Tag Archives: Leo Rhodes

A room with a view: One year on in housing


By Leo Rhodes, Contributing Columnist

Dec. 7, 1941, is a day that will live infamy, as President Roosevelt put it. Coming from Arizona, this day was and still is a big date as the USS Arizona became the first ship to sink into Pearl Harbor that December morning. In the Northeast corner of Arizona is the Navajo reservation where most of the Navajo code talkers came from. My hero, Ira Hayes — one of the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima — came from my reservation. Also on my reservation were two internment camps. Years later, I was asked to write poems for the 20th anniversary of the memorial for the camps. What I was going to write was a comparison of how they treated the Japanese-Americans to how they treat the homeless today.

Change of plans. Continue reading

From Land Ho to Right 2 Dream Too, a look back from one year on

By Leo Rhodes

Checking my e-mails and working on some of my project in the Street Roots office, I was interrupted by an excited vendor. He asked if I had seen an article in The Portland Tribune.

His eyes lit up as he explained that a man wanted to start a tent city, and that I should read the article. I told him I would. The next day the same guy asked if I read the article. “I forgot all about it,” I told him. Then I told him, “I’ll read it tonight after I finish all my work.” This went on a few more times. I kept forgetting to read the article. He finally brought in the article and placed it in front of me and said, “Here read it.” So I read it. Then he said, “See, he wants to start a tent city.” I looked at him and said, “Not really. He just wants to work with the homeless to use his land. He replied, “To start a tent city. You should jump on this before someone else does.” Continue reading

Plaintiff in camping lawsuit puts award toward homeless campers

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Leo Rhodes, one of nine plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city over homeless camping, says he will take his small payment from the settlement and give it to, well, other controversial homeless campers.

Rhodes was unhappy with the recent settlement, which presents new guidelines for police but falls short of reversing the city’s anti-camping ordinances, because, he says, it doesn’t address the larger problem of people who are homeless having no place to go.

“All my money is going toward Right 2 Dream Too,” Rhodes says, referring to the rest site for people experiencing homelessness at the corner of Northwest Fourth Avenue and Burnside. “Because this is giving them a place to go — some stability and some sanity. Where they can have a safety zone.”

It’s not a lot of money, a few hundred dollars each under the terms of the settlement finalized earlier this month. Continue reading

Right 2 Dream Too more practical than political

By Leo Rhodes, Contributing Columnist

In 2009 when I first came to Portland, I came to rest from all the advocacy I had done in Seattle.  A friend came to me and showed me minutes from the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness (CCEH). The minutes stated that the committee was not keeping up with putting people in housing. Sally Erikson took this issue to Commissioner Nick Fish. Commissioner Fish said to get eight or nine people together and brainstorm on what to do. I was one of those people.

The alternative committee came up with about 15 ways to help the homeless: from people sleeping in cars in empty parking lots, to rental assistance, to tent cities. CCEH prioritized them from 1 to 15. The results were supposed to come out to the city commissioners and mayor of Portland in January 2010. They were put on hold because of an anti-camping lawsuit. They have been on the back burner over since. Continue reading

Street Roots honored by Portland’s Veterans For Peace

Leo Rhodes, (above) Street Roots vendor, board member and columnist, recently accepted an award from the Portland Chapter of Veterans For Peace for the paper’s ongoing work to raise awareness about veterans issues.

The award was given at during the Veterans For Peace National Convention held in Portland April 3-7. The Veterans For Peace conference drew around 400 people from across the country for a schedule of workshops, trainings and reflections on the movement.

Rhodes, himself a veteran who has been homeless, accepted the award and spoke briefly to the audience. The award recognizes Street Roots’ “sustained, candid and compassionate media coverage of veterans, the true cost of war, and justice for veterans and victims of war.”

Over the years, Street Roots has reported on homeless veterans and the personal consequences of war on Americans and people living in war ravaged countries. We’ve covered recruitment tactics within minority communities, the U.S. application of torture, and the long-term damage of battle related post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness. More recently, Street Roots has produced a series of reports on traumatic brain injuries, including blasts from war zones, and their link to declining health and homelessness.

Posted by Joanne Zuhl

Vendor Leo Rhodes helps open the Bud Clark Commons

Commissioner Nick Fish, former Mayor Bud Clark and Executive Director of TPI Doreen Binder

Today a crowd of around 200 people gathered at the Bud Clark Commons for the a grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting. The new development will offer a 130 units of housing for people on the streets, a 90-bed shelter and a community space that includes a range of services.

Street Roots vendor and poet Leo Rhodes read the poem “Being Human”during the opening.

Being Human?
I am the voice you never hear
If I spoke would you listen?
I am the ugly duckling
Visable in your pretty little world
I am the criminal when I try to sleep
I am the nuisance
Trying to keep dry out of the rain
I am the homeless person
Looking for dignity and a safe secure place

Poetic Justice: Street poets break down stereotypes and prejudice with the power of words

By Devan Schwartz, Contributing Writer

The audience is quiet. Lights rise slowly, backlighting the stage. There are silhouettes of men and women seated there. A woman steps to a stage-right podium, a man to another.

She recites a poem, the proscenium illumined by a burnt orange filter; he begins to read his own. One after another, like a revolving door, the poets share original work. Their words puncture the audience’s egos, drawing us into their worlds.  Some are nervous reading aloud. Others are seasoned performers who wait for laughter, the sinking in of emotion.

We are occupying the Sellwood Masonic Temple in Southeast Portland. The event, co-produced by Lunacy Stageworks and Street Roots, brings to life some of the most affecting voices of local homeless and street writers.

In a way it’s an awakening to hear the poetry, which transcends the basic needs of food, shelter and employment so often paramount to survival. The poets’ desires for basic needs certainly come out in the writing, though an array of content inhabits the event’s atmosphere: from salient political issues (sit-lie ordinance, City of Portland’s camping ban), to drug addiction and love affairs that withered on the vine. There’s desperation to the words, resigned humor, an overt hopefulness. Their poems are as simple and complex as the human spirit itself.

“Poetry breaks through classes,” says Ann Singer, fundraiser and special events coordinator for Lunacy Stageworks. “It can come from anywhere. And if you have that talent you can break through class boundaries. Audiences say ‘that’s a great poet; that’s a great writer.’” Continue reading

Memorial rededicated as part of Nikkei celebration

Photo courtesy of Murase Associates

Street Roots vendor joins memorial with poetry

The Japanese American Historial Plaza, with its solemn pillars and rolling landscape, is an award-winning monument to our past, a place of respite and remembrance, and a place to both acknowledge and educate.

As part of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment 20th anniversary this year, ONE is hosting a rededication of the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Tom McCall Waterfront Park this Friday. The Plaza was originally dedicated in August 1990 to remember the hardships of Japanese immigrants during World War II and honor the bravery of the Japanese community. The poetry of Lawson Inada, among others — including Street Roots vendor Leo Rhodes — will be read as part of the ceremony.

Beginning at 5 p.m. at the Plaza, the celebration will include special guests Justice Michael Gillette of the Oregon Supreme Court; Lawson Inada, Oregon Poet Laureate 2006-2010; the Minidoka Swing Band; Portland Taiko, and many others.

A special collaborative project between Portland poet and writer Kaia Sand, Sisters of the Road, Street Roots, Transition Projects, Inc. and Oregon Nikkei Endowment will be part of this event.

The celebration then continues at the Bill Naito Legacy Fountain, just steps away from the Plaza, with a musical performance by The Slants. Crafts, food and beer will be on hand celebrate this award-winning landmark.

Tickets can be purchased at www.oregonnikkei.org.

Posted by Joanne Zuhl

Humor salves the soul and binds a family together

By Leo Rhodes

In the worst of times I always tried to find humor, to alleviate tension. Sometimes others did the same.

After a three-hour meeting in one of Seattle’s tent cities — three hours of debating, negotiating, and strategizing — I raised my hand to speak. The people in tent city listened intently as I spoke. Knowing that I make a lot of meetings, they thought this must be important.

I said, “You all know I went on a little vacation. So I have some pictures.” I heard some groans and some “aw mans.” Everybody started leaving.

“Hey get back here I’m serious, don’t you want to see my pictures?”  I went on to say; somebody went by me saying, “Meeting adjourned.”

One time a big windstorm hit the tent city. Four or five tents blew away. We found two of them. The other three tents are probably floating somewhere in space. I always say I want to call NASA and ask if the space shuttle has seen our tents, and if they can use their mechanical arm to retrieve them. Continue reading

Vendor Leo Rhodes shares a common bond, poetry with Oregon Poet Laureate

Leo Rhodes, Lawson Inada, Kaia Sands

Last night, in the drizzling cold, a crowd of around 50 gathered to hear several local poets read their work in downtown Portland’s Director’s Park. Among them were vendor, poet and Street Roots columnist Leo Rhodes, who was invited specifically to read with Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada.

Both Rhodes and Inada share a common ground, solidarity beyond even poetry.

At four years old Inada, a Japanese American, was taken prisoner for the duration of World War II and held in internment camps throughout the West. Inada has written extensively about his experiences, including the poem “Healing Gila, for the people”  (below) about Japanese experiences on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona during that time period.

Rhodes, a Pima Indian grew up on the Gila River Indian Reservation in the 1970s.

Two weeks ago, during a workshop facilitated by Kaia Sand, Rhodes was introduced to Inada’s work, and the poem “Healing Gila, for The People.”  Realizing the poem was generated by an experience from the very reservation he grew up on thirty years before, he was immediately touched, and set out to work on a complementary piece about his experience in the context of Inada’s poem.

In a simple twist of fate, Inada and Sand were scheduled to read together at an event last night put on the by Literary Arts program of the Multnomah Arts Center and the Portland Parks Bureau that is featuring a series of one-day writing excursions this summer in various locations led by local writers called “Writing Places”.

She invited Rhodes, and, in front of the gathered crowd, introduced the two poets.  Inada and Rhodes then read their poems inspired by the Gila Reservation experiences in the context of the internment camps.

Sand also read, along with several other well-known poets, including David Abel, Alison Cobb, Chris Daniels, and Joseph Bradshaw.

Sand has been featured in Street Roots and is currently working in partnership with the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, Street Roots, Sisters of the Road, and TPI on a project exploring the parallels between people experiencing homelessness and the treatment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. The project will be highlighted during the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Japanese Plaza in July.

Gila, the Internment Camp on Gila Indian Reservation, By Leo Rhodes

I didn’t know their names or faces
I really didn’t know too much of their history
All I’ve seen was slabs of concrete in the ground
Foundations I was told for peoples long ago
Elders spoke of soldiers, barbed wire, and barracks
“Prisoners?” I would ask
“No” would be the reply
With stares of pain and concern

The life of Leo Rhodes

Leo Rhodes is a Street Roots vendor, columnist, board member and homeless advocate. His work has been highlighted in the newspaper throughout 2009.

He sells the newspaper almost daily in the Hollywood neighborhood in Northeast and has been a staple at city council meetings and homeless protests over the past year.

His tireless work has led him to work with the Portland Housing Bureau on the 10-year plan to end homelessness and to reform laws targeting individuals on the streets, while being a vendor rep on the Street Roots board of directors.

Elizabeth Schwartz, a local photographer and Street Roots volunteer spent the last five months documenting Leo’s work in the community for a recent photography show at Albina Community Bank about the lives of people who sell the newspaper.

Leo at his vendor location in Hollywood.

Leo showing Housing Commissioner Nick Fish his recent column in Street Roots.

Leo at the Street Roots office with volunteer Becky Mullins and Kreeg Peoples.

Leo speaking at City Council. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Vendor Leo Rhodes proofs his new column in the paper



Leo Rhodes has been picked by vendors at Street Roots to be the organizations rep when working with the city and county on housing alternatives. He will be writing a monthly column about his experiences. At today’s vendor meeting – vendors all gave input about what they would like to see from the city and gave Leo a round of applause for representing them.

Vendors corner: Leo Rhodes

Leo Rhodes B&W

Homeless advocate Leo Rhodes moved from Seattle to Portland a couple of months ago to get some rest. He had become so preoccupied with educating people — politicians, journalists and school children  — about homelessness that he wasn’t taking time to eat and sleep properly.

Although some see him as a pillar of strength, Leo complained to me that he is “not Superman.” He told me, without sounding bitter, that others have tried to help, but no one else was “stepping up because he needed a break.” Many people expressed an interest in helping but find that they burn out after only a month or two, Leo said. But they do not have the same passion for the cause that drives Leo.

After talking to Leo for an hour, I came to realize that the ghosts of homeless friends drive him to continue his advocacy work. Continue reading

Public argues against extending Sit-Lie

Leo Rhodes

Leo Rhodes

Fritz and Fish insist they need time for further discussion

City Council heard a wave of public testimony this morning against the downtown sit-lie ordinance, which they are considering extending until at least October 23, 2009.

The 2-year-old Sidwalk Obstruction Ordinance was scheduled to expire June 8. A Street Access For Everyone committee report finding that the ordinance was predominantly enforced against homeless people was presented to council in November.

Rather than having the council decide whether or not to renew the controversial ordinance permanently, Commissioner Amanda Fritz proposed prolonging its term to give her and Commissioner Nick Fish — both relatively new to council — time to study the ordinance and discuss it with the wider community.

For the play-by-play: Continue reading