Things couldn’t get much worse for John Pearson, 57, of Lebanon.
He was living in the dirty basement of an old home with one bathroom for seven people.
“I’ve been in terrible conditions, but nothing like this,” Pearson recalled.
Pearson is a double-lung transplant survivor, and his immune system is weak and susceptible. There was black mold on the walls, and he was hungry.
It was only a matter of time before he succumbed to illness.
“I had to call the ambulance,” Pearson said. “They took me to Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital.”
When he returned home, the person he had been staying with notified him that he needed to leave.
“You’ve got to go by April 9,” she said.
It was April 6, 2020.
Then Pearson remembered a message he had received from social worker Anita Earl with Samaritan’s Care Hub. A nurse at the hospital contacted the Population Health Services department that provides outreach to unhoused patients in Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties.
Out of options, Pearson returned the call.
That’s when things started to get better.
Samaritan partners with community organizations including Second CHANCE Shelter, Albany Helping Hands, Corvallis Housing First, NW Coastal Housing and Community Outreach, Inc., to offer medical respite beds.
Earl was concerned that Pearson was most vulnerable to COVID-19, so she found him a respite bed in a transitional housing complex in Corvallis. Although temporary, it was a step forward in regaining his health.
“If you haven’t had a double-lung transplant, you don’t understand germs and being clean,” he said.
In 2010, Pearson was working as a mechanic when he experienced shortness of breath. At the hospital, a blood test confirmed that he had a rare genetic disorder, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which can cause lung disease. By 2017, it had progressed to the point where he relied on supplemental oxygen. He was on the transplant list, but he wasn’t optimistic.
“I went from bad to worse,” he said. “I thought it was all over.”
Then he got a call from the transplant team.
Since receiving new lungs, Pearson depends on medication to stay healthy. After he moved to his respite bed, staff shopped for him so that he didn’t risk exposure to COVID-19. And when wildfire smoke seeped through the cracks in the windows, they covered them with towels and made a late-night trip for supplies to insulate his room.
Meanwhile, Earl searched for permanent housing for Pearson. A new HUD apartment complex was opening in Lebanon, and she encouraged Pearson to apply.
“My background is terrible,” he said. “I just knew I was not going to get in.”
But he applied and was accepted. In fact, Pearson was the very first tenant to move into Garden View Apartments. Since then, Pearson has taken steps to improve his health. He walks at least five miles a day. He’s lost 35 pounds and his cholesterol is down.
The brand-new unit has a view of the hills. Mornings are his favorite time of day when he watches the sunrise out his window.
“I get tears thinking about what a blessing it is,” he said. “It’s my home.”