June 20, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Jetty Etty discusses Barefoot Defenders with KEPW’s Legalize Survival

18 min read
Jetty Etty: On Jan. 9, I was out visiting a particular camp full of elder people and disabled people, to make sure that they would be ready for the ice storm. And I found one of my friends. She's a 73-year-old and I found her underneath a few tarps covered in rainwater and she had blue lips and she was so cold.

Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Hello, this is Jana with Legalize Survival. Today, I’m here with Julie and we have a fabulous interview for you. So I’m going to let Julie start us off. Thank you, Julie.

[00:00:10] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): Thank you, Jana. I’m Julie Lambert, and I’m here with Jetty Etty, and she’s a local humanitarian, self-described, and she’s much more than that. So Jetty, how would you describe yourself and what you do for our community?

[00:00:27] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): I would say that I’m hardcore when it comes to fighting for whatever it may be I’m fighting for at the time. Currently it is for unhoused people living obviously outside and right now I’ve just been saying: I’m a megaphone for those people.

[00:00:46] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): So where to start? How about your recent court case that you are still involved in? Would you like to explain what were the circumstances? Why are you even facing court at this point? Because you were just trying to help. So could you tell our audience how that even happened?

[00:01:07] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): So I’ve been going out to camps here in Eugene since last, we’ll say June. But Jan. 9, I was out visiting a camp and checking in on this particular camp is full of elder people and disabled people. And I wanted to make sure that they would be ready for the ice storm that we all experienced in January. So on Jan. 9, I went out to go make sure people had what they needed.

[00:01:39] They were going to be ready as far as like being warm, understanding what was coming, and that kind of stuff. And I found one of my friends. She’s a 73-year-old and I found her underneath a few tarps. That day had been raining really heavily. It was pretty cold. And by the time she popped up, her tent had collapsed. And so she was laying in her tent under tarps that was all collapsed, covered in rainwater, and she had blue lips and she was so cold.

[00:02:08] And I said, Are you so cold? And she said, ‘Well, how did you know that I was cold?’ And I just looked at her and I said, ‘You’re not going to bed like this tonight. I’m going to go home.’ I went to my house and grabbed my personal sleeping bag, my tent, any extra blankets I could find, a bunch of my sweats.

[00:02:29] And I went back and we took her old tent and pulled it aside and set up a new one and got her blankets and got her into warm clothes. And I was there till about 11:30 that night.

[00:02:41] So I woke up, went back out there on Jan. 10, just to see how her night went and make sure she was warmer; bring out some green propane cans and some garbage bags. And by the time I’d gotten there and visited the first person, I went to go to the next camp and I walk out and there’s EPD.

[00:03:00] And being an advocate, I immediately was like, ‘I’ve got to record this and go see what’s going on.’ So I pulled out my phone and I started walking towards them and they were like, ‘Come and sit on the tracks.’ And I was like, ‘I’m not freaking sitting on your, on the tracks. It’s crazy.’ And I said I’ll stand next to them.

[00:03:18] Then they ended up ticketing myself along with nine other people that day. They also went into the 73-year-old’s tent and ticketed her. And then they proceeded to cut people’s tarps. They broke in somebody’s window. They took off a door of a house. They grabbed a generator and tried to drain it of the oil, turned it on its side, and like removed the oil lid.

[00:03:45] Like this is literally the day the ice storm really started, and they did all that. So they told everyone to leave. (Yeah.) And so after that, it was like, ‘Okay, now I am fueled with rage, let’s fight! And it’s just been this kind of crazy… battle.

[00:04:01] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): That was this year during this ice storm. (Yeah.)

[00:04:05] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): And like they don’t have better things to do when they’re beginning of the ice storm besides just tearing up somebody’s ability to shelter themselves.

[00:04:15] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Yeah. And telling them to leave so they didn’t have any shelter the day the ice storm started. If those people would have actually left, they would have died.

[00:04:23] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): Yeah, that leaves you with little opportunity for something else, especially if your generator’s just been savaged or vandalized. I think I would say vandalized. It was vandalized. And I don’t know where it says in the EPD instructions that you may take people’s belongings and dismantle them as you see fit. So maybe that’s something we could follow up on, Jana, where are the rules that say that you can do that?

[00:04:52] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Yeah, I thought that when they confiscate people’s things, they have to actually keep them intact in a location.

[00:04:59] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): That was my understanding as well.

[00:05:01] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): As long as it’s not dirty or wet.

[00:05:03] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): As long as it’s not dirty or wet. And dirty could be anything. I have clothes that are dirty and they just have a little spot of tomato soup on them, but I wouldn’t throw them away, or put them in the dumpster.

[00:05:16] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): And we live in Oregon where how much of people’s belongings end up wet?

[00:05:22] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): Right?

[00:05:25] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): And when you’re living outdoors, you know, that’s pretty hard to keep your things from being dirty or wet.

[00:05:30] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): So if they’re dirty or wet, what have they told you is the proper response?

[00:05:35] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Oh, they can throw everything in the trash. But if it’s clean and dry, then they are required to store it, I believe for up to 30 days, as long as people ask for a receipt of their possessions, which then they can go and get from whatever facility it is, they store them. This is like during sweeps, but everything’s always dirty and wet, so they never store anyone’s stuff.

[00:05:57] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): I want to see this ordinance. I’m just really curious about the actual ordinance that says that that is appropriate.

[00:06:06] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): Right, because if I was to go and revisit the time when I was camping, if I had a bike. it was probably parked by the tent and it was in the rain, so it was wet. And so my tent was also wet and my tarps are also wet. Probably my boots are wet too and probably I’m wet and seeking to get shelter and then somebody gives me a ticket and then says everything that’s wet has to go, well, everything is wet.

[00:06:28] So what have you witnessed that they’re claiming is “wet” or “dirty”? Is it just what the officer at the time uses his practical skills to determine that?

[00:06:41] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): I’ve actually never seen them sit there and observe and talk about it. It’s never, at any of the sweeps I’ve been to, it’s never a topic of conversation. Like it’s just, ‘Here’s the dumpster, here’s the big machine, the excavator, whatever it’s called, we’re taking your stuff and we’re throwing it away. Move on, find somewhere else to go, good luck.’

[00:07:03] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): So frustrating, this process where certain protections are supposed to be in place, but it doesn’t seem to me like we’re really experiencing it in real life. The few times, and this was when they very first made those rules, we actually had somebody that we tried to help go get their stuff, and it was an impossible process. And supposedly their stuff was there somewhere where they would be able to get it, but it was an impossible process. And half of it was like, we’re not quite sure where it went.

[00:07:36] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Yeah, the truth that we’ve been doing is showing up before the cops do. And that’s been our only way of successfully getting people’s belongings out and having a large presence of people show up for that is important.

[00:07:49] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Yeah, witnesses, because what they do when they don’t feel like there’s anybody watching is actually really a lot of angry mean kind of behavior. That’s what I get from people talking about their experiences. And I did a whole process for years where I did stories from the streets and heard one story after another of just really sad situations where people were just being told, ‘Move on, move on,’ and not giving time to even be able to collect their things.

[00:08:24] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): Yeah. I can remember when I was out there and I had my cats, they were in my car, and I was unable to find alternate shelter for them at the time, so I just kept them with me and they were fine with that wherever we would park, they would stay by the car and stay with me.

And I will never forget, there is a woman who just told me, she said, “Greenhill, take them to Greenhill.” I said, “I’m not taking my pets to Greenhill.” She said, “Well if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of your pets?” I said, “I am taking care of myself to the best of my ability and I’m not going to give up my pets if I don’t have to, if they are well fed and well cared for and loved, then I’m not going to.’

[00:09:06] And maybe that wasn’t the best decision because if I could have given up my pets I could have gotten housing fairly quickly. But when a person is unhoused, their pets are kind of like their lifeline. And if they have a dog it’s the protection that they obtain from the animal. You know for me mine were cats, they couldn’t protect me, but a dog? Absolutely essential if you’re on the streets. What do you think, Jetty?

[00:09:29] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Yeah, 100%. Like, actually the 73-year-old that I was talking about earlier, one of the reasons she’s out on the streets is because she has a lot of kitty cats that she absolutely loves and those things are her babies, and she prioritizes them getting fed and being well taken care of. And they keep her warm. So they are keeping her protected.

[00:09:50] In fact, we got her a heat buddy during the ice storm and the cats, I guess cats don’t see fire the same way as humans. And so these silly cats would like sit too close to the heat buddy and had like little burn marks in their fur. So she ended up ditching the heat buddy in the middle of the ice storm so that her kitty cats wouldn’t get burned and she just like somehow made it through with no heat during that and anyway

[00:10:19] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): That’s crazy.

[00:10:21] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): We always make it through, even if we don’t have heat or cooling.

[00:10:26] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Yeah, well and like her cats like stem like the reason that she’s so attached to them is like after finding Things out and talking to her like it all stems from a trauma in her life of losing her children right? Like she lost a few for kids and now these cats are like they’re that, they’re her babies, and so that’s like family. (Yeah, yeah.)

[00:10:50] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): That companion is a really big deal. I mean, for anyone that loves their animals, it’s not an easy decision to be, like, ‘I’m going to live without these animals that are like my family that I love in order to have shelter.’ And people choose the ones they love to be a part of their lives still rather than shelter. It kind of makes sense in an awful sort of way. (Right.)

[00:11:17] I would love to hear from you why you feel like this is so important. Please share a bit about what is so important for you about the issues with Unhoused in our community.

[00:11:31] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): I guess, I’ve always had this thing for like fighting for the underdog. And when I look around the city of Eugene, I see a lot of unhoused people.

[00:11:41] And I mean, okay, so it all comes back to my 2017, I came up here to visit some friends, I went out with my sister and another friend that had come with me from Southeast Idaho, that’s where I’m from. And we went to the bars and I like ended up giving one of my last joints to this group that was sitting on the street and then went to this bar and was like, this bar sucks. I’m going to go hang out with those people in the street and see if they’ll share that joint with me.

[00:12:06] And I ended up spending hours with these people, getting to know them. We sang songs with the guitar and asked people for dollars. And then they started to really like open up to me about like their stories and why they were out there. And it was like, ‘Oh, like, these are not the things I would expect to come from y’all’s mouths and like, this is your experience and why you’re living out here. And like, it’s so unacceptable that these are the reasons you’re out here, right?’

[00:12:31] And so that’s where the Barefoot Defenders was born from. I went back to Idaho and tried to start it, but we only have like a few unhoused people there and it didn’t really take off like I wanted. So when I moved back out here, I was like, ‘Let’s start the Barefoot Defenders back up.’

[00:12:44] And as I was going out with Steve Kimes, who’s the pastor of the Mennonite Church, then I started to really get to know each individual person out there and getting to hear their stories and building relationships with them. And these people are great people, like, they just have trauma in their lives and they’re so like people like treat them like they’re like zombies or something and if they touch them they’re gonna like be infected or something crazy like that.

[00:13:07] And it’s like these people just need to be reminded that they are valuable and they are good people and they are worthy of taking up space and just those like simple words and spending time with them and repetitively telling them that like they’re starting to change and they’re starting to see it and they’re starting to want to do better and it’s like, it’s just so simple and it’s just being kind and treating others as you want to be treated, you know.

[00:13:32] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): You’ve got to tell me more about the Barefoot Defenders because this is the first thing I’ve heard of the Barefoot Defenders. I love it, barefoot is my thing so…

[00:13:40] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Yeah, we have a zine now, and this is our little symbol, just like a bare foot with a Band-Aid on it and a a little smiley face so that’s the Barefoot Defenders logo. But we’re just a group that goes out and does what we can. Like it’s an autonomous group, so whatever that mutual aid or whatever you want to call it looks like to you, it can look like that.

[00:14:01] For me I like really love to get to know people on an intimate level like getting to know who they are, what makes them happy, what makes them tick, you know why are they out there.

[00:14:14] I went and I lived out there for nine days with the people on the tracks so that I could understand what it was like out there and be a better advocate, because I don’t really think that that’s fair to be an advocate for people and you don’t understand what they’re actually experiencing.

[00:14:29] That’s where we really gained a lot of trust with each other. Like, I trusted them not to rob me and do bad things to me, and they trusted that I would continue to be the megaphone for them, right, and so that’s where our relationship really got strong.

[00:14:46] So there’s a group of us and right now we’re currently fundraising. We’re fundraising to get a piece of land so that we can have a space for people to get off the streets and have a space to exist while they figure out their life, right? ‘Cause that’s going to help them with a lot of trauma. I feel like just getting that like constant ‘fight, flight, freeze’ mode of, ‘The cops are going to come, they get to take our stuff,’ like just putting an ending to that, I think we’re going to start seeing people be like, ‘Hey, actually, maybe I don’t need to use as many drugs today.’

Maybe that goes over for some time and they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, hey, I actually feel like maybe I could go get a job. Or I could go do things that like will build me up and get me into more of a stable living situation and have more stable, like, a more clear way to think, right?’

[00:15:34] Because when you live on the streets, it’s this weird brain fog. We call it the homeless brain fog. And it’s real. It’s really real. Like, I started experiencing it like 12 hours into my stay out on the tracks and I was like, ‘Is this real life? What is happening?’

[00:15:47] So that’s kind of one of the things we’re doing. Through the ice storm, we took them propane, food, heater, like hand heaters, blankets, anything we could possibly take out there through the whole storm. So for some people that’s kind of what they did with the Barefoot Defenders.

[00:16:02] I have like my phone number on a card that I’ve laminated. So because people are wet out there so they can keep my number and if they’re getting messed with the cops, they can call me and hopefully I’m close enough that I can show up to record and remind them of what their rights are.

[00:16:15] We just do all kinds of things for the most part, trying to like just be there for humans and like create a sort of community. We’ve been teaching them like how to organize like as a community, like, ‘We’ll fill up your big thing of propane, there’s a bunch of little green cans, you guys transfer the propane into those green cans, you can leave it on somebody’s porch within the community, and you can take one and replace it. And we can just keep everybody with some kind of propane, right?’

[00:16:43] So we organize around little things like that. We’ll have like meetings with them where we bring them dinner and feed their brains. And then we teach them some stuff, like their rights, and then we hang out around a fire and we spend the evening together laughing and, you know, just hanging out. So yeah, we do a lot of things, but it’s mainly just like trying to be like connected with people and not like, ‘Here’s some food, bye.’

[00:17:07] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): It’s beautiful. I can so relate to this because when we had an unsanctioned camp that was actually what turned into Nightingale Hosted Shelters, they called it Whoville. I actually moved into that camp with the same feelings that you’re talking about. I felt like I wanted to make better connections and I really wanted to understand the experience because it does seem like if you’re going to advocate for something, understanding it more will help you be a better advocate. (Yeah.) Very simple, very logic, and something very uncommon. So that was really neat to hear you share that piece.

[00:17:52] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): How do you avoid getting burned out because you’re out there and you’re doing it all the time? You know, you’re getting calls, like, all hours of the day and night you respond when you can, you sleep when you can. So how do you avoid burnout? You know when you pick up the phone, you know there’s a crisis and potentially and you’re going to have to respond. So how do you get your energy going so that you can do that and you can be that responder?

[00:18:19] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): I have been burned out, I am burned out. But people don’t get to stop being unhoused and therefore I don’t get to just give up. The cops don’t stop coming out and messing with my friends and my family out there and so I don’t get to stop either.

[00:18:34] When they’re doing stupid things like, ‘Jetty, we miss you so we’re going to call you and tell you the cops are here when they’re not,’ I have to go out there and be a jerk and be like, ‘Y’all, you can just say you miss me and you want to visit with me. You don’t have to lie to me and make me panic and come out.’ So, you know, it’s like I have to put my foot down sometimes because they’ll do silly things like that. And I guess it’s just really setting boundaries and being like, ‘You know, I can’t respond every time you guys miss me, okay?’

[00:19:01] And I don’t know, I just, I rely a lot on some of my friends and my comrades who are also Barefoot Defenders.

[00:19:08] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): You’ve mentioned the Barefoot Defenders and told us a little bit about them. What is the best way to help be part of the solution and not part of the problem?

[00:19:17] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Right now we’re working on getting social media things set up so people can connect with the Barefoot Defenders. However, we’re busy. We’re busy folks. So in the meantime, I’m on Facebook, Instagram, I also have a TikTok, which is a JunkArtLady on TikTok, which has all my videos. Sharing those and just like just spreading awareness is really helpful.

[00:19:39] We have a Venmo and a Cash App, which we’re putting money in a savings account for land. We’re also putting money together so that when people on the streets are arrested, we can help get them things they’ve lost. Because as soon as they’re arrested, people are like, ‘Mine!’ and they go into camp and take all their stuff. And then when they get out of jail, they’re like, ‘Oh, now I have nothing.’ So we have funds set aside for people who are arrested.

[00:20:05] And then we are now working on trying to gather funds and a mechanic that can help get people’s cars going. So since the city just passed this new parking ordinance and making it easier for them to tow people’s homes, cars, or RVs or whatever they need be, we’re trying to get those things legal and working so that people can avoid impounding at all.

[00:20:30] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): That is a really good idea, trying to really create resources to actually help people get their vehicle to a place where they’re not going to just have it taken away. It’s so frustrating to me. I can’t believe that the city… just constantly comes up with new ways to make it harder for people.

[00:20:48] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Right. Well, and I love that they mask it with all kinds of things, like, ‘This is for this,’ but, like, let’s be realistic. You are making it illegal to be homeless. That is what the city’s plan is doing. And they just like to mask it with this, like, whatever it is they do.

[00:21:03] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): That’s the reason for the name of this show, “Legalized Survival,” that you’re listening to here on KEPW LP 97.3 FM in Eugene and broadcasting online at KEPW.org. And we’re here today with Jetty Etty, who’s doing some really important work in our community to help people. And my fabulous co-host, Julie Lambert. Thank you for being here, Julie, and thank you for this interview. Jetty… I appreciate the picture that you’ve really shared, a picture that is really the reality.

[00:21:41] Jetty Etty (Barefoot Defenders, Eugene): Thank you for helping me get it out because it’s important and more people should know about it. If anyone is trying to get ahold of us and looking for a way to help, my email is jettyetty@proton.me (J -E -T -T -Y -E -T -T -Y at P -R -O -T -O -N dot M-E).

[00:22:03] Julie Lambert (KEPW News, Legalize Survival): We are absolutely behind you. And this is, you know, part of why we’re called Eugene’s Resistance Radio.

Legalize Survival is broadcast Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. on Eugene’s Resistance Radio, KEPW 97.3, and simulcast on https://www.kepw.org.

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