Sep 12, 2013

Putting a Face on Portland's Homeless...and working toward a solution?

Every major city has homeless people, which means they also have a homeless problem and Portland is certainly no exception. How does a city such as Portland deal with their homeless problem? They don't. Just like most cities, the City of Portland seems to believe that if they keep either ignoring the problem or if they keep arresting people who are merely trying to sleep... and exist, that the problem will go away... or at least be manageable enough to not embarrass the city officials with their presence anywhere in proximity to their regular establishments. If they can keep the homeless away from their Nordstroms and My Shit Doesn't Smell boutiques and over-priced, yet so trendy sidewalk cafes that everything will be just absolutely delightful. This mentality has been the core of the problem. Homeless people have to exist. They have to sleep. They have to eat once in a while at least. You cannot make them go away by strong-arming them into the other side of the tracks or under another bridge where the people who live and work near the bridge haven't complained enough yet to cause enough of a "stir" to be forced to address the issue. When this happens, no one wins in this situation, not even the precious yuppies. I am aware that there is a general percentage of homeless people who may use drugs or abuse alcohol. Many of these types of homeless people have turned to these substances out of desperation and as a way to deal with life. It is quite common for many of the homeless to have come from backgrounds that most people would consider to be respectful and "normal". Many of them have suffered great loss in their lives. This loss can be any combination or all of these things; career, job, income, assets, reputation, loved ones and friends. No two people on this earth are exactly the same, therefore everybody is affected in a different way. Since I've been affected by all of those things at different points in my life and have been homeless and near-homeless at least a few times in my life, I can relate enough to know that most of the homeless are probably suffering some type of depression. Depression manifests itself in many, many ways and everyone handles depression in their own unique way. 
So instead of judging the homeless and looking down on them in a way that says you are a better person than them, maybe we can begin to work together on finding a better solution, one that will benefit both the homeless population as well as the city and the communities throughout the city.

The first thing we need to do as a society is to change our attitude toward the homeless to be more compassionate and hopeful, rather than the cold and careless attitude that much of society seems to have. Our society is so consumed by being good, obedient consumers. We buy, buy, buy...then buy buy buy some more... and we throw away our old stuff or we stuff it into storage, then end up throwing it away eventually anyway.

Much of society blindly moves through life, dwelling on and being utterly entrenched with TV and movies. We feel like we need to escape into this non-reality just so we can deal with our lives, much like someone who uses substances or alcohol may be doing also. These are really just the same thing, just different flavors of escapism. For many people, depression leads to these various activities and depending on our influences, background and personal situation, we are all guilty of some form of escapism. I am not saying that escapism is wrong at all and there are many forms of it that can definitely be considered positive, but even the activities that are deemed more positive by most of society can still be abused and over-used, therefore having a very negative consequence also.

So as we start to have a better attitude toward the homeless, what can we do to fix our homeless problem? There has to be a solution. I won't accept no solution. Who am I to say this? I'm a human being, so are you and so is every homeless person. If we even cared about the homeless problem just 10% of how much we care about having all the latest trendy over-priced items we just might be able to deal with our homeless population in a loving, dignified and humane sort of way. I realize that many various groups have been working on solutions and each group has their own positive application to this problem but all you have to do is take a short ride through the city, or walk around a few blocks anywhere in the downtown vicinity and you will see dozens and dozens of homeless people. If you did this all day, you would easily see hundreds of homeless people. Every single one of those people have to exist somewhere. I don't think society actually wants any of them to die, although a good portion of society really could care less about their livelihood.

This idea may seem preposterous to many people but maybe we can build up a strong coalition of a support network made from local businesses and caring people who want to actually deal with this in a positive and constructive way. With this coalition of support to start with, have a piece of land somewhere in the city that isn't being used and develop this property into a homeless commune. A place with enough space for anyone to sleep under a roof and with a vegetable garden which can be made and maintained with the joint cooperation of willing homeless people and caring people in the community. All the food can be used to feed the entire homeless population of this commune. Various business owners who join this coalition can also help work with educating and rehabilitating the homeless who show a desire to accept help. For many people, just the act of someone else helping pull them out of the hole they are in, is enough to kick start an entirely new life for themselves and to become more productive members of society. For many just the act of doing this will give them a huge jolt of confidence and for the first time in a long time they will feel that someone truly cares about them. All of their clothing and personal comfort belongings can be supplied by the community by just giving them the stuff we don't need or might typically throw in the trash. I'm sure that as a city that prides itself on being so clever and kind, that we can handle doing something like this. This also does not have to involve a brick and mortar building at first, but can be started off with tents and more temporary types of shelter solutions.  I am not saying this is a perfect solution and I am only touching on a few simple points without going into great detail, but something has to change because it is extremely obvious that this problem has not gotten better, year after year. This is literal insanity.

I realize there is obviously a lot of red tape involved in doing such a thing as I am describing but I really do believe that this can be accomplished. I do not expect for this to completely eradicate our entire homeless problem, but I believe this would be a huge step in the right direction and from someone who does not hold a college degree and has no experience in social work of any kind, but is a human being analyzing the situation from my perspective and personal experience, I think something like this just might work... but only if we have the right attitude.

Here is a small collection of photos that I've shot over the past year of some of Portland's homeless population. You can see faces, real people and real needs. You can also see some of the various makeshift living/shelter arrangements they use. All of these are inadequate and NOT an acceptable way for people in 21st century Portland, Oregon, United States of America to be living.

No comments: