Street Roots editorial from the January 7, edition
“Whenever I see the police kill another homeless person, my heart cries out and I shed a tear. When is enough, enough? These people are just housing challenged. Who knows what their background may be or their chances at success in life?” Thank God I am clean and sober and now have the ability to live inside. It could have been me.”
These are the words posted this week on Street Roots’ Facebook page by former vendor Justin Dalby, a 20-something street youth who had spent most of his life in and out of prison and institutions.
This is the same Justin Dalby who a year ago was living on the streets and was getting into fights and experiencing the harsh realities of homelessness.
In fact, police officers had dropped by SR on one occasion to tell us that Justin was too aggressive and that if we didn’t find a way to calm him down, they would have to bring him in. On another occasion, the police had to subdue Justin and his pit bull in front of the SR office.
We told the police that we believed Justin could go either way, and we weren’t ready to give up on him. SR has seen far too many individuals on the streets like Justin who have lived a violent and tortured past — people who are trying to find stability in a world that has been shattered from the start. There is no logic and sometimes no place to turn for the resources needed.
Fortunately, Justin never gave up on himself. Today, he is in stable housing and working at a local gas station. He has been sober for more than a year.
What does Justin’s story have to do with the recent shooting of a homeless individual who died of gunshot wounds, or the homeless individuals who were beaten by gang members last week, or the individual who froze to death during the cold spell? Justin’s story matters because he was able to transcend homelessness and find stable housing and personal stability, unlike so many of the individuals who experienced the cruelty we have come to know as homelessness.
Despite years of public outrage and talk of improving trust, people experiencing poverty — many times dealing with a mental health issues — continue to be shot by police officers. Knowing first hand the violence that exists on the streets, we also know there has to be another way.
We also recognize that the police are working a tough beat and have recently worked to apprehend the individuals who assaulted two homeless people, and dealt with the realities of finding an individual who froze to death. It all equals trauma — trauma for the community and trauma for the police officers involved. And thousands of people experience that trauma night in and night out on Portland’s streets. The simple answer to this trauma is housing and stability.
Like Justin, and the countless souls that have found a productive and meaningful life beyond the streets, there is hope. For the ones that have died on the streets needlessly, and there are many, we have to do better. And that means housing should be the highest priority for our city. People’s lives are depending on it.