by Emily Badger, http://www.theatlanticcities.com
In January of 2010, 109 homeless people were known to be living in the Baldock Rest Area just off Interstate 5 on the southern edge of metropolitan Portland. They were lured – but for entirely differently reasons – by the same amenities that make the wayside a popular one for passing tourists: its hot and cold running water, its ample parking, the private shade of its Douglas Fir trees.
The homeless community, made up of self-described “Baldockeans,” was in many ways self-regulating and stable. One man who’d lived there 17 years considered himself the “mayor” of Baldock. Other members regularly coordinated community meals or car trips to a nearby truck stop. At times when children were living in the encampment, a school bus actually stopped there to pick them up. And when disputes arose over the prime panhandling spot near the restrooms, the community worked out an equitable schedule to share it.
But for all of the compelling details of how this ad hoc community had created its own social structure, what stands out most about this story is its setting. For a variety of reasons, the homeless often wind up living amid transportation infrastructure: rest areas, roadside rights-of-way, the underside of highway bridges, train stations or even moving train cars or buses.