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article imageOp-Ed: Rising heat affects homeless in Baker City Special

By Scott Ungerecht     Jul 3, 2012 in Lifestyle
Baker City - On the evening of July 2, as I was walking behind the Baker County Public Library in Baker City, Oregon, I noticed a police officer talking to two homeless men who were sitting on the grass in Geiser-Pollman Park.
Suddenly, two emergency medical technicians walked over to the homeless men. One EMT was wearing a backpack with a small oxygen tank attached to it. The other EMT was carrying a large orange bag on his right shoulder.
Apparently, one or both of the homeless men required emergency medical attention. However, I could not be sure because both men were very quiet and sitting upright on the grass with their legs crossed. They did not act as if they were hurt or suffering in pain.
However, it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit at the park, so it is possible one or both of the homeless men were having problems with the intense heat. Unfortunately, I did not stay around to watch how the EMTs or the police officer helped them. Instead, I moved on to another destination in Baker City.
Although I only briefly witnessed what had happened, it made a very lasting impression on my mind. The reason it made an impression is that I recognized one of the homeless men who needed assistance. His name is Mark, and he frequently hangs around Geiser-Pollman Park and downtown Baker City.
According to an individual source who knows many of the homeless people in my town, Mark chose to live as a homeless person because he does not want to work and pay for child support that he owes. He likes being homeless in Baker City because it is a lot safer than being homeless in a major city like Portland or Salem.
Unfortunately, Baker City does not have any homeless shelters, and many residents who live here do not want their community filled with homeless people begging for assistance. Baker City is a very beautiful and attractive location with approximately 10,000 year-round residents.
With increasingly hot summer temperatures in Baker City, and the scarcity of emergency shelters in the area, the homeless are among the first to suffer from serious medical problems like heat stroke and dehydration.
Baker City has very few outdoor water fountains where the homeless can have access to fresh cold water. However, there are several other places in town, like public restrooms, where the homeless can find water.
With limited access to free food, water and shelter, I genuinely feel sorry for Mark, and others like him, who choose to live a hard existence in Baker City with no job, no money, no love and no place to call home. However, I know what Mark is going through because I have lived on the streets a few times in the past.
Yes, I have actually walked a mile in the shoes of the homeless, so I can speak from personal experience about it. Unlike Mark, though, I found a way to get back on my feet, search for a job and successfully find employment and a place to live.
I also had some help along the way from my parents, churches, employment centers and state agencies. In 2011, I discovered my happy niche as a freelance citizen journalist for Digital Journal. Now I write stories about people who live in Baker City and I love my job very much. I only wish Mark could find success in his life as I did through persistent hard work.
Everyday as I walk back and forth between my apartment and the Baker County Public Library, I often see Mark sitting on a bench or sleeping in Geiser-Pollman Park.
There have been moments when I wanted to approach Mark and ask him if he was okay, but I never did. I always left him alone because I was not sure if I could help him. Then yesterday he and his friend experienced an emergency that required assistance from a police officer and two EMTs.
Now Mark might be in the hospital or sitting in jail. I do not know for sure, but I hope he is okay. Maybe I will see him again sleeping in the park or sitting alone and staring off into space as he normally does.
If he is okay, I wonder how long it will be before Mark has a second or third encounter with a police officer or an EMT. Will Mark end up going through the criminal court system or experience something worse? Can anyone reach out a hand and help him before it is too late?
As a freelance citizen journalist, I can only observe what happens around me, interview people, and write a factual story, but will that help Mark? I guess only my readers can answer that question.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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