KEIZERTIMES/File photo

Stock photo

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Wiz wasn’t sure where he would spend Monday night.

“I don’t know. We can only go so far pushing a cart, and there are only so many places you can go without being bothered,” he said.

Wiz was one of about a dozen people who set down stakes underneath the awning at the south entrance to the old Roth’s building over the weekend. Late Monday morning officers from the Keizer Police Department visited the group and asked that they move on. The temporary camp had already sparked numerous mentions on social media sites asking what, if anything, would be done about the people there.

Wiz volunteered to talk about his experiences when I approached some of the straggling camp members about what brought them to this point.

Until earlier this year, Wiz lived just south of Keizer in a mobile home court where he paid around $300 a month in rent. He made his way in the world traveling to art shows and fairs in the area selling handmade leather items and carved art. He played guitar, too, claims to have opened for Deep Purple in 1966.

“I was paying rent, but I wasn’t ever home. I was always traveling to shows. I decided I would rent a couple of storage spaces and use one as a workshop and the other as a gallery while I was living in my van,” he said.

When his van was rear-ended by “a big diesel truck” things started to spiral rapidly, and he’s been living on the streets since.

“It’s just a profound difference in perspective to be the guy sleeping next to the guy you’ve never met because you don’t want to freeze to death,” Wiz said. “It changes the way you think. I’ve gone through dumpsters looking for things for people to eat.”

Day-to-day living, he said, revolves around three questions: how do you stay warm and dry; what do you eat; and where do you go to the bathroom?

“And where do you put your stuff so it’s there when you come back if you do go to the bathroom?” he said.

He’s met some on the streets who he’s felt made their way by preying on other homeless people, but he seen others tap deep veins of kindness.

“The people who have the least share the most. Someone will give you their last scrap of food, or part of it,” he said.

Prior to taking up the spot under the awning, some members of the group – who Wiz calls brothers – had been living around the old Alberston’s just north on River Road North. When it was announced that the building had been sold to new owners, word made its way down the ranks that the camp would have to find another spot.

Wiz understands it’s necessary to a degree, and bore no umbrage to police officers who end up as the messengers.

“When we were over there, the police would come by and tell us to flag them down if we needed anything,” Wiz said.

Local and regional leaders assembled a homelessness task force earlier this year with plans to make recommendations for coping with Marion County’s burgeoning homeless population. Talks have spanned topics too numerous to list, but many have been targeted around specific subgroups: youth, veterans, women, domestic violence victims and many, many more.

When asked what the area’s homeless residents need most, Wiz gets visibly distraught, but settles on the necessities.

“There’s too many, but it’s the basics. We could use lockers to store our stuff for a few hours or a couple of days for a few dollars. There should be more public restrooms. You don’t have to be homeless to need a place to pee,” he said.

Wiz remained under the awning until mid-evening. Tuesday morning, he, and his brothers, were gone.