Judge orders Estacada woman to clear renters from illegal dwellings at ‘Punki’s Place’
The Oregonian: For more than four months, Rea has rented a structure the size of a small bedroom with towels hanging during the day as a makeshift door. Her landlord is 69-year-old Ethel “Punki” McNamee, who since the early 1980s has opened her home and property to people facing hardship.
Rea slept wherever she could — “mostly outside” — before McNamee took her in and started helping Rea manage her Parkinson’s, emphysema and seizures. Rea works off her rent by doing dishes and other chores until her Social Security payments kick in. She lives on $200 a month in food stamps. “Without Punki, I’d be dead,” Rea said.
Like most small cities and rural areas of Oregon, Estacada has no emergency shelter. And even if Rea could afford low-income housing, she might wait years for an opening. At Dignity Village, a city-recognized encampment near the Portland International Airport, it can take more than six months to move through the queue for a 10-foot-by-12-foot structure similar to those in McNamee’s yard.
After years of tension between the city and “Punki”, who welcomed as many as 30 homeless people at a time, an Estacada judge ordered “Punki” to clear the illegally inhabited structures in her backyard or pay a $10,000 fine.
On April 4, Municipal Judge Maryann Meaney gave McNamee 30 days to force residents out of the accessory structures, which were mostly empty by the trial. “I echo the concern of the community and the City Council,” Meaney said. “People shouldn’t be living in some of these structures.”
This week, Jones is the only resident left in the shed-like outbuildings. Jones, whose severe arthritis forces him to use a wheelchair, will move temporarily into McNamee’s 3-bedroom home along with Rea and a handful of others while they search for housing.
On Wednesday, 48-year-old Matthew Smith came to McNamee looking for a place to stay but was turned away. He hoped for a spot at Punki’s Place but will likely have to keep asking friends for help. “I’m just an old dog,” he said. “I have nowhere to go.”
Earlier this year, 80 Estacada residents signed a petition to force McNamee’s renters off her property, complaining about noise, police presence and proximity to Clackamas River Elementary.
Discussion of creating a homeless shelter in Estacada came up at a recent City Council meeting. “These people deserve to live better, and there’s better places out there for them,” Mayor Becky Arnold said. “When they’re enabled to live there like that, they ultimately end up hurting themselves.”
McNamee said while she’s sad to have to end her open-door policy, she plans to comply with the city’s decision and keep her operation legal. She’ll return to court on May 2 for a decision on whether two renters will be able to stay in a cabin at the back of her property.
So if there is no emergency shelter in Estacada, where are these people going to sleep? In the streets? Don’t they deserve to live better than that?
And this has been going on for over 20 years and the City finally gets around to kicking the residents out? Why now? Why not 10 years ago? Why didn’t they discuss creating a homeless shelter a long time ago?
Granted, it may not be the best facilities, but at least Punki provided shelter. If the government thinks they can do better than a private individual in helping these people, give them a facility. Because otherwise these homeless individuals might end up hurting themselves. And the City wouldn’t want that on their conscience.