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Local News: Homeless boater finds new purpose in life, Part 2 in our series: Homeless on the Coast

There are many ways that people become homeless in Oregon, but the story of Osarch Orak is unique. Coast Community Radio’s Jacob Lewin has the latest in our series, Homeless on the Coast. [Script follows, Listen below.]

[rising ambient sound of boat motor……]

The training vessel Forerunner is casting off:

“ Two’s on board, all clear lines, horn…”

Below deck, Clatsop Community College students are literally learning the ropes:

“Now you guys remember this with the grommet, you’re going to measure three full wraps….

One of the students is Osarch Orak whose past includes a stretch in prison, where he got his GED and where he got the dream of sailing his own boat to Palau, the Pacific Island where his famiy is from. When he got out of prison, his uncle offered to sell him a sailboat that he kept in Astoria. Orak says he had permission to check out the boat and had a key, but he ran into trouble:

Osarch Orak: “Somebody reported that someone broke into a vessel and I subsequently got pulled over on the dock by an officer. They arrested me and then they ended up charging me with a slew of crimes.”

His uncle’s gun was aboard the boat and Orak was charged with felon in possession. He pleaded guilty to a theft charge. Afterwards he did buy the boat and sailed it up and down the Columbia intending to eventually settle in Astoria, but the he says the port refused to lease him a slip because of his record.

So he tied up to some pilings, illegally. One day the police arrived:

Osarch Orak:“As I showed up, they were there on my vessel pulling it away and I got onto my skiff and was rowing out and screaming at ’em to bring my home back and the officer actually placed his hand on his weapon and was getting ready for me to board and if I boarded, it looked like he was going to draw his weapon.”

He never got the 29-footer back.

Osarch Orak They went ahead and destroyed it and sent me a $5000 bill, and so that basically put me on the streets.”

After a few months on the streets, he lived in a tent and couch-surfed. Some aspects of Orak’s homelessness are unique, but others not. He started in Portland. Clatsop Community Action lead case manager Susan Prettyman says many homeless people here do:

Susan Prettyman: “Often times people, especially from the Portland area, they think of the coast. It’s gonna be all fun and games and the beach is here and especially through the summer time, they know that there’s going to be a lot of jobs available, they’re gonna work full time. So I do think there’s a lot of people who want to come to the coast.”

Some try to escape from homelessness in Portland and fail. Still Prettyman says more start out locally, and, as in Osarch Orak’s case, homelessness generally is not a long-term situation.

Prettyman:“The majority of the people that I have met that are experiencing homeless have not been for a significant amount of time. It’s probably been more between say six months and a year.”

With good mechanical skills and a love for the river, Orak joined the college’s vessel operations program, and Captain Bryce Potter says it’s been a good fit:

Potter: “He’s doing great. Yeah, he’s been wonderful. And one thing that’s really stood out is he seems very motivated. He seems very driven to be successful in the program, which is awesome.” :07

And Orak hasn’t given up on his dream of sailing to Palau.

“It’s definitely on my bucket list. We’ll see where the road or river or water takes me.”

Orak seems to be a success story, and Susan Prettyman says there are a lot of others.

Prettyman:“Every client that I have is a success story to me. Every single one of them. And it makes me so proud when we get to graduate somebody from one of our programs because they’ve learned to be self-sustaining on their own.”