Saturday, December 31, 2016

Homelessness and Drugs

I posted on Facebook recently that homeless folks were just as worthy as other folks, just in a different situation.  I received a rebuttal from another person, having met at least one homeless person.  His response could be summarized thus:

All homeless folks use drugs.
Drug users are weak and thieves.
Therefore, these are less worthy than others.

Well, I know a number of homeless folks who do not use drugs, not addicted to anything, and I know a number of drug users (also homeless) who are not thieves.  But there is a stereotype there that has some truth to it.  Allow me to unpack a general trend of the homeless and addiction.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately nine percent of people who become homeless do so because of addictions.  This doesn't mean that others aren't addicts, but it wasn't their addiction that caused their homelessness.  So let's just say that 15 percent of people become homeless with an addiction.  What everyone agrees on is that most people aren't addicts when they become homeless.  The far majority of them.

Approximately 70 percent of all people who become homeless every year find housing in less than a year, most of them in a few months.  Most of these people certainly didn't get housing maintaining or increasing their addictions.  A few did.  But most of them were never addicted to begin with and some gave up or reduced their addictions to meet their goals.

What about the rest?  Well, the people who are generally considered "homeless" are those who have been on the street for more than a year.  These are the folks who have been without a decent night's sleep for at least a year.  These are the folks forced to move, with everything they own, sometimes more than once a day.  These are the folks who tried to get work, to get into school, to find a place to live until they had given up hope for themselves. These are the folks who have had their possessions stolen.  These are the people who have nothing left but regret.

So almost all of these folks who are chronically homeless are also sufferers of chronic stress.  And since they have no tomorrow, they need to forget.  And drugs or alcohol offer that way out.

Again, not everyone takes that way out.  Not everyone wants to be seen as the wino, the bum on the corner. Or, I should say, some folks have enough self-respect left to care what people think about them, so they do all they can to avoid that most disgusting, most degrading of American occupations.  The man openly drinking a 40 ounce outside a convenience store, who is shooting up in a public restroom are really the only ones who have no fucks left to give in this country.  They really don't care, because they've lost everything.

This is why people who think that folks in this state need a few months to brush themselves off and get out there and struggle for their sobriety, their self-respect and their survival don't really understand the state of the chronically homeless, especially those who are addicted.

It took at least a year, possibly years, to drive a person into abject hopelessness.  It will take some time to climb out.  I think of the way out as stepping stones.

1. Self-respect
This  stage will only happen when a person receives respect that they didn't necessarily deserve. When they see others respecting them by giving them kindness and opportunities for hope, they will think that maybe their view of themselves need to change, and they want to earn the respect they are receiving.

2. Better living
When they see themselves as someone who wants to live, they will see the squalor they live in, and want to improve their state.  That desire doesn't do anything unless they also have a hand up, because one cannot jump out of the ditch of homelessness themselves.  But they will accept that hand, because they see the necessity of it.  They may accept a place in a village, a spot in a treatment center, a place in a shelter they trust, so they could get a better life.

3. Strength
But most people who are chronically homeless will fail at their first attempts to improve their life.  Some are out of practice, some are unlucky, some are too sensitive to disrespect, some have mental health issues and some have physical health issues.  It will require inner strength for them to try again.  Some have it, and some don't.

4. Progress
One step leads to another, even if there are missteps.  Entering into treatment sometimes leads to housing and outpatient treatment and possibly a job.  Entering a wet village can later lead to living in a less chaotic dry village, which can lead to a job and permanent housing.  Entering into a shelter can lead to a part time job and then a full time job and housing.  No one's path is the same.  And the first step of progress can, with strength, lead to the next one.

My point is, everyone is worthy.  People are worthy.  The person you see as a worthless drug addict on the corner is worthy, and we can have hope for her even if she does not have hope for herself.   A wino doesn't have to live that way.

But they will unless two things happen.  Someone gives them respect.  And someone gives them a chance. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sweeps Kill: New Podcast

Here's a new podcast of Nowhere to Lay His Head!

This month I interview... myself (well, I talk for a while) about how sweeps kill and how I worked this last year to try to get the city to stop killing sweeps.

Anyway, here's the podcast:

And here's some articles confirming my actions this year:

Forgotten Realms: the beginning

Arrested in Gresham for speaking out for the homeless

Camp Serenity

Ending Camp Serenity

Sweeping 500 off of the Springwater Corridor

Trial dismissed

Fire at Forgotten Realms

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Podcast on the Springwater Trail Sweeps

Amanda Reece-Murphy has been heading up Rose City Backpacks of Hope for many years, providing the basic needs of the homeless in Southeast Portland.  This year was her most challenging yet.  Amanda and Steve will discuss their effort to figure out what the city wants and their effort to move people to new locations.

Please click the below link to hear our conversation.  Or go to iTunes and subscribe to Nowhere to Lay His Head Podcast.

Nowhere To Lay His Head, episode 2: Springwater Trail

You can read more about Springwater Trail and the involvement of advocates in this Oregonian article.

If you'd like to find out more about Rose City Backpacks of Hope, please check out their Facebook page. 

If you'd like to find out more about Anawim and the work Steve does, please look at their website, Anawim Christian Community 

If you'd like to find out more about Mary Anne Funk, who produced this podcast, as well as many other quality video documentaries, please check out her website.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

No Where To Lay His Head Podcast

Ravenwolf Phoenix Sch.... something, something, something
Well, it took a long time, but we have the first episode of a new podcast finished!  It is called "Nowhere To Lay His Head" and it is a collection of conversations with people affected by poverty and homelessness and how they use their spirituality to make it through their lives.

RavenWolf Phoneix Schmick-Justice has struggled the majority of his life to hold onto who he is. On today's podcast, Raven talks about: how he became homeless; his multiple personality disorder; his adoption into a white Russian Jewish family in New Jersey; the struggles and racism he faced  from his adoptive family and the community he was raised in; the years of sexual abuse he faced as a child from his adoptive father, his need to reconnect with his Native American birth family and how, how his life changed after he did and what he is learning now about the ways of his ancestors.

He's articulate and has a unique point of view, as well as a unique life.  We hope you enjoy the conversation!

Check out the latest episode of our podcast, Nowhere To Lay His Head!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Constant Push

For the last 21 days, the City of Portland has been sweeping 500 people out of SE. Homeless folks and their advocates scrambled to find places for them to be. Under the stress of the move, many of those swept ended up in the hospital, and others had mental breakdowns.
One of the places that many went to is Gateway Green, between the 205 and 84 freeways in NE Portland. About 80 percent of the people staying there were forced there because of the previous sweep.
Now the city of Portland plans to do another sweep of the Greenway area, causing more trauma upon the poorest people in our city. The city claims that they plan to do construction in this area for a bike park, but that construction is years away, after the shelters currently being planned are built.
If you live in Multnomah County, please call the Portland city council and tell them to stop evicting the homeless until they have a place to go. Tell them to stop oppressing our most vulnerable populations.
A tyrant forces people to do what is convenient for a few wealthy people. A leader provides positive solutions for all their citizens. Amanda Fritz, Charlie Hales, find solutions before you move people. Stop traumatizing your citizens!
Amanda Fritz: (503) 823-3008
Charlie Hales: 503-823-4120
I just visited this area this morning. They are peaceful and supporting each other, trying to keep the area clean. Provide support, not oppression!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fell Softly

Rain once fell softly on this town
But now drives hard and harsh:
Flooding, drowning those without roofs,
Their souls shipwrecked against
Rocky hearts.
Rain once fell softly on this town.
Now long-buried corpses
Float down the trafficked boulevard.
All-seeing eyes glance aside
Rain once fell softly on this town.
Every time I look high
My lungs fill with blackish fluid
My arms outstretched, crying,

The Shepherd and the Dog

A shepherd needed his sheep to move to a different place, so he sent his dog, who nipped and bit the sheep, leaving some of the sheep injured. This happened every day for weeks. The sheep gathered together and whispered to each other, "The shepherd wants to injure us. We will die like this!"
Eventually, the shepherd build a fine house for the sheep to live in. So he sent his dog to give the sheep the good news. The sheep whispered among themselves, "This is the slaughterhouse. Finally the dog and the shepherd gets rid of us!" And the sheep stood up, trampled the dog out of fear and ran as far away from the house as they could.
If the city council refuses to speak directly to the homeless, but send ruffians out to move and harm them, what makes them think that the homeless will believe them when the city tells them that they have a fine shelter to live in?

Clutter: A Battle in the Class War

The wealthy have the ability to get rid of stuff, because they know what they can do without, and if they accidentally get rid of what they need, they can buy another.

The poor have to keep more stuff around because they don't know yet what they need and if they get rid of what is necessary, they suffer. And people ask them, "Why did you get rid of that? Didn't you know you'd need it?"

When people look at camps of homeless folks and see all the clutter, they don't understand that it is survival gear, not garbage. You try to put all of the possessions you'd absolutely need in one tent-- clothes, cooking/eating gear, communication, entertainment, bedding, paperwork, health supplies, etc (and, dare I say it, books?)-- and tell me that you wouldn't have spillover.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

5 Reasons Why Portland's Safe Sleep Policy Didn't Work

The Safe Sleep policy of Charlie Hale’s administration came to an abrupt “sunset” on August 2.  This ended an idea in which the city and the homeless might come to an agreement as to how public land, including sidewalks, might be utilized for sleeping. It came in a package with other stated benefits for the homeless, including storage for possessions, intentional campgrounds with porta potties and sanitation pick up.  Charlie Hales ended the policy, implying that the homeless didn’t follow through on their part of the deal.  There were more complaints than ever about trash, open drug use, tent fires and general chaos.

I agree that the Safe Sleep policy didn’t work, but I would add that it was never given the opportunity to work.  That the homeless were never included in process of making this policy a success.

1.  The policy wasn’t communicated well to the homeless
The mayor’s office created a half-sheet flyer which was intended to communicate to the homeless and advocates the details of the policy.  Unfortunately, it was filled with policy language and it was better understood by the police and policy makers than by those it was supposed to be communicating to.   For communication to the homeless, a writer used to working with homeless citizens should be used, so that the concerns of the homeless might be addressed.  The policy was communicated clearly to only a few homeless citizens, especially those placed in city-approved locations.  All others were forced to guess what exactly the policy meant. 

2. The policy wasn’t organized well
Homeless citizens, like every citizen of Portland, need certain shelter and certain possessions during the day as well as night.  Many of them cook their own food and live relatively independently.  The policy kept homeless citizens from their possessions during the day.  But even so, there was only two places for homeless citizens to keep their possessions during the day, and they were only accessible to a tiny minority of them.  There was insufficient sanitation pick up. 

If the mayor’s office had listened to the groups working with homeless camps, as well as they worked with lawyers, policy makers and the police, they would have understood the needs and the variety of locations of homeless citizens throughout the metro region.  They would have known what the lifestyles of the homeless really were and would have been able to draft a policy that would have been realistic for their homeless citizens and not just the idea of a single man with a backpack.

3. "Safety" had too many exceptions
Because the policy was enacted by the mayor’s office, there were many areas in Portland that were swept because they were outside the influence of the mayor.  Certain bureaus, ODOT, Metro and other agencies felt no requirement to follow the mayor’s policy.  Clean and Safe, who is contracted with the city through Central City Concern to clean up camps in the downtown area continued to sweep without halting.  Because there was no clear indication where the Safe Sleep policy was enforced, the homeless didn’t know where they could go to participate in it. 

4. The policy depended on volunteers to enforce it
The city only had a few employees to communicate with the homeless, and the police, not being social workers, didn’t see it as their job to communicate the mayor’s policy, so the city depended on a number of unfunded agencies to communicate the policy to the homeless.  Boots on the Ground, an organization of homeless advocates, would receive a list of homeless camps who were not in “compliance” and they would be told to re-organize the camps or else the camps would be swept.  Boots and other agencies and homeless communities were on hand to move the homeless to city-designated spots when there were too many complaints about them in one area.  And when they were set up in a designated spot, these agencies were also told to organize the camps and to keep the peace. If an area didn’t have a sanitation pick up, the volunteer organizations were asked to pick up trash.

Although these organizations did what they could, they did not have the staff to connect with the dozens of camps they were asked to organize.  They were not even given gas reimbursements, let alone with any funds to hire more staff, or to provide porta potties or trash bags.  The city drained these organizations without providing anything but more work to do.  Eventually the resources of the volunteer groups were reduced and they were no longer able to assist the city.

5. The policy was measured by public support
In the end, the measure of success of the policy didn’t depend on how well the homeless complied to the policy, but on the reduction of complaints to the city about the homeless.  The one area that the policy did succeed was in giving the homeless the false impression that they didn’t need to hide anymore.  The mayor’s office didn’t, and still does not, understand that homeless citizens to be acceptable to many of their housed neighbors, they would have to be hidden.  As long as they saw people sleeping in tents, there would always be some who assumed that defecation, trash, drug use came with it.  So the complaints increased, but there wasn’t confirmation that most of the complaints were realistic. 

There were many camps that were filled with trash and had needle caps.  But for the most part, the camps were never told, “You could stay here if you would just keep it clean.  Here are trash bags.  Fill them and set them on the side of the road and they will be picked up.” 

It is interesting, that the Safe Sleep policy did make one major difference among homeless citizens.  Many more of them clean up.  They get trash bags wherever they can and clean up their space.  They know that it is a basic requirement of them living in their space.

Many camps did major clean up.  But because the camp next to them did not, it was assumed that they were all the problem.  If an area of camps are swept there was a lot of “trash” left behind.  But that is the consequence of sweeps.  People have to leave essential possessions in a hurried sweep.

If the Safe Sleep policy were built with homeless leaders, if it were better communicated, if the city had paid workers to enforce it in a friendly and helpful way, if the policy were given more time to enact social change among the homeless population, despite public complaints, it would have worked.  As it stands, it is an example of poor government planning.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Right to Exist by Bud Stratford

Bud, a formerly homeless person, wrote an article for the International Network of Street Papers.  The full article, including a portion of Bud's story, can be found here. 

 I think that The Founding Fathers simply took for granted an individual’s fundamental and unalienable right to exist. I really don’t think that they even questioned the notion. However, this fundamental right to exist does run headlong, in our modern society, into another quite obvious (to most people, at least) right that we all have: the right to own property. Existing by default always means taking up space, somewhere. But if you don’t have the means to either purchase, rent or obtain permission to occupy private property – and being the country that we’ve become, every single square inch of it is ultimately owned by somebody, somewhere – then what are you supposed to do? Cease to exist?

And that, right there, is exactly how our government chooses to cope with this problem. Deep down, I believe that their hope, wish, and strategy for “solving the homeless problem” is simply to regulate, legislate and enforce those people’s lives right out of existence. That might seem blunt, cruel, harsh, cynical, or jaded. But if you look at what the City of Los Angeles, along with scores of cities and towns all across this great country of ours, is actually doing on a day-to-day basis the strategy becomes all-too-clear. Either move ’em, or enforce ’em… literally… to death. That’s the strategy.

But we can certainly do better. And, we certainly should.

The reason that we have “class warfare” in this country today is because of our society’s hypocrisy on the merits, and the legalities, of these issues. Not only do the [legally recognised] right of individuals to own private property regularly cross paths with, and bump heads against, an individual’s (legally unrecognised) right to exist, but a great majority of the time, if and when these two issues meet in the courtroom, the judgement of the gavel will invariably fall in favour of the property owner’s right to do whatever he wants to do with his property. Including casting others out of it, if that’s what he or she chooses to do, which is an important right in this country. But one that unfortunately, and regularly, trumps the rights of people without means to even exist.

Our society’s hypocrisy comes immediately to light, once we consider the ‘Right To Life’ movement. It is a movement that maintains that unborn children in the womb, have very real and tangible rights to exist. But once they’re out of the womb suddenly, those people no longer have the right to exist, until they’re lucky or skilful enough to obtain property rights of their own, and exercise them. Or the ‘All Lives Matter’ movement (a cynical counterpoint to the Black Lives Matter movement), which should really be saying, ‘All Lives Matter… As Long As They Have Suitable and Sufficient Means’.

Now, what kind of sense does that really make?

If all lives truly mattered, wouldn’t that extend to the poor just as much as it applies to everybody else?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Compassion Crisis

We don't have a homeless crisis-- we got plenty of that.

We don't have a housing crisis-- we got lots and lots of houses.

What we have is a compassion crisis, a crisis that fails to understand that poor people are the equal of those with wealth.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Value, part 2

It's okay for a wealthy person to live in an RV for a couple years. But if the person is poor, they're homeless and they can't get a spot.
It's okay for a "successful" person to have a job that barely makes ends meet. But if a person looks poor, or has to get food stamps, then they are shamed and degraded.
It's okay for a millionaire who has filed for bankruptcy to ask for a loan, even from the government. Any hard-working low income person who tries to do that will be laughed out of the office.
It's okay for a wealthy person to camp in a national forest. But if a homeless person does it, they are "taking advantage of the system."
In our country, those with wealth can bend the rules, and it's okay. Because the rules were made for them in the first place.
The place of the poor in this country are the jails, the unsustainable wage, the apartments with black mold, the shelters with bed bugs. And if the poor finds these places unlivable or unacceptable, then they had best stop breathing, because there is no other space for them in our cities.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Simple Answer Isn't Really Simple

How to end homelessness

The simple answer:
Find a homeless person. Give them a place to live. Tell them, "This is your place. As long as you don't harm anyone, you are welcome to stay here. No one will take it away from you." Then give them time. They will find out how to thrive on their own, because that's what they want to do. It just takes time.
Then, do that with all other homeless people.

The more complicated answer:

-Not all homeless people are ready for a place.  They have been abused and thrown into addiction and harmed and experienced trauma that they might not trust any place that you give them.  It will take time.  And they may not stay.  But in time, if they feel safe, they will heal and grow and become ready to give back.

-Not all homeless people are safe.  If you have an extra room and you want to host a homeless person, that's fantastic.  But in reality, unless you know them, they may not be safe.  NEVER, NEVER take in a homeless person unless you really know them.  This means spending time with them on the street.  Listening to them.  Understanding them.  And then deciding if they would fit into your housing situation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


The funny thing is that money has the value we give it. A few years ago Brazil changed their currency to give greater value to their dollar, called the Real. Today, Bitcoin is a real currency, in certain areas (like kidnapping ransoms) because people give it imaginary value.
We place that same kind of imaginary value on people. When a person becomes a celebrity or makes a huge salary, or becomes a successful politician, they haven't changed as a person, but their value increases dramatically. They gain opportunities they would never have had before their increased value, and they obtain economic opportunities with little effort that they never could have dreamed of.
The opposite also happens. When a family member becomes homeless, it is frequent that their family trusts them less. When a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, like schizophrenia, a person may not change but they are seen as less trustworthy. When a person moves into a nursing home, they become an object to be pushed around instead of a human being to be heard.
All people are equally valuable. Some may be more important than others, but no one is more valuable than another. Each human being is a society, and each human life is priceless. Perhaps media may treat one person over another (which usually means they have greater entertainment value than others), and insurance rates values certain people higher than others. But our cities and nations have a responsibility to treat each citizen equally, no matter what their wealth, power or fame. Each citizen should be given an equal right to live, to exist in their community. No one should be harassed or harmed in any way unless they are proven to be a criminal.
May God have mercy on our nation.

Calling the Police

The police, many times a day, receives a call or tweet about how the homeless are disturbing their neighborhood, committing crimes, and leaving drug paraphernalia and trash. When the police get there, they see a crime scene or trash, and they see homeless folks, but they don't see any direct evidence between the two subjects. But they move the homeless along, because offended housed people are more important than homeless people trying to survive.

Yes, there are homeless people who commit crimes. So when you see them do crimes, go ahead and call the police. Otherwise, don't make assumptions, and don't call the police because you don't like homeless people in your neighborhood. The police have better things to do than to harass the poor.

And so, might I suggest, do you.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Society and the End of Homelessness

In many cities of the US, the homeless are obvious.  They can’t be hidden, there aren’t enough services or shelters to keep them from the public eye.  They are a part of our landscape.  However, this is unacceptable.  It might be upsetting because it stirs one’s pity, perhaps because it is a display of the failure of our society.  Or it might be upsetting because these homeless are failures to themselves and to their society and they are now littering up the landscape with their own persons.
In determining what, as a city or a society, we are to do with the homeless, we need to remember a few things. 

·         First, that no homeless person chose homelessness as a long term lifestyle.  Some people like camping, but a lifestyle of camping, especially in winter, is only for a few rugged individuals that the far majority of homeless do have the resources or temperament to endure.   

·         The term “transient” is a misnomer. Most homeless do not move around, but they stay in the place where they were living when they became homeless, especially if it is their hometown where they grew up.

·         Addiction, criminal behavior and severe mental illness among the homeless is, more often than not, a result of chronic homelessness, not a cause of it.  Most homelessness is caused by the loss of a job, eviction, abuse or broken relationships.

The “homeless problem” is not the homeless themselves.  The problem is that society is of multiple mindsets about the homeless, and so the solution to homeless individuals evades us.   The general attitude that the homeless need to pick themselves up and solve their own problem is impractical, especially as long as society increases punishment on people for being without a space to live.  If camping is made illegal, if the homeless are forced to regularly move, if they are forced to have police contact multiple times a week for just being in a space, if they are ticketed for sleeping, then they are living as if they are in an abusive relationship with society.  They will never succeed to escaping their place, even if they will want to.  And why would they want to?  To accept their place in society is to admit that their treatment in society is correct. 

What can we as society agree on?  That we want the homeless to live inside, have a job, pull their own weight.  Why hasn’t this happened?  Because for every hand offered out to the homeless to help them, there are five that slap them down through bureaucracy, tickets, high rent, background checks and stress that leads to depression and despair.

There is no one step paths out of homelessness.  One can’t just “get a job” and so escape their economic collapse.  To get the homeless off the street is a complex set of opportunities, helps and encouragement to self-sustainability that requires a society’s will to be focused clearly on this accomplishment.  This is especially when society as a whole is constantly affirming their own self-fulfilling prophecy that the homeless are failures who can never amount to anything when they see program after program fail on their own without support from other programs.

After helping the homeless get off the street through a variety of means the last twenty years, I have seen that there is a minimum of programs that must be offered in order for the homeless to successfully get off the street.

1.       A political voice
Before any solutions are made for a minority group (whether racial or economic), that group must be listened to for any solution to be successful.  Every group must take ownership of any solution for them to buy into the solution.  The easiest way for a group to buy into a solution is to be the main part of forming the solution.  In every level of political solutions to homelessness, the homeless must be involved.

2.       Safety
The major issue that a homeless person has to endure everyday are issues that most housed people consider only briefly—How will I eat?  How will I keep my possessions secure?  How will I keep my person safe?   How will I be able to sleep without being disturbed?  These questions, focused on survival, cause the homeless person to not thrive.  If they are solved, they can then focus on the next economic levels.  Some solutions for this are 24-hour shelters, community living (like organized camps), or a combination of day shelters and overnight shelters.

3.       Self-reliant relief
To help the homeless deal with their survival issues, community centers can be provided to help.  However, the community centers don’t have to be giving centers.  Instead of providing cooked food, a center can provide a kitchen for one to cook food obtained from EBT cards.   Instead of giving sleeping bags or clothes, there can be an exchange program or work-for-help.   Homeless camps can be provided with trash bags and pick ups to keep their camps clean.

4.       Support network
Even if a homeless person obtains a job and a home, they need a network of people to assist them when crises happen.  If a person lives in their car a hundred dollar car repair can cause a person to lose their home.  If a person has a tent stolen from them, they are in crisis.  Support groups, especially over social media, can be developed to assist the homeless in moments of crisis.  They can also provide necessary transportation, contacts and relationships to survival.

5.       Crisis management/counselling
The homeless, by necessity, develop a moment-by-moment focus.  However, to thrive in our society we must be more forward thinking, planning for the inevitabilities of the future and setting goals and plans in place.  To be assisted to switch one’s focus, trusted counselors, possibly of the ranks or formerly of the ranks of the homeless, are necessary to help one survive in this world.

6.       Flexible housing
Housing, of course, is a main component to escape homelessness.  It could be an apartment, a shelter or a transitional housing.  But the housing must be flexible enough to actually survive in real-life society.   When one gets a job, it will often be outside normal shelter hours, often legitimate survival activity cannot be limited to certain hours and curfews.  Any housing, to be successful must take the needs of the individual into account.

7.       Job opportunities
A person without an address is not offered a job which would be enough for them to survive.  To obtain a job, one must have an address, a resume, a work history, and references.  The best programs provide these for the homeless so they can get a job, which is the best means to economic survival in our society.

A multi-faceted approach must be seriously established if homelessness is to be seen as a means to a solution, and not just the end of one’s economic life.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

More than a Fence: What Gresham, Oregon is doing to the Homeless

Amber lives on the streets of Gresham, and she is tired of being harassed. She has been told to move four times in the last three days. She is a good worker, preparing meals at a local church for the hungry two times this week, and working in their clothing room every week.
"They are telling us, 'You know that camping is illegal in Gresham, don't you?' They told me that next time they see me they will arrest me for camping. Were are we supposed to go? I'm tired of being forced to move every day."
People should not be forced to leave unless they have a place to go. Sixty five percent of the homeless in Gresham come from Gresham. It is time for Gresham to take care of their own, and provide solutions, not abuse.

What else are Gresham and their services doing?
-Ticketing the homeless for sleeping (Gresham Police)

-Threatening arrests for camping (Gresham police)

-Verbally excluding people from the city (Gresham police)

-Telling the homeless to go to Portland (Gresham police)

-Refusing to put out a fire on a homeless camp (Gresham Fire)

-Refusing to allow shelters to be built in Gresham (City Hall didn't allow Human Solutions to build a family shelter in city limits)

-Bulldozing homeless camps (Troutdale)

-Fencing all of Gresham's part of Springwater Trail (Mayor of Gresham)

-Severe fines (over a thousand dollars) for those who camp there (Gresham City Council)

-Claiming to rely on JOIN, when they know that JOIN has no money until June 

-Denying their responsibility to help with any kind of social services (Gresham City Council) 

-Telling the homeless to move to the RedBarn (a church service for the homeless) which will be penalized if they allow camping on their property (Gresham Police)

-Sending monthly code violations/penalties to the RedBarn, without clarifying what should be fixed (Gresham Code Department)

-Claiming that RedBarn is responsible for the homeless in Gresham (Gresham police)

-Offering 30 days to pick up possessions, but throwing them away ("Unauthorized campsite" notice)

-Leaving notices to contact 211 for services, then claiming that Gresham has no overnight shelters, thus forcing campers to leave the city. ("Unauthorized campsite" notice)

Sending officers to the homeless who have been penalized for attacking the homeless (Officer Durbin of the Gresham Police)

Most of these happened this last week.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Tough Love

Marcine grew up abused by her father. She left home early, got a job and worked hard. Someone had lied about her and so she lost that job. The stress of her life was too overwhelming, so she sat in her apartment, unable to seek another job. “They won’t hire me because I was fired from my last job.” Soon she was evicted. She wouldn’t go home to her father, so she was homeless.

She went to a local church and obtained a tent, a sleeping bag and a tarp. A homeless man showed her a safe place to stay. She didn’t feel safe, so she got a boyfriend who would protect her. After a while, when his trauma showed through, he would beat her. She left him with her tent and sleeping bag, leaving her only with a blanket.

She slept in a park, under a bench. She stayed there all day except when there was a meal going on. She had no energy to do anything. A neighbor found her and said, “You are so lazy! Look at the trash under the bench! Get up and find a job!” She rolled over and stayed under the table.
The first neighbor told a second that there was a homeless person under the park table. The second said, “But there are children that play in that park! Homeless people use drugs! And are thieves! This person is dangerous!” And they called the police.

The police came over and looked at her under the table. There wasn’t much trash there, just a small pile. There were no needles, and one empty beer can. But she couldn’t stay there. “This is a park. You aren’t allowed to stay here.” She was so exhausted, she ignored him. “Ma’am, you will have to leave. Now.” She just laid there. “If you don’t get up, I’ll have no choice but to arrest you.” In the end, that’s what he did. Arrested her for trespassing on city property. As he was driving her in, he said, “I hope this teaches you a lesson. You are a good girl. You just need some tough love.”

Ninety-five percent of all homeless men have experienced trauma and PTSD. One hundred percent of all homeless women have experienced trauma. The homeless have experienced enough tough love. They need solutions.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

War on the Homeless

The city of Gresham, Oregon has declared war on their homeless.
They have said that their homeless comes from Portland, but a recent survey found that 65 percent of the homeless in Gresham came from Gresham.
They have denied permission for the Human Solutions family shelter to be located in Gresham.
They have blocked 60 acres of property where the homeless were camped for "environmental" reasons, but offered no services or help for those forced out.
Saturday night at 7pm they went through another area and gave the homeless one hour to pack up their camps and move. One woman came to her camp in the middle of their sweep, they gave her twenty minutes to move.
Mayor Shane said that Gresham would be "compassionate" to their homeless. Where is the compassion?

It seems like they just want to move all the homeless to Portland. Take responsibility for your own, Gresham.

In the Mayor's "State of the City" speech, he mentions Our Father's House and JOIN as organizations they are partnering with to help the homeless in the city. This is true. Our Father's House is a great organization, helping certain families get on their feet. But the majority of the homeless are without children. And Human Solutions shelters more of Gresham's homeless families than OFH does, because OFH rightly focuses on only some homeless so they can better help them. JOIN is out of funding, and they are housing no one right now until more funding is released. Even then, they were able to house 75 people last year, most of which later became homeless through lack of support. JOIN is also a great organization but they are a small group compared to the size of the issue.

So Mayor Shane is depending on two groups who can help only a hundred of the many hundreds of homeless in the city. For everyone else, he uses the police to force them out of the city. It is time to offer real help, real compassion. It is time to listen to the majority of citizens who attended the Listening Session on the Homeless last year, who said that the homeless needs a place to sleep, there should be shelters. There should be real solutions, in Gresham, for the Gresham homeless.

Transcript of a portion of Mayor Shane Bemis' State of the City speech: I’ll be perfectly clear: homelessness is a bigger issue in the greater Portland area than it has been since the pioneers on the Oregon Trail moved from their Conestoga wagons into wooden structures. That’s not hyperbole; unfortunately, it is reality. It is unconscionable to me that we let our homeless subsist in shantytowns.
That is not the Gresham ethic. For years, Gresham has greeted this issue with compassion and solutions, in an environment that is short on both. This is the city where My Father’s House built a family shelter without a single dime of public money. This is a community that has consistently supported Human Solutions in their efforts to rehabilitate people to employment and self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, there are those who would sit back and believe that, for some people, camping out on our trails and in our open spaces is the best they can do. For context, let me show you what some of these “solutions” look like.
[photo montage]
Now, I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that there is obviously nothing humane or acceptable about those images. I have deeply admired Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury’s interest in, and leadership on, this issue. She has put the County’s money where her mouth is and has pledged a substantial increase in the funding available to tackle homelessness. She has also set aside a modest appropriation for Gresham, which we will use to provide a balance of social work, vocational rehabilitation, clean-up and law enforcement services, starting next month. Chair Kafoury and Commissioner McKeel, once again, thank you for your partnership. 9
This new program will add to our existing relationship with JOIN, which we have increased in recent years to move people out of homelessness. If you aren’t familiar with their work, JOIN is an organization that takes some of the toughest cases and resolves them through a housing-first model. With this combination of efforts, I am confident that we will continue to make progress in getting people housed. Now, that said, we also absolutely will not sit idly by and watch the fallout of this issue destroy our natural resources and threaten our neighborhood livability. Starting this week, we have implemented a natural resource exclusion along the Springwater Trail, just to the north of Gresham’s Southwest Neighborhood. For too long we’ve watched habitat investments in the millions be threatened by a small group of self-proclaimed “homeless constitutionalists”–whatever that means. Well, that stops now. We will be restricting a 60-acre area to any and all human activity, homeless or not, until such time as the environment can rebound. Hopefully this course of action will provide some relief for the environment, the neighborhood and provide an opportunity to get some of our most society-resistant individuals into stable housing and opportunity.
Homelessness is an overwhelmingly broad societal issue impacting communities across the nation, especially up and down the west coast. As a nation, we have a lot of work to do to change the economic, substance abuse and mental health circumstances that too often lead to homelessness, and we also need to take a close look at some of the legal restrictions that too often tie the hands of local governments to maintain health, safety and order in their communities.
Once again, I don’t want to sound uncompassionate on this issue, because I am not. I spent part of my childhood in a mobile home, and many people have it even worse than me. To be clear, my roots are modest. At the same time, I am beyond exasperated by the absurd notion that pitching tents under freeway overpasses or occupying our parks and trails is any sort of solution whatsoever. Those who believe so need to do some deep soul searching and reconnect with the sensible people they represent.
Our approach to homelessness in Gresham is, and will continue to be, compassionate, but it will not be delusional. Our Neighborhood Enforcement Team, very popular already amongst our residents, will get an extra boost, and become the Neighborhood Enhancement Action Team, or NEAT, if you will.