By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

'My last chance to make a difference'

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Comments

Bill B

What a great story!

Rocky

I hope folks share this story. This is a story about humanity. Does she have the answers? Probably not, but she has insight. Is it easier for us to ignore homelessness? Are we going to participate in keeping our world humane?

Dick

Extremely interesting, articulate and educational article. Heartfelt. Glad this story was shared. Opened my eyes.

Sponge

It may be a compelling snapshot, but I'm curious about the rest of the story: By the age of 17, she had been married, widowed, married again, received her GED and earned a full-time college scholarship. She was obviously smart enough to make her way in life - despite some horrible breaks. What we don't learn is how a 63-year-old woman gets to this place in her life without any sort of support system she can rely on: no family, no close friends, no community of colleagues willing to shepherd her through the tough times. What often happens with homeless people is that they burn bridges with family and friends, then expect strangers to step in and help. That may not be the case, here, but we don't know; there are too many gaps in the timeline to know. But any meaningful attempt to solve the problem will need those insights.

Lulu

Too many holes and twists and hard knocks in this narrative to be believable.
If she were in some type of care facility, she couldn't smoke.

Jeb Bladine

Seems to me this isn’t just a story; it’s a book, which for job purposes had to be digested by a reporter and editor on deadlines. It captures significant elements of a fascinating private life; an agonizing social challenge; and a community’s struggle to respond to that challenge.

It's presented as a narrative with selected details, not as a personal chronology. So it requires some close attention to understand the flow of Letter’s life. But the clues are there.

If 63 now, she likely was born in 1955. If she eloped at age 15 in 1970, it’s easy to believe her husband left on a 3rd tour to Vietnam and was killed; that she re-married briefly to a man who beat her; that in 1972 a police officer encouraged her to complete her GED; that she received a college scholarship, became a private investigator and later became an accountant; that her spiral into eventual homelessness began when she ultimately became permanently disabled from injuries suffered in that vicious 1993 assault.

I think this story will cause a lot of people to look at some aspects of homelessness through a new set of eyes.

Sponge

I understand that circumstances can knock any of us off center. What I don't understand is how people, this age, find themselves so utterly alone. That's where I think the real story is. How does that happen?

Jeb Bladine

As the reporter knew, her life story includes many sensitive details and experiences that she did not want to share with everyone. He respected her privacy.

Sponge

I understand her wanting to hold back some details of her life; I don't blame her. Problem is, it casts shadows over parts of the story she does choose to share. By claiming, "...there is no one who cares.", and, " I did nothing wrong but get sick. ", she raises questions she refuses to answer. The reporter then claims, "Before she dies, Letter wants to tell her story." Well, I hope someday - soon - that happens. It may be truly instructive as a cautionary tale; at least more so than the selective sympathetic snaps that play here.

Jeb Bladine

Just to clarify, Letter did not refuse to answer questions. In respecting her request that certain personal details not be included in a story, the reporter did so with knowledge of the details.

Lulu

Why does she sound like a combination Mother Teresa and Oprah? And yet, she harbors this pugnacious interior--how she will tase people, or "bring it on," knock others out with her flashlight and "turn them into dead meat." The deceased Jennifer Smith figures in a particularly peculiar way--dumped while Cherrie Letter was meeting the "husband of a [rape] survivor" at Denny's. In what capacity was she present? And what became of her own family? Because something obviously transpired if they're irrevocably removed from her life.
On one matter I can see her point--YCAP has been a total waste as an agency since they first hit town too many years ago. They are far better speaking about vague future "plans" and "goals" and "facilitating" than making a concrete difference in the present tense. Consider how much time their annual homeless count requires. Why not pass along the figures to a high school math class and produce the number within the same week?

Mudstump

It's interesting to read some of the comments. It seems some here are desperate to uncover some personal failing or deep dark secret in order to assign blame to Ms. Letter for her circumstances.

She's a person in need...period. Would you have us put the screws to her...get her under the interrogation light....pound bamboo splints under her fingernails...make her talk so we can decide if she has lived enough of an blameless life to be worthy of our help or not?

Sponge

You are missing the point, Mudstump. She wants us to believe she "did nothing wrong" to find herself in these circumstances. I don't believe her. She claims she wants to tell her story, but holds back the parts that may be most insightful to the problems of the homeless. She is then critical of the city and its citizens for not doing enough to understand the people and their problems, and not doing enough to help them. This whole approach just seems rathe r disingenuous.

Mudstump

Sponge - "You are missing the point, Mudstump. She wants us to believe she "did nothing wrong" to find herself in these circumstances. I don't believe her. She claims she wants to tell her story, but holds back the parts that may be most insightful to the problems of the homeless."

It seems to me that you are making huge leaps and blind assumptions here regarding this woman. Are you always this cynical?

Sponge

I am not cynical, nor am I "making huge leaps and blind assumptions", but I have spent enough years working in the social services arena to read between the lines. It is difficult to craft a solution to a problem when you don't know it's cause. Most of our efforts to help these people are palliative, not curative. And the sad truth is, most of them just want to be taken care of - not cured.

Mudstump

Sponge - "And the sad truth is, most of them just want to be taken care of - not cured."

I don't agree with you that most of "them" want to be taken care of.... Homelessness is complex. Some need mental health counseling, some need clothes and coaching for employment, some need childcare to find work and stay employed, some need drug and alcohol rehab, some need medical care, some need a place to die and some due to no fault of their own will never be capable of supporting themselves.

I wouldn't say that "most of them are just too lazy to help themselves. Once you lose a job or become ill, widowed, divorced, it's harder to make your way back on your own especially if you are low income, low skilled and have been living paycheck to paycheck. I don't know about Ms. Letter's situation...that's why I'm not going to judge her. As John Bradford said, "There but for the grace of God, go I."

E.J. Farrar

Great writing, Tom. I look forward to more stories like this of the same quality and depth.

kalu503

I want to meet her and ask her what I can do to help!
She sounds like a very interesting woman.

Mudstump

Sponge - "And the sad truth is, most of them just want to be taken care of - not cured."

If I were homeless and dying ....yes...I would want to be taken care of. What person would want to deny her that small bit of comfort?

Sal Peralta

This is a woman who came to our community to receive cancer treatment through the cancer foundation. While she was getting treatment, her section 8 housing voucher expired, which happens on a 3-month basis. She had stable housing for 15 years prior to this happening. Anyone who has been in cancer treatment or who has had a loved one in cancer treatment can certainly understand how physically demanding and how impairing it is.

Sponge

Mudstump, I don't know of any decent person who "would want to deny her that small bit of comfort". Why would you even ask such a question?

Reporter Starla Pointer

Sal, the Willamette Valley Cancer Foundation does not provide cancer treatment. It provides non-medical support for cancer patients, such as funds for food, utilities, transportation and rent or mortgage.

Sal Peralta

Thanks Starla. She had a hotel room through the cancer foundation and was receiving treatment at the medical center is what she told me.

Mudstump

Is there a Go Fund Me account set up for her? What agency would one call to help?

Mudstump

Great story, but it would be really nice to know what she needs and how we can go about helping her.

Oregonian

Mudstump - she's typically parked at the parking area to the right of the main entrance of Joe Dancer park. If you want to help her, go ask her what she type of assistance she would be open to.

Java

Great story- thank you!

Lulu

What bizarre roads did she travel from her previous life to a vehicle parked in Joe Dancer Park, armed with a flashlight? This reminds me of Rashomon, in which several characters describe a situation very differently depending on who's relating the story. As a matter of fact, there is a "Rashomon effect." Sponge and I apparently have the same nagging reservations, which I still judge more legitimate than cynical.

Sponge

Java, this really isn't a "great story". It is well written, and piques our interest, but does nothing to illuminate the underlying issues of homelessness. All it really attempts to do is tug at our heartstrings. If that was the goal of the editors, mission accomplished. As a piece offering meaningful insight, it does nothing but take up space that could have been better spent exploring deeper issues regarding the complexities of the full spectrum of homelessness - a swing and a miss.

justaperson

Here is the link to her gofundme. Please help her out, it's critical she gets a place!
https://www.gofundme.com/emergency-housing-for-cherrie?sharetype=teams&member=792262&rcid=r01-153743025341-3faabaace46e4682&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w

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