Oregon Homeless Age: OHA

The definition of Oregon Homeless Age or OHA is: someone homeless appearing anywhere from 18 to 88 years in age.

A green Ford mini van held together with bungee cords and duct tape idled in front of a dive bar. Every exterior light was cracked or shattered. Its tags were legal when Obama was President.

On the sidewalk in front of the bar rested two can-conveying bicycle contraptions. I’ll never get over the ingenuity of these 21st century jalopies. Some of them need to be displayed in a museum of capitalism or an art gallery run by a street mission. Certainly a fleet of them should be preserved for future scholarly investigation, you know, that era when all American homelessness has vanished from the landscape.

It was noon on a gloomy Monday. I wanted to drink a dark beer and write so there I was.

I entered and was assaulted with heat. I ordered a dark beer in a can and carried it to the back table where I always sit. It stands next to the pinball machine featuring characters and sounds from the Batman TV series of the 60s. All I can say for it is that I get to see Julie Newmar and hear her voice.

The back table is a perfect spot to survey the room. I surveyed and counted five or six OHA people. I’d seen something similar here multiple times the past year. In fact, this joint serves as a de facto service center. Services include beer, liquor, restroom use, cigarette sales, gambling, pool, pinball, shelter, heat, phone charging station, corn dogs.

I started to write.

A OHA man bundled in multiple coats and carrying two plastic bags of cans and bottles entered. As soon has he did, the female bartender lit Marty up with a scolding about not bringing in the bags; he could stash them near the dumpster out back. Marty grunted an apology and left with the bags to run his errand.

Another OHA man entered. He wore a mountaineering backpack bulging with possessions and carried a skateboard. He parked at a table and conferred with another OHA man about what I couldn’t possibly imagine.

An OHA woman blew through the door and shouted hellos. She ordered a shot of vodka and went straight to the slot machines.

An OHA man entered, played a slot machine and was gone in less than a minute.

Marty returned and saddled up to a slot machine.

Another OHA man entered. He was wrapped in garbage bags to repel the elements.

There were now eleven people in the bar and eight were homeless and hanging out. They were quiet. One fell asleep at a table. No one won at the slot machines. Well, except for the state and the joint.

This hall unfolded in front of me inside a dive bar in one of the more affluent neighborhoods of a progressive city that believes in governing. None of the OHAs in here would be even remotely affected by the new homeless crisis policy initiatives costing millions and millions of dollars to house people. This is a type of homeless demographic that I typically interact but almost never rates a mention in the media because they don’t live in high profile encampments. They are largely drifting in and out of sight and occasionally freaking out in public.

Their numbers are growing.

What really has happened to my state, my fellow Oregonians?

I don’t think I’ll ever know.