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Pair from West Palm Beach dodge cars at the site where, a week before, a homeless woman was fatally run over.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Gwyn Merkau and Daniel Brajon arrived from South Florida last summer to get sober and are now living in a tent-van combo in East Portland, walking the traffic lanes for money.

Where Northeast Glisan Street heads west as it crosses the I-205 northbound ramp, a couple was asking for money on Thursday, Jan. 20, from drivers who were stopped at the light.

Gwyn Merkau and Daniel Brajon said they arrived from West Palm Beach, south Florida, five months ago. They drove their Dodge Caravan via Illinois. A Portland friend shared his house with them for a while, then replaced the van with another and gave Brajon work painting houses.

Merkau, 37, holds a sign that says "Just hungry Can you spare 25 cents? Thank you. God bless America," together with heart and cross signs that mean Jesus is love. PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Gwyn Merkau, 37, and Daniel Brajon, 33, fly a sign at the traffic light at Northeast Glisan Street, . The sign says "Just hungry Can you spare 25 cents? Thank you. God bless America." Plus, heart and cross signs that mean Jesus is love.

Brajon pushes her wheelchair down the center line, facing the traffic as it waits, then back to the stop line when the light turns green. He says they stop when they have $50 for the day, which is enough for supplies and fast food. Merkau said they get SNAP benefits — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as food stamps — but can't spend them on prepared food, and they have no way to cook.

They said they are aware of the dangers of being in traffic. A woman was killed at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 12, right where they ask for money.

"We knew her, Linda, she lived in a van. She was dragged under the car. People always tell us 'Oh, gee, you know this lady got hit?' Every day, like 20 times a day. We're like, yeah, we know," Brajon said.

They wondered what happened to her van that was left behind.

Merkau added, "You try to make what you need and get out of the road as fast as possible."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Gwyn Merkau and Daniel Brajon arrived from South Florida last summer to get sober and are now living in a tent-van combo in East Portland, walking the traffic lanes, begging for money. He is looking after her until she can get a hip replacement in six months.

Get away

They claimed they fled South Florida because the police are hard on homeless people there and will put them in jail. "Down in Florida if you're homeless you're a nuisance," Brajon said.

They heard Portland had good services for getting out of homelessness. They wanted a fresh start.

"We wanted to get away from everything down there. Drugs. Crack. Fentanyl. It's really bad there. You guys think it's bad here, with the meth problem. It's even worse there with crack," Brajon said.

They were cocaine users in Florida, the couple said, but say they got clean here by abstinence.

A 2015 story in the South Florida Sun Sentinel details some of the problems they fled.

"We just don't know anybody, and we just stayed away from it (crack)," Merkau said. "We didn't have meth where we're from in Florida, it was all crack. We stay away from it."

In their matching red hoodies, the pair waved and eye-smiled at drivers over their masks. They looked well-kempt, dressed for the cold street. "We just changed yesterday," said Brajon, 37, referring to their clean clothes.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Gwyn Merkau and Daniel Brajon arrived from South Florida last summer to get sober and are now living in a tent-van combo in East Portland. When their van got too damp they pitched a tent. Merkau uses a walker and can't work.

Hip surgery on hold

Two weeks ago, their van started leaking so they pitched a tent next to it on a little-used piece of sidewalk. They try to keep things neat. Brajon apologized for the wet trash spread all over the corner, saying someone dumped it in the night.

Merkau said she gets supplies from St. Peter & St. Paul Episcopal Church at Southeast 82nd Avenue and Ash Street. "They give us tarps, tents, food, clothes, hygiene products, whatever we need."

They fly the sign and collect money from drivers two or three hours per day. The best time, he says, is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"Those are the people who aren't working people, they're just more willing to give. In the morning, everybody's going to work. Those people aren't really so generous," Brajon said.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Gwyn Merkau and Daniel Brajon apologized for the mess and said the trash behind them was dumped overnight by strangers.

They said Portland has been good so far.

"Part of the reason we came here was the work, painting houses," Brajon said. "There's a lot of opportunities. If you really want to get your life together here, you guys have got a lot of services here. And the people here really try to help."

But his girlfriend needs his help. She had surgery on her hip and is in line for a replacement in six months.

Drivers who give, usually give a dollar. "If they think that you're doing good, of course, they're not going to want to give you money," she said. "And if they think you're an able-bodied person, like him, they'll get mad. But I can't take care of myself. If he goes to work, I'm stuck by myself all day in the van. He really takes care of me, he helps me get dressed. He helps me with a lot right now until I have my surgery. I don't have anybody to help me."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Portland Tribune
971-204-7874
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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