Homelessness in Portland (by Sean Fitzgerald)

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We all know that Portland and the outlying cities (and many other cities in the nation) have a large population that is homeless. That fact won’t change unless we do something about it. I am a newcomer to Portland and now work as a paramedic in Washington County so I see this on a daily basis, although it isn’t the homeless that I see calling 911 for false (or real) medical problems just to get a ride to the emergency department for a meal and a place to sleep like I did in Tucson, Az. But all the talks from the government in Oregon about “helping” get rid of homelessness wont be solved from writing a blog about it or sitting in a conference room simply talking about it. It certainly is the first step but what needs to happen is action. It boils down to a few questions with one of the questions being, “What can the city (in this case Portland) do to help get rid of or at least cut the numbers down of the homeless?”

First we need to take a look at what does a person need to survive, no matter how basic it may seem. Shelter. Our most basic structures to shield us from the elements. Could be anywhere from a tarp draped over a tree to a cardboard box to tree branches that are laid across some sort of structure. We have progressed from caves to houses that are fully auto (maybe almost fully automated) so the possibilities are endless. Food. Obviously the body can last for about three weeks with no food. This always depends on the person’s current health status. We have obviously advanced from bows and arrows or having to chase down our food, well a lot of countries have anyways. Water. This is a huge part of our lives and a huge part of our bodies. At least 60% of the adult body is made up of water. The longest we can survive without this crucial element is said to be about a week but on the safer side, like not drinking water is safe, it is said that about three or four days is “a safer estimate” of how long we can go without it. To round this portion out will be clothes to include footwear. Now it is not a requirement to have clothes, although the law states different, to live. In ancient times the clothes would range from nude to wearing animals or the newest fabrics brought over from distant lands by merchants, one as a fashion statement and two in the older days that was the wardrobe. Emphasis should always be placed on having water; food and somewhere warm, especially in the winter months.

On to the topic that seems to be left in the dust of money, power and greed. How do we “fix” or at least help the problem of homelessness in Portland. The first article I read (thinkprogress.org, Bryce Covert, Sept. 2015) was basically talking about how Los Angeles (LA) declared a state of emergency due to the fact of the number of homeless, 17700 and a day after LA declares a state of emergency, Portland declares the same but the numbers were far less, at 3800 homeless with 1887 of that number being without shelter. I don’t fully believe that 3800 is correct. I believe it’s more like 6500 or more but we will believe the article. This homeless number comes from the influx of people who have moved to the Portland area for whatever reason which has been pushing rents up at a 20 percent rate over the last five years, the sixth-highest rate in the country. The article states, “Mayor Charlie Hales (D) noted in announcing the state of emergency, “And yet we had spent millions of dollars and countless staff time.” This statement makes me a little heated. Maybe I am reading it wrong but it seems like this statement seems like they are saying they are wasting time. But back on track, the following statement is made before that comment from the mayor, “the city doesn’t have rent control or inclusionary zoning laws that would require developers to build affordable housing alongside other development. “We have no way to control the prices of our rents,” said Brandi Tuck, executive director of Portland Homeless Family Solutions. These are “tools in our toolbox that are missing.” Another article that is almost a year old stated that 10 years ago, Portland stated that they would end homelessness. Now in this article, and this is the article that made me pick, among other reasons, making care packages or buying the materials needed for the homeless and this list is geared toward the homeless in Portland.


Another this stated by this article, “Help is everywhere, and housing is not.” This starts the section that talks about a man who was homeless in Las Vegas and stated that in Las Vegas you couldn’t sleep anywhere inside the town and many lived on the outskirts but not in Portland. In Portland, you would be hard pressed to find a corner that didn’t have someone homeless sleeping or setting up some sort of camp. The problem we have is that we don’t have enough places to house all the homeless. There were talks about making establishments to try and help this but the funding isn’t there. There are a lot of people out there, many companies that are willing to help, but with their generosity, they need the real estate to build. There is always the other side to the story. I have seen many of the homeless, only because I have helped the social worker while working at a local trauma center/emergency department, that don’t want to take the help that is given. We gave the homeless that came in for care and were discharged, a resource guide to find a dry and warm place to stay, job fairs and other resources but walking out to my car after my shift, many times, I see these guides thrown on the ground. There are ways to help end or at least curb this epidemic of homelessness. We have the help needed, from people donating goods requested by shelters to contractors giving their own money staff and time to help build places where the homeless can stay, now we need the city of Portland to figure out what they can do on their side to get us the real estate and funding to fill in the gaps.


Research Resources

How to Get Involved

Being homeless is a dull topic. We have both extremes and everything in between on this topic. One extreme being, “well these people need to get jobs and work to get a house and stop receiving handouts” to “everyone needs help at some point in their life” and everything in between. I believe in a mix of both. Before I tell what I believe in, ill give you a little background of me and why I think I am able to talk about this. I was homeless for about three months, along with my mother, father and three other kids. Only difference is that my parents had jobs, just didn’t make anywhere a livable wage so we never had a place to stay longer than two or three months then back on the streets or in my fathers vehicle. Now I believe that everyone does in fact need help at some point in his or her life. But I also believe that if you teach a person to fish, they will be able to provide at a minimum, food and possible a job, both the act of fishing itself and teaching someone a skill like carpentry or welding, among others. There are times when any certain individuals life where they think that there is nothing left to keep fighting but let me tell you this, there is always a will to fight, if not within the person then with someone who cares. That person doesn’t necessarily have to be related or even know the person.

There are many ways to help out the homeless. The homeless always need clothes, from socks to shirts and pants to heavy coats for the winter season. You could volunteer to help out at a local soup kitchen or make care packages with a specific group in mind like a package specifically for males or females or groups. From reading a recent article most the shelters call for socks, hygiene supplies, clothes and tarps. After speaking to a few people who are homeless, the consensus from them was they need the stuff mentioned but also respect and I agree with them. They are human beings just like we are but are down on their luck for whatever reason. There are those times when they are completely rude and just a bad person to be around but that is few and far between. I will include a few links for local shelters and their supply lists. A great resource for those willing to be more hands on is handsonportland.org. There are many ways to help. Remember that at some point in time, you might need the help the homeless receive so don’t take your time you can help for granted.



One comment

  1. james

    Hi Sean. Your passion for this cause comes through in every paragraph. I’ve experienced brief bouts of homelessness as well, and life really does come down to the most basic of needs. I appreciate how you include respect and the “will to fight” as a basic need, and that you address that another person can provide that will when someone has lost it for himself. I wonder if the flyers on the ground that you describe represent that will being lost.

    You open with the point that what is needed more than anything is action, and in every succeeding paragraph you refer to various facets of that. You do a nice job of beginning from basic survival needs, and then moving on to human needs like respect; along the way describing the challenges faced by people who seek to fulfill those needs for others.

    Thank you for reminding us that there are many ways to help. Your commitment to the cause of helping others is commendable. Portland is lucky to have you.

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