Up off the mat
The hits came one after another, like body blows from a prizefighter with his opponent on the ropes.
Two years ago, 54-year-old Chuck Chancellor and his wife, Kristi, were living comfortably in a home they rented in Gresham. Then came the first punch: After their landlord failed to make mortgage payments on the house, the Chancellors were forced to move out.
Around the same time, Chuck — who has problems with his legs due to diabetes — suffered a heart attack and lost his job as head of maintenance at a WinCo store. Having lost their home and steady source of income, the Chancellors resorted to living out of their 1999 Ford Windstar van.
Then came the gut punch: Kristi had a stroke, which led to significant memory problems and an extended stay at a memory care facility in Oregon City. All of a sudden, it was just Chuck and his van. To stay close to Kristi — he tries to visit her every day — he parked at Meldrum Bar Park in Gladstone during the day until closing time, when he'd drive off and find a place to park on nearby SE River Road before going to sleep.
West Linn residents noticed the van from across the river, and some took to the West Linn Community Page on Facebook to inquire about its backstory. After one woman posted about meeting Chuck at a shopping center in Oregon City, West Linn resident Gregg Creighton decided he had to find a way to help. And so began a community-wide effort to pull Chuck off the mat, culminating in a GoFundMe that had raised $950 as of Dec. 10.
But first, Creighton had to find Chuck.
"I put together a little care package and attempted to find him one day," Creighton said. "I looked in Clackamette Park and Meldrum Bar, and he had apparently just left for a few hours and I missed him."
Eventually, Creighton got Chuck's phone number and, after trading several phone calls, the two finally met at Meldrum Bar Nov. 28.
"I noticed I'd just missed a call from him, so I pulled over and called him back and found out he was at the park that day," Creighton said. "I was at Clackamette, a quarter mile away, so I went back to Meldrum Bar. We chatted a bit and he told me his story. And there's a reason I was in that place at that time."
Indeed, Creighton checked the weather report and saw that a cold spell was incoming.
"I started thinking about shelters," he said. "The shelter community, it's active, there's a lot of things going on. (There's) My Father's Heart in Oregon City, and Rolling Hills Community Church (in Tualatin) has a 10-year-old program going. So I knew I could plug him into a few things that way."
But Creighton soon found that Rolling Hills' shelter doesn't open until the temperatures fall under 32 degrees. The early December temperatures weren't quite that frigid, but Creighton couldn't accept the idea of Chuck braving the elements in his van.
"It's plenty cold right now, so I just kind of wanted to fill in there," Creighton said.
So Chuck and his van have been staying with Creighton in recent weeks. And with safety and warmth accounted for, Creighton began a broader effort to get Chuck back on his feet.
"He did get pulled over, about two weeks ago, and got cited for lack of insurance," Creighton said. "Chuck was fumbling through his credentials there, and sure enough it expired Nov. 1 …. So that was the first piece we wanted to address: can we rally enough money to get that back? Because if he got that pulled over again, they'd confiscate (the van) and probably pull his license and things would go sideways in a hurry."
Creighton asked his insurance agent to help find Chuck an affordable policy, and fronted him the money for it with the hope that the GoFundMe would recoup those costs. Within days, the account had raised more than $500 — double what the insurance policy cost. While Creighton has a history as a good Samaritan — he's brought homeless people to his house and was the first transportation director at the Rolling Hills shelter when it was established in 2008 — he'd never experienced the magic of watching donations come in from complete strangers and faces from his distant past.
"One donation came in that just moved me to tears," Creighton said, his voice breaking. "A high school classmate of mine I hadn't seen in 30 years donated over half the money."
The ultimate goal is to raise $3,000, which could go toward helping Chuck re-establish residency somewhere close to Kristi's care facility while also providing gas money and covering other expenses. Creighton also hopes the GoFundMe will help connect Chuck with another temporary home, at least until Kristi's disability checks start arriving in February.
"I would love to have someone step up and give him a legitimate place to stay until February, because his situation will certainly change in February," Creighton said. "He can't stay here forever."
Chuck is also looking for any employment opportunities that might be available, even if they're temporary.
"He has wheels, gets around, so that's quite a step up from what a lot of people on the street have," Creighton said.
"I can do light maintenance and stuff again as long as there's not a lot of walking," Chuck said. "I'm always willing to work."
In the meantime, Creighton and Chuck have become fast friends.
"Gregg took me to a Christmas play (at Rolling Hills) and that was fantastic," Chuck said.
"Oh yeah, that was Friday night. And I took him to a Bible study on Friday morning. That was a busy day," Creighton said with a laugh.
Creighton said he's hoping to organize a coffee get-together at Starbucks in the near future, so people who donated can meet Chuck in person.
"I never knew any of these people," Chuck said. "I was kind of shocked they stepped up and were willing to help me."
Perhaps even more surprising to Chuck was the length Creighton was willing to go to help him.
"When Gregg first stepped up, offered me a room and stuff out of the coldness … I never knew the guy," Chuck said. "We talked at Meldrum Bar and he said, 'Well, I've got this room.' It took me a couple days to think about it — it was kind of overwhelming."
With Creighton's help, Chuck is no longer down for the count.
"Gregg was a godsend to me," Chuck said.
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