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Anna Marie Slate, an activist for low-income, homeless and other vulnerable people, has herself been homeless for about a year.

Anna Marie Slate is a 62-year-old woman who is an active community volunteer in many roles, including South Coast Community Gardens, Community Advisory Council for Western Oregon Advanced Health, Neighbors In Need (Homeless) Coalition, Homeless Solutions Coos County participant, member of the Health Emergency Response Team and is a Board member of Coos Bay Friends of the Library.

How long have you been homeless? About a year.

Why are you homeless? Amazingly, this is the first time in my 62 years that I've been homeless. I've gone camping, you know, I've been in transition, but there's always been a plan before. But this time, it's not the way it is. This time it was a spiral down from one thing to another. I was priced out of my apartment, stayed with friends and then stayed with my Mom, and now I'm at T.H.E. House.

What did you do before you became homeless? I was a private skilled-care nurse. Then I went on disability.

Where do you sleep? I have slept in a van. I am currently staying at T.H.E. House where they feed us two meals a day. I probably have one more week there. You have to look for your own next place, do your own laundry, etc. I have someone who does my laundry for me. I'm looking for a place.

We have less than 1 percent housing availability here. It's been hard on all the people, so there's a rush on housing here and a wait list for most places.

Do you ever go without food? I've never completely gone without food.

What is your biggest worry? Getting myself into a place and helping my Mom get into a better place is my biggest worry. What I do know is that proper housing has a lot to do with how healthy you stay. The whole hierarchy is shelter, food, warmth, safety, belonging.

I've helped people on the street for about 11-12 years, and networked for them. I've usually always been able to get help for others who are homeless. But I'm falling through the cracks in getting help.

I'm seeing homelessness from a different perspective now. From the inside out rather than the outside in. So I have a new perspective on how things are.

I see homelessness as a spiral down, not just emotional but also health. I've noticed more since I became homeless myself that the homeless share, protect each other, share food, and have each other's back. Some of the homeless have warrants against them. It seems like once you hit rock bottom then turn over a new leaf — that's when they land in jail. I do know where numerous camps are, but they are secret due to fear of being caught.

I'm part of the Coos Emergency Response Team, preparing for possible disasters. Here it's not "if," it's "when." I try to encourage all the camps to have at least one phone. I'm trying to map out where all the vulnerable people are — tent communities, blind, disabled etc. — so we can reach them in an emergency.

What do you need? I need a reasonably priced place to live, so that my health can improve again. Because I've seen a spiraling down in my own health, due to being homeless. My spirit is well. I am stable in many ways. This whole thing has taken an emotional toll.

The good thing is that because I've advocated for others, I know how to ask for help. I would say the bigger part of homeless don't know how to ask for help, because they don't know what to do next. I'm blessed to know how to do that.

I also see that the longer you're out there, the more you get used to it. Many including some of our veterans, just want to stay out of the grid. Then there's a certain amount of being homeless that's a shame-based thing. Feeling not as good as others. When I first got priced out of my apartment, some homeless helped me move things into storage. They said, "Anna Marie, it's apparent that you're going to be homeless. If nothing works out, call us. You can stay at our camp and we'll take care of you and protect you." I have seen other examples. The women who are single and homeless camps will take in and protect.

Some compassionate businesses will let the homeless come in and rest and get warm. People and churches give food and meals, but mostly on the weekend. I suggest that individuals and churches give lunches on different days. People can buy lunch tickets at Crossroads Community Cafe in North Bend and give them out to the homeless.

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What do you want people to know about being homeless? For myself, what I know, there's many reasons to be homeless. A death in the family, loss of job, priced out of an apartment, illness, divorce, etc. Currently there are a number of families that are homeless, some who have left their children to the state because of homelessness. Rents are being raised, which causes more homelessness.

Homelessness is very, very stressful. If most people had to endure it for even a week, they would change their minds about how they treat people on the street.

It's very difficult to live this way. Most people don't want to live this way, and it's a vicious cycle. They often lose track of how to take care of themselves. They just kind of give up trying to make a change. They don't think that things will change for them any more. It's a real emotionally sad thing to live through, mentally taxing — where to bathe, eat, sleep, etc. It's just the struggle and very tiring. Once you're out there very long, you become exhausted with all those things.

I think the community needs to be educated in how to create and build places for the homeless population. If they could actually see what people go through. They see dirty people on the outside, but they don't see what's in their hearts. If the community could see that then they would be moved to do something and figure out a better solution. That has to be tempered with the fact that we can only take care of so many.

And I'm trying to educate those on the street to not be so aggressive and to be more appropriate. When you're scared and on the street, just work it out. Don't holler and say "Hey! You got some change?" People don't like that. Clean up after themselves, keep the environment clean, etc. And many people try to do that.

What I would also say is, there is Coos County Homeless Solutions. I would urge the community members to become active with that, to help the needs of not just the homeless but also the community. And we need that solution to come as soon as possible. To make any change, you need to create a will in the community in order for that to happen. Many times there's so much heartache out there. So many families are destroyed by homelessness. The 29th of April, I'm going to a trauma presentation so I can be more informed. We need to put a certain amount of focus on keeping families together.

There's a gentleman named Robert. He had all his belongings on a cream colored wagon, attached to a Tri-Star bicycle. He went into Coos Bay from a tent, and someone stole the wagon with all his belongings. He is currently very devastated by this. I would put out a plea to the community not to destroy tents and other homeless belongings. Because that's all they have and it means the world to them.

And I believe the community needs to know that the homeless are not looking for a handout. They are looking for a hand up so they can get back into mainstream society.

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