Drifting seniors face trying times

The Simons have been sleeping in their truck. (Photo by Bret Yager)

LINCOLN CITY — The elderly couple has no idea what is next. They’re broke, in poor health, and out time.

Driven by poverty into a gypsy existence, Ralph and Diane Simon have ghosted from one coastal campground to the next for more than a decade, haunting the very cheapest places they can rest their bones, all the while eating, sleeping and carrying on their lives in a 16-foot fifth-wheel trailer.

For awhile, it worked. But time and decay have caught up with the Simons.

On Feb. 6, the couple was headed north to a campground in Pacific City. Right around the Taft area, the gooseneck hitch on the trailer folded, came loose and began to destroy the bed of their pickup. Trickling out their last dollars to a tow truck driver and a discounted room at Chinook Winds Casino, they have spent the last two weeks in limbo, waiting for repairs to be finished.

Ralph Simon is 82. His wife is 76.

“The first couple of nights we slept in the truck until it got so darn cold we couldn’t stand it,” Diane Simon said. “But I can’t keep spending $70 a night to stay in this hotel. We’re out of food and we’re out of money.”

Ralph suffers problems with his heart, seizures and stroke. Although he labors to speak and move around, his handshake is surprisingly strong. He has medical coverage at a cost of $135 a month, but coverage was running Diane $178 a month, so she let it go. She is now uninsured.

The snapshot into the Simons' lives is an increasingly common one, believes David Peltier, a Waldport advocate for the homeless. But it’s especially hard to see seniors cast into an economic and social twilight zone.

Peltier has filled notebook pages with phone numbers and scribbled notes. His frustrated scrawl zags across a copy of the News-Times; a cup of untasted coffee and a plate of stale French fries sit nearby. Set up in a room at Chinook Winds so he can make the Simons next door his personal cause, he’s been trying for days to get housing and help for the couple. So far, it’s been dead ends.

“This is not how you treat people,” he said. “They need money and a place to live. Otherwise they’ll be sleeping in the truck again. You tell me if that’s right.”

The Simons had been able to make do on a slender fixed income while living in a Roseburg trailer park for many years. They raised four children who now live scattered across the country, and Ralph used to volunteer for the Roseburg police. Then it became too much to pay the rent in the trailer park. The Simons discovered they could live in Thousand Trails campgrounds for little more than $400 a year as long as they only stayed for three weeks at a time.

Since 2005, they’ve been on the go, somewhere between Pacific City and Newport.

Tomorrow, Diane Simon said, they have no idea where they will be.

“It’s been one hell of a difficult year,” she said.

Update: Since this article was written last week, the Simons discovered that their trailer was irreparable, and abandoned it. They were last known to be in Newport, possibly spending nights in their truck.

The Simons have been sleeping in their truck. (Photo by Bret Yager)

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