Advocates for the homeless, including people on the streets, have a tendency to fall prey to becoming victims and responding to any number of crisis situations that unfold in our city in a scattered and sometimes divisive way. Be it criminalization issues, lack of housing, treatment, police brutality, etc., etc.
It’s not a good place to be.
It’s mostly the result of constantly facing trauma. Be it someone who is living outdoors with the rats and the crows, or individuals working on the front lines who deal with the secondary trauma day in and day out, until it becomes their own.
Homelessness is frightening. It’s abusive, cruel, and holds no logic. From attacks against women, bum bashing, being forced from one geographical location to another by law enforcement, to the emotional and verbal abuse that occurs against individuals on the streets — it’s easy to see why we are forced into playing the victims role. It’s easy to blame a political system, or ideology for people experiencing poverty and to claim poor people are not to blame. But that seems like a cop-out too. Street Roots works with dozens of street papers from around the world — some who fall under socialist or communist political systems and those that fall under a capitalist structure like ours. Regardless of the system, one thing is constant, homeless people are forced to deal with unimaginable human conditions. Be it the hundreds of people who freeze to death in Russia every year because of the lack of basic shelter, or the hundreds of people disappeared by police departments in Brazil or South Africa. So what gives?
Street Roots believes we have to turn over a new leaf. To work with people from all political spectrums and to organize people for the betterment of people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Do we always get it right? Absolutely not. But we have to give kudos to people and organizations who work on the front lines of poverty, be it the Portland Business Alliance, the anarchists, homeless organizations or neighborhood groups. We all have a place in this fight, and together we will be able to accomplish much more than tearing one another down.
In the next year, Portland and the region will lose millions of dollars of revenue for homelessness and housing through a decline in increment tax financing revenues, state budget shortfalls and a broken economy that refuses to correct itself under the current system.
Local officials have done an amazing job, both at the county and city, to keep the safety net as a top priority. It’s not a given. In communities around the country, the safety net is being slashed. Saying that, it’s time for something big. That means building a local movement for housing made up of diverse individuals who have the political will to create and pass a housing levy, to create a common thread to ask our state and federal officials to prioritize housing and homeless services, to push through tired rhetoric and create something different. Something everyone, regardless of your political leaning or lot in life can stand behind.
Without a movement like this, we can guarantee that we will continue down the same path, engaged in the same old fight, bound by the constructs of the same loaded game. We have to break the cycle, and it’s going to take each and every one of us.