens in Eugene, Tyler hops freights to travel. “I ride trains most of the time, I travel a lot. I usually sleep on trains.”

To eat and make a living he says, “I’m kind of a career middleman. Just playing the drug game, and I panhandle. That’s about it.” He says he spends his time getting drunk and doing drugs.

He hasn’t had trouble with the police and says, “People are pretty friendly in Eugene. I like it a lot.”

 “I just need to get all of this out of my system, I guess, all the traveling and stuff until I figure out what I want to do.”