Growing Pride in Eugene
Oregon Vagabond brings a voice to the homeless
story & photo by Barbara Yates
Growing up, Dave Gerber didn’t have a home town. His dad was in the service so they moved every two or three years. “When I was about 15 years old I left home and went traveling and became a vagabond,” he says.
Now the editor of Eugene’s Oregon Vagabond, a newspaper for the homeless that he began just after Christmas Day 2009, Gerber graduated a year ago from the UO with a master’s in public administration.
“I like people versus powerful issues,” he says. “I wanted to work in public service, be a voice of the people, which is why this newspaper suits me. We are the voice of the streets.”
He started the paper, he says, because he was becoming desensitized to homelessness in Eugene. “I had to reawaken myself to remember that we cannot forget that these are our brothers, sons and fathers out here on the street,” he adds. Thinking about the street papers in Chicago, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco spurred his desire to get something positive underway for the homeless people of Eugene.
Gerber started a basketball league for the homeless, and then he decided to get a writing workshop underway. “I found that there was a lot of interest in homeless people writing stories,” he says. That’s why the Vagabond is almost entirely written by the homeless. “That’s our focus, to be the voice of the street,” he says.
The paper’s been published about once a month since that opening issue and should be up to its year anniversary issue soon.
Herman, who writes for the Vagabond under the pen name of Cowboy, comes up to Gerber to buy more copies of the paper. He’s wearing a bright military jacket and pushing an overflowing grocery cart. As Gerber hands Herman his newspapers, Gerber says, “Herman wrote an article called ‘My Canning Days are Over.’
In the article, Herman says that he used to hunt for and return cans every day. “He doesn’t do that any more. He sells newspapers and it’s made his life more pleasant,” Gerber says.
Gerber believes that the paper is building self-esteem among the homeless, “For one thing, we are creating jobs, we do pay people to write for the paper, and then we also have jobs for people selling the papers,” he says.
In addition, Gerber says, the Vagabond “does lead to an increase in civic pride and giving the people a voice.”
Find out more about the Vagabond at oregonvagabond.org