Growing up in a small community with a huge family and even bigger network of friends has been a tremendously comforting thing. Even now its easy for me to believe that no matter, I would have a home and people that would be there for me. Unfortunately, any circumstance can change in a moment and more individuals were never lucky enough to have this sense of safety. Individuals across the county are finding themselves without options, unemployed, sick or alone. We are seeing this reality every day especially in Portland, Oregon, where there is an uneasy presence of homelessness.
In a truly unfortunate epidemic, more than 4,000 people sleep in the streets and in shelters on any given night in the city of Portland. The City, good samaritans, police, firefighters, and families across the population have made a significant effort to supply our homeless brothers and sisters with food, clothes, and shelter. However even with all of the help that is given daily, it’s simply not enough. Right after the new year during one of the largest snowstorms of the season, four lives were taken in the night by hypothermia. Then, a week later, an even more colossal snowstorm swept the city, taking the lives of others, including a new mother and her infant. We made an effort through the thirteen inches and counting to hand out gloves, jackets, blankets, and anything else we could to keep our friends warm, but the deep snow and slick roads severely impeded our progress. Some volunteers couldn’t even leave their homes. I learned quickly that the welcome isn’t always warm going into the camps where people are cold, starving, and desperate. Many are thankful, but for some its hard to be when you have nothing, and no desire to have more than that.
The city currently allows temporary structures from 9:00 pm until 7:00 am for the homeless to seek shelter how they can. Dispersed across the city, some reside in broken down cars, cardboard enclosures, tents overflowing with clothes, and in huge groups beneath bridges. They bundle together, trying to make it through the cold season. Early last year a group of neighborhood associations and businesses attempted to sue Mayor Charlie Hale and the City of Portland for his “misguided and unlawful” policy which allowed the homeless to camp on public property overnight in the city. However Mayor Hale lifted this “safe sleep guidelines” last August, and the lawsuit against him was dropped. The missions and shelters around the city do a tremendous job, but their beds are full every single night and they are constantly in need of volunteers. The reality that there have been so many efforts to address this epidemic, and we are still facing a state of emergency city wide truly speaks to the magnitude of the issue.
Still, Mayor Hale and the city have been developing massive plans to address homelessness that have been in the works for over a decade. Back in 2005, neighboring Multnomah County developed “A Home for Everyone” plan which planned to house approximately 84% of the 12,000 people living homeless within the county. They achieved this by implementing STRA (Short Term Rent Assistance) to get individuals and families back on their feet. More recently, “Cut Homelessness in Half” put in effect by the City of Portland, has raised $30 million which is set to take effect in July to provide necessary means to get our friends back on their feet. Similar initiatives in other states have seen exceptional success in ending homelessness, particularly for those with psychiatric disabilities and substance use disorders. In Colorado, “Housing First” effected a 70% decrease over a 2 year period in emergency service costs accrued by chronically homeless individuals living with disabilities.
The fact is that we the people have become accustomed to caring more about the details of our own lives, and less about the suffering of others, myself included. In an effort to shift my perception I’ve began the practice of simply helping where I can, and it’s so much easier than you would imagine. Most of us get to live our daily lives unaware of the mental illnesses and other disorders our citizens deal with. A lot of these people who are struggling and homeless are simply in dire financial straights, some lost a loved one and lost themselves, others lost their jobs and lost the will to try, and some were abandoned without any help from a young age. We so easily dismiss people if they aren’t perfect, but these are circumstances that any one of us could have found ourselves in.
To join the effort, Stoner Magazine is putting together a system of donation bins across dispensaries in Portland, and across the state to raise awareness to help the homeless. Shoes, blankets, clothing, food, gear and toiletries will be picked up weekly and distributed to shelters and camps where shelters aren’t nearby. #KeepPortlandWarm and join the cannabis community in bringing people together to be a helping hand to our friends going through hard times.
For volunteer information please contact jma[email protected]
Photos by Chris Hodge and AP