Monday, March 2, 2009

Homelessness In Gresham

Anabeth asked how homelessness in Gresham differs from Portland and who is involved in helping them. "I am wondering about the situation in Gresham regarding people living outdoors as I am only more familiar with what is going on in Portland. Can you please tell me a little more about it? Do we know approximately how many people are living outdoors in Gresham- have the numbers increased the past couple of years b/c of Mayor Potter's ordinances? I know that Eastside Foursquare Church there has done some things- are they empowering people?? Is it My Father's House that was just built for housing people living outdoors in Gresham- though I know that obviously not everyone is helped in a situation like that, people are still left out and my question for them is still about how their services are being played out- are they empowering or patronizing?"

There are basically three services for street folks in Gresham: Zaraphath Kitchen which has a meal six days a week, Anawim (showers, clothes and a meal one day a week) and My Father's House for homeless families. EastHill has been out of the loop for a number of years, but they are trying to re-organize their assistance. Right now, they are filling out Zaraphath so that there are meals every Sunday, and they want to provide socks-- which is what Anawim has done for years. But maybe this means that we can provide socks for the SE group instead.

Gresham is a different street experience than Portland. There is a lot more room for camping in tents and there is less dependence on services. The police are more consistantly active in kicking the homeless out of the city and there are people hired by the city to throw away people's tents and gear if left behind. So the homeless are more hidden. The only place they are alowed to hang out is Gresham Main Park, but even there they are carefully monitored by the police. Sometimes the police are abusive and in fact at least four homeless I know have successfully sued the city of Gresham for police brutality. Many more have been abused without suing. For all of these reasons, not very many people have moved from Portland to Gresham.

Homelessness has grown in Gresham, but mostly it is young people who have increased the numbers. When we talk about the homeless, the numbers are all guess work, but I'd say there's about 200 chronic homeless and someone has quoted to me a statistic of 200 young people on the street (That number might be a bit high-- they might be including those who hang out with the "gutter punks" but still sleep at home). A large number of these people live on the Springwater Corridor bike trail.

Recently there have been three groups wanting to advocate for the poor in Gresham. But I noted that all three of these groups were full of middle class churches and leaders who wanted to help the homeless but who weren't interested in having the homeless own the services. That is the kind of system we don't need in Gresham. We have a lot of strong, ready-to-work folk who would do work to support a service as long as it was a service they asked for. This was one of the main purposes of this community meeting-- to get the homeless involved in the conversation of how to serve the homeless. To get them to own the service from the ground level so they would own it and participate.

I'd say that My Father's House does empower, but they aren't dealing with the chronic homeless at all. They help families in crisis, which is great. But I note that Gresham-- East Hill in particular-- is willing to spend literally millions of dollars for My Father's House, but the chronic homeless get nothing but tickets and abuse. I think it is long overdue to have some services for all the homeless in Gresham, but I also think that to do it rightly, we need to draw upon the willing help and resources of the homeless.

Okay, you asked a lot of questions and got a long answer. Hope that's okay!

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