Editor’s Note: Since the original publication of this article, Jenna and Makhayla Kendrick have moved out of Forgotten Realms.
“Together, as a community united, we can and will survive this housing crisis,” reads one paragraph of the sign hanging on the gate in front of Forgotten Realms, a homeless camp situated on block west of Emanual Hospital.
Located on the corner of NE Kerby and NE Graham, Forgotten Realms is one of the city’s few “Sanctioned Camps”–meaning it sits on city-owned property, but that it exists with the permission of the city on the condition that laws are followed and no permanent structures are erected.
A mixed-race, multi-age, multi-gendered group of homeless campers sit around a fireless pit on sunny days, while drinking beer and smoking. Jenna Kendrick sits with her dog, Scooby-Doo, smoking from a bong. Her wife, Makhayla Kendrick, sits beside her, staring into space.
Makhayla and Jenna Kendrick, 20 and 27, are residents of Forgotten Realms. They, with their two cats and one dog, live on a wooden platform surrounded by a woven fabrication of plywood and tarps. They’ve lived in Forgotten Realms for roughly 40 days.
“I feel safer here than I would if I were out there,” says Makhayla Kendrick, who has spend a majority of her life in and out of various unsafe living situations in Turner, Ore. and Portland. After fleeing an abusive stepfather, she spent most of her younger years in and out of various foster homes and one behavioral rehabilitation facility.
Despite having a 3.75 GPA, Makhayla Kendrick was unable to finish high school. She was working in a 7-Eleven when she met her wife, Jenna Kendrick. After their wedding on Aug. 22, 2013, Makhayla Kendrick took a job as an live-in nanny. When the situation turned abusive, the two left and began to couch surf. Even when they both had jobs, they couldn’t afford the bills.
“I love Portland but the economy makes me not want to live here,” says Makhayla Kendrick. “If I had the money, I’d move out of here in a heartbeat.”
Makhayla and Jenna Kendrick are seemingly model residents of Forgotten Realms, a community governed by a strict democratically-enforced policy.
The community is governed by an “Elected Coordinator,” (EC), who changes every few weeks. The current EC, Saint, would only give his first name. Saint is assisted by a middle-aged man with a styled beard and a number of large silver rings by the name of Eric, though he’s known “Sarge.” Sarge serves as both assistant EC and Head of Security.
Residents of the community are required to follow several basic governing mandates. Residents may not physically fight. Residents may not steal. Residents may not physically hurt anyone else.
If rules are not followed, the entire community votes, and it is only with a majority vote that a resident will be removed.
“We have to vote. That’s what makes us strong,” enforces Sarge. “Every Monday we have, we call it a meeting, but it’s a family meeting.”
These rules are what make Forgotten Realms, as Sarge puts it, “a sanctuary.”
“I’d rather be dead than be out there,” says Makhayla Kendrick, gesturing outwards.
Despite the safety of semi-sturdy structures and enclosed fencing, Forgotten Realms is not free of danger. Chris, an “ex-friend” of Jenna Kendrick, had sexually assaulted Makhayla Kendrick just one night prior the interview. “I’ll definitely be calling the cops,” said Jenna Kendrick frankly.
That said, when compared to other homeless camps, Forgotten Realms truly is a sanctuary. The police are often unhelpful, notes Jenna Kendrick, and victims of abuse “think that’s a part of being homeless.”
Sarge describes Forgotten Realms as “a place where single women can come and be safe–a gender-separated sanctuary.”
Sexual assault is just one of the perils facing Portland’s homeless population. Many pitfalls lie within the realm of drug addiction, and its inescapable effects that can last a lifetime.
Heidi Luckey, 57, sits on a walker, a long strand of red knitting flows from her side. She and her husband Larry, 70, have been married for 24 years. They’ve lived in Forgotten Realms for “14-20 days.” Mrs. Luckey grew up in Tualatin and went to Sherwood High School. She became a nurse’s aid, “and then a drug addict.”
“I don’t know how I ended up on heroin,” says Mrs. Lucky. “I can’t even remember the first day I tried the damn stuff.” Like many of Portland’s homeless, Mrs. Luckey is a recovering addict, and it was her addiction that lead to her professional decline.
“After I got on heroin, I stopped doing everything,” Mrs. Luckey reflects. “I stopped nursing, stopped working, stopped everything.”
After she was arrested on a possession charge, Luckey went to jail and was released on probation. It was then that her husband began to use heroin as well.
After they were both clean, the couple became a caretaker for an elderly man. After working for him for six years, the man died earlier this year, and left his house to the Luckeys in his will. After his death, Mrs. Luckey started to use heroin again. The man’s daughter burned down the house, which the Luckeys had been living in. From there, they moved to forgotten realms.
“Even in addiction, we were functioning,” Mrs. Luckey said when asked about her drug use. “I never got fired because of it.”
Mrs. Luckey is currently in treatment, and says she’s been clean for 36 days.
While addiction plagues many of Portland’s homeless, Sarge stresses that Forgotten Realms is a “cleanup community.” “In the last month we’ve had three people kick drugs, and four are trying to do the same,” Sarge enforces.
Often characterized as a dirty, mentally ill, and often dangerous portion of the population, the community surrounding Forgotten Realms has welcomed the encampment. Emanual Hospital recently donated 100 gallons of fresh water. The camp has received donations of building supplies, tents, tarps, socks, food, and water–so much that they’ve been able to donate supplies to other camps.
Compared to the other locations that Portland’s homeless take up residence for the night, Forgotten Realms is a haven. Clean, safe, quiet–these are characteristics that are hard to find in other homeless hotspots. One resident of Forgotten Realms used to sleep under the Steel Bridge: “It really sucked,” he said. He was kept up at night by trains; he didn’t have a bathroom. Despite the fact that he was still homeless, his food stamps were revoked in December because he had a temporary job, which he was soon laid off from.
At Forgotten Realms, residents must remain quiet after 10 p.m. There are two portable bathrooms in the camp. Food is regularly donated.
Forgotten Realms sheds light on what Portland’s homeless population could look like. Based on a camp called Hazelnut Grove, Forgotten Realms is one of several model camps in Portland. But with a maximum capacity of only 26, thousands remain under bridges and in doorways. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has condoned these model camps and allowed to remain on city property. Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler’s plan for homelessness, which has been published on his website, includes camp sweeps, though the plan notes “Camp sweeps should be limited to areas experiencing dangerous criminal activity,” indicating that camps such as Forgotten Realms may be allowed to continue operation.
“I call homelessness the next epidemic,” says Saint.
“It’s a beautiful thing when it all comes together,” says Saint, gesturing towards the camp. “This is my family. I would literally do anything for them.”
While residents of Forgotten Realms may not own a house, a car, or have a job, Saint asserts “we are some of the richest people in the United States.”