1997Investigative Reporting

He still calls tiny trailer 'home'

Eric Nadler, Deborah Nelson
and Alex Tizon
December 2, 1996
Index | DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

tiny trailer

Douglas Brown might have been able to move out of his trailer if the neighboring Coquille Tribe hadn't gobbled up so much HUD grant money.

Day Two:

Monday, December 2, 1996

The key to HUD's cashbox

Hired 'rescuer' ends up in prison

He still calls tiny trailer 'home'


In this vast, rolling country along the Pacific coast, Siletz tribal member Douglas Brown has managed to squeeze all his belongings into a trailer shaped like a beetle.

It is a miniature travel trailer, circa 1960, with a rounded roof and two tiny tires. One of the tires is flat, causing the trailer to list to one side. To enter, one must pull a screwdriver from under a nearby rock, jam it into the keyhole and turn the doorknob just so.

"This is where I stay," says Brown. "Come in."

He is 54 years old, a small, round-bodied man with a face that might be described as cherubic if it were not for a stubbly day-old beard. For the past 15 years, he has worked as a chef at Timbers Restaurant and Lounge in nearby Toledo. Last year, he made $12,000.

He is one of 100 members of the Siletz Tribe on a waiting list for government-subsidized housing. He has been waiting for the past eight years. During that time, the trailer has been his home.

He might have had a new home a few years ago, except that much of the money targeted for poverty-stricken Native Americans in the Northwest in 1994 went to the Coquilles, a newly reconstituted tribe 100 miles down the coast. Federal housing officials mistakenly thought they needed to give that new tribe all the money it asked for, $7.8 million.

As it turns out, the figures on which the Coquilles' request was based were fraudulent, according to employees, and officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development now admit much of the money was misspent while they looked the other way.

So Douglas Brown remains in his trailer.

Inside, he can barely stand up without his buzz-cut brushing against the curved ceiling. On one side of the trailer are a couple of deep shelves. He sleeps on the lower shelf, cushioned by a lumpy foam pad. Above him on the other shelf are suitcases, blankets and clothes piled in no particular order.

The other side of the trailer is crammed with the rest of his belongings - the stuff one would usually put in a hall closet or storage bin.

The trailer has no running water, plumbing or heat. In the winter, Brown sleeps under three sleeping bags and two wool blankets. For water and toilet needs, he must visit his sister's trailer, which is on the same gravel lot in the middle of town.

His sister's trailer has been condemned by the tribe. At least it had the honor of being condemned, Brown says. His trailer was not deemed worthy of inspection, since anyone can see at a glance that it would not pass any known safety test.

"There are people worse off than I am," Brown says. "I know people living on the street who are my friends. Here, it gets cold, but it doesn't leak and no one bothers me."