By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

In from the cold

Corey Herber started a crowdfunding campaign on the website GoFundMe for Nelson and Rick McMahon. His aim was to raise $5,000, which he felt would be enough to get them into permanent shelter.

At the time, Nelson, 53, and McMahon, 71, were living at the edge of a vacant lot at Southeast Cowls and Baker streets, across from the Walgreens Pharmacy.

But McMahon died Nov. 20 from a stroke complicated by hypothermia, dehydration and pneumonia. Afterward, Herber decided to take Nelson in for the time being, while seeking a more permanent arrangement for him.

The GoFundMe campaign raised $3,890 from 63 people in 14 days. Herber said it would be used to help Nelson with food, shelter and medical needs.

Meanwhile, the vacant lot at Bakers and Cowls has been cleaned up.

“It was a mess,” Herber conceded. “That was a long, drawn-out process.”

Nelson’s sister, Linda Benge of Hillsboro, said three pickup loads had to be carted away. She said it took more than six hours.

“I felt so bad for the citizens of McMinnville,” she said.

The citizen most affected may have been Julie VanDyke White, who owns You-Nique Beautique beauty salon, on the other side of Cowls from the makeshift campsite.

“That’s what we were dealing with,” she said. “I don’t know how that could be allowed, that stench. Would you like that outside your business?”

Nelson used to live on White’s side of Cowls. When city officials ordered him off the property, she said, she was painted as some kind of villain by people commenting on social media sites on the Internet.

But she said she wasn’t the bad guy.

“They were blocking our wheelchair access,” she said. “We have disabled clients who need to use that access.

“I am a compassionate, Christian person. I brought them food and let them use our Dumpster.”

White said she tried to stay on friendly terms with both Nelson and McMahon, and was personally fond of both men. She said she had been worrying about them for months, given the conditions they were living in.

“I knew they were harmless,” she said. But she said, “The general public didn’t know that,” and it was serving to keep customers away.

Benge said she had taken her brother’s dog in, and appreciates the help Nelson is getting from Herber. But she warned, “Paul can’t take care of himself, but he hasn’t always done the right thing with the help he’s been given.”

She said he’s not destitute. He receives at least $1,000 a month from various sources, she said.

Herber countered by saying he gets tired of people thinking the homeless don’t deserve help unless they’re completely penniless.

“There are all kinds of people who have been in that predicament,” he said. “You still have storage fees and so forth. Just because you’re out on the street doesn’t mean you don’t have expenses.”

Nelson’s wife, 57-year-old Dawn Eckhardt, is a diabetic currently under nursing care at Oakwood Country Place, a local nursing home. Herber said she recently had to have her toes amputated, and is still rehabbing from the surgery.

Herber said Nelson is also diabetic, and suffers from a range of other health problems as well. Just this past week, he said, Nelson spent eight hours in medical appointments.

“He has diabetes, and his blood sugar just skyrocketed while he was out on the street,” he said of Nelson.

Herber has little patience for any comments critical of Nelson, McMahon or their encampment.

“I didn’t see anyone else out there helping these guys,” he said. “Critics should pat me on the back for getting them out of there.

“There are a lot of people sticking their noses where they don’t belong. I just don’t like people going around stirring up a whole bees’ nest. Paul’s been through enough.”

White said she’s not putting Nelson down or being critical in any way. She said, “We’re just trying to make a living so we don’t end up homeless ourselves.”

Herber said he doesn’t know what the future will bring for Nelson.

Only one thing is certain, he said. He will be doing what he can to help the man.

“I’m not going to let some guy I’ve known for 10 years live out on the streets,” Herber said.