Vendor Leo Rhodes: Portland was a place to rest — and renew street activism


I have been in Portland since about the first week of March. I came from Seattle, Wash., where I started my advocacy on homelessness specifically for shelters and tent cities. But I have also spoken up for other causes dealing with homelessness.

In Seattle, December 2001, I was in a shelter under a bridge. The shelter folks were looking for an indoor space. Through an ally (Bob “Uncle Bob” Santos), we got a space with the Port of Seattle. A billion-dollar industry gave homeless people space for two weeks. When the two weeks were up, we went to thank the Port of Seattle commissioners. Three quarters through my speech a commissioner motioned that they would give us 30 more days. It was unanimous. I thought, “Wow, people are listening.”

The shelter is called “Safe Haven.” It’s one of 14 indoor shelters with an organization called SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort). Share is an organization homeless and formerly homeless people trying to resolve homelessness. In addition to the shelters, SHARE has two tent cities (I helped start one), a housing for work program called SHARE II, and storage lockers.

SHARE is self-managed with very little staff. It’s sister organization, WHEEL (Women’s, Housing, Equality, Enhancement, League) is made up of homeless and formerly homeless women dealing with related issues.

Through my association with SHARE and WHEEL in Seattle, I spoke to elected officials, church congregations, high schools, grade schools, neighborhoods, radio and television reporters, and so on. I have worked to prevent shelters from being closed, and to keep a low-income apartment complex from being demolished. I spoke on behalf of SHARE about its indoor shelters and tent cities. I was SHARE’s treasurer.

I helped start a Native American indoor shelter for homeless native Americans (Chief Seattle Club), worked with a social justice group called L.E.L.O, trying to get low-income and homeless people on a construction job, and was one of two homeless people on King County’s 10-year plan to end homelessnes. I’ve also started to write a book about tent city 4.

So after all that, I had come to Portland to rest and visit a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Then I saw all the homeless people out on the streets and heard about the sit-lie ordinance. I thought to myself, this is crazy. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to get involved. I came to Portland to rest.

I heard that they were going to have a hearing on the sit/lie ordinance. So I thought I’d go down and check it out. But not get involved, I’ll just show support.

When I got to City Hall, there weren’t that many people there. And even less signed up to speak. So I signed up. One thing led to another, and now I’m back in the fight on homelessness.

The way I see this fight is that it’s not about fame, it is not about fortune, and it’s not about getting awards. It is about getting the job done, getting the homeless in a safe, secure place.

If you want to read my stories, get ready for a roller coaster ride. If you’re in for the long haul – e-mails, rallies and/or direct action — well then, let’s make history!

Leo Rhodes is a street activist and homeless advocate. He is also a vendor with Street Roots and a regular contributor to the newspaper. His street name is The Wanderer.

Check out Leo copy editing his column.

5 responses to “Vendor Leo Rhodes: Portland was a place to rest — and renew street activism

  1. Hey Leo…I miss seeing you here in Seattle! Miss sitting around at Nickelsville listening to your stories. Blessings on your future bro.

  2. Hey Dustin, I miss you also , well all of you guys. Take care I’ll be back some time.

  3. Patty Dickerson

    Tried to leave you a note a few minutes ago. It erased it. Drop me a line when you can. Keep mup the good fight.

  4. Pingback: Rest In Peace (Excuse me if I don’t cry. I’m putting on my game face) « PoMotion: production of poetry

  5. Leo if you want help let me know I am in seAttle

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