Anna Leslie doubts the men would still be alive if she hadn’t gotten them off the street.
There are six of them, ranging between 40 and 60 years old. All were born in Cowlitz County. One was a former laborer who became addicted to pain pills after a work injury. Another quit drinking, but only after losing his business and his family.
Addiction, economic recession, sickness and medical bills. Each man ended up homeless — for decades — then drifted in and out of the jail on low-grade, misdemeanor charges. When the men got sick, they checked themselves into the emergency room — at outrageous expense — with no way to pay for it. They slept in doorways, under bridges and in blackberry brambles. They smoked and injected meth.
Leslie, who is known among her colleagues as the “Rogue Catholic” because she is unorthodox, unflinching and dogged, has become these men’s biggest advocate. In September, Lower Columbia CAP built and opened what’s known as a “permanent support house” in a Longview neighborhood on 33rd Avenue. Leslie, a caseworker with the nonprofit social services agency, oversees the house and convinced the six men to move in.
They don’t have to pay rent, although some do. Alcohol and drugs aren’t allowed on the premises, although the men aren’t required to stay sober.