The Greenway Pt. 4: Life on the fringes

JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. — “There are men being attacked and robbed, there are women being robbed and raped,” said Keishan Andersen. “I had a gun held to my head at one point.”

Andersen is a recovering drug addict and one of many people who are homeless in Jackson County calling the 20-mile stretch of land that runs from Ashland to Central Point “home.”

“You know we get harassed or treated wrong because we’re homeless or because we don’t look right,” she said.

Andersen isn’t legally allowed to camp on the greenway, but that doesn’t stop her from doing it.

“I know I get told that I’m filthy or I just leave a mess or I need to get a job because sometimes I beg for dog food,” Andersen said.

“You go around here and see messes on the sidewalk and people peeing behind trees and behind businesses… it’s a mess,” said Thomas Dennis.

Dennis lived on the greenway for several years. He says you have to fend for yourself.

“It’s like a dog eat dog thing,” he said. “Everybody’s out for their own and don’t care about nobody else.”

Dennis says he carried a baseball bat and used it.

“One guy in particular, I bust his dog’s head open I had to, I couldn’t help it the dog bit me in the leg,” he said.

After spending 21 years in the South Carolina State Penitentiary, Dennis says he’s not afraid of anyone.

“Because most of those people… they’re in a state of confusion or a state of psychosis,” he said. “They don’t know who they are or what they are. They just know that they are.”

Like Andersen, Dennis says he got addicted to drugs and the rest is history.

“I’ve had eight heart attacks, two congestive heart failures, my blood system infected three times… from meth, shooting meth. It’ll kill you. It’s killing a lot of people,” he said.

All of the people we spoke with said they didn’t want to live this way.

“I’ve been hit three times. I’ve been hit twice crossing the crosswalk when it says walk,” said Manuel Parks who lives on the greenway.

But some say it’s hard to get on your feet when you feel invisible.

“I just get tired of people… the way they treat me, you know what I mean. I’m told not to be violent, I’m on parole and probation, I’m trying to abide by the rules,” said Parks.

“It’s like because I’m homeless it doesn’t matter that I’m being attacked or anything when a year and a half ago I was an upstanding citizen with a job and a car and a house,” said Andersen.

On the greenway, they’re out of sight… until the next sweep takes place.

“They’re able to find you down there and run you out to the next one, to the next one, to the next one, every week,” said Dennis. “That solves nothing. It wastes all. Police hours wasted on that is a shame.”

Coming up in part 5 of this exclusive report on Friday, there are over 700 people who are homeless in Jackson County… many of them living on the greenway.

But the question still stands, what do we do with our homeless population and how can we help them?

“We can just put bandaids on this problem or we can deal with the root of the problem and the root of the problem is there’s no place for the homeless to be,” said Chad McComas, Executive Director of local non-profit, Rogue Retreat.

If you missed part 3, click here.

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