by Lauren Paulson
Any way you look at it, you don’t want to be there. Eviction Court. First floor of the Multnomah County Courthouse. It is a desultory place. The welcome mat is not there for you.
To get in you have to get naked. Well almost. There is a gauntlet of ten uniformed Sheriff/search/security people there to ensure you don’t bring in a bazooka. I counted them. Ten. Uniformed. Most have their ample arms crossed, gabbing.
Here are the things I had to take off to be sure I did no harm; shoes, wrist watch, belt, computer, keys, telephone, coins…and so on.
But, get in there I did only to have my heart torn out.
As I walked into room 120, there was something already
going on. A well-quaffed middle-age woman at one counsel table, an older, skinny woman with unkempt hair at the other. It seems that my hero had not gotten her mail. (When one is evicted, getting mail is an uncertain thing). Thus, the landlord threw her personal property away, but the tenant had not gotten notice: because she had not gotten her mail. The Referee–they are not real judges, said, “So sad, too bad”. Yeah, but… stuttered the aged, skinny one, she did not know the consequences and was out of touch trying to get housing somewhere. All her belongings gone.
When the reality sank in, the skinny one began to cry. No one cared. Case closed. Having just got there, I was adjusting to my surroundings and lost touch with the aged one as other cases got called.
A Repugnant, Sad Scene
The winners and losers (1% vs. 99%) are very obvious. The diverse tenants are on tenterhooks; pins and needles even. The landlords or their representatives have seen it all before and are smug, joking with each other. The Referee too.
A knot of three or four have ties on. They mill in and out, full of themselves. You know the types. They are all whispering at the Judge’s bench, smiling, looking out at the audience from time-to-time. There is a woman with five to ten files in her crooked arm sitting front and center. She, it turns out, is the legal assistant for the three or four lawyers in the room. All smiling. All looking confident. Chatting amiably.
The Skinny One Again
I had all but forgotten about the aged one by now as I went out into the hallway. I hadn’t seen her from the front, but immediately recognized her from the hair askew as she walked by. On impulse, I asked her if she knew about Legal Aid Services of Oregon located on 921 Washington St., nearby. She looked at me with beseeching eyes and asked “…isn’t it too late??” Now, I got a good look at her. She was literally crushed. She was sad beyond description. Devastated. Lost. I stammered that maybe something could be done, like an appeal. She fell almost onto my shoulder, streaming grateful tears. Her countenance and aged face are from The Grapes of Wrath. Beautiful in some sort of way. But, so torn apart. So very sad. Crushed. Her lined face contorted; eyes drowned by tears.
Eviction Court in Portland, Oregon. On any day of the week.