CORVALLIS, Ore. – The men’s and women’s homeless shelters have closed their doors for the season; dozens of people say they have no place to go, and protesters are speaking out in front of the Benton County Courthouse.
One woman says she wanted to make a statement by pitching a tent on Tuesday afternoon. She camped in front of the courthouse Tuesday night, and says she is not planning on leaving the area anytime soon.
“There’s nowhere to legally camp in Corvallis,” said 56-year-old Marge Pettitt. “There’s nowhere when the shelter closes for us to go.”
Pettitt says she became homeless after leaving a situation of domestic violence. She was staying at the women’s shelter in Corvallis until it closed its doors Tuesday morning. Both shelters for single men and women say if they had the resources and the volunteers to run all year, they would, but they are only financially able to operate for part of the year.
“I felt safe camping out here,” Pettitt said about the location in front of the courthouse. “There’s nobody out here and the police department is across the street.”
But around 10 pm Tuesday night, Corvallis Police gave her a notice to vacate within 24 hours.
“They don’t tell us where to go, but they tell us where not to go,” Pettitt said.
The police department says it is simply enforcing a city ordinance that bans camping in public areas. Police say they issued Pettitt a warning. She will not be cited unless she stays where she is.
“So I’m going to play chess,” Pettitt said. “We’re going to measure and I’m going to move sixty feet.”
Pettitt says she refuses to give up on her fight for a dialogue with community members to discuss the future of homelessness in Corvallis.
Other protesters are joining her with their own ways of expression.
“My sign says: ‘We need no money, just less camping laws,’” said Renae Nichols, who played her flute in front of the courthouse on Wednesday afternoon. “We should be allowed to camp in parks because right now we don’t have anywhere to go.”
Community Outreach, Inc. is the only homeless shelter in town that operates year-round, but it says it is at capacity.