Sunday, August 25, 2013

Unhoused in Portland

Posted by Debby Yoder, PORTLAND, OREGON -- The efficiency of Portland’s land use and preservation of natural resources has made it a very livable city with an ever-growing population. The people are friendly and outgoing and there’s always something fun to do. Areas that were once warehouses or light industrial have become residential lofts and trendy shops, restaurants and brewpubs. However, this development has eliminated much of the low income housing and Portland now ranks 5th in the nation for its homeless population. On any given night, roughly 4,000 people sleep on the street or in a shelter. Tent cities have sprung up on public or unused land and officials have responded by passing an anti-camping law which they use to regularly clear out the residents and dispose of their belongings. Some call it a war against the homeless; others view it as crime control and prevention. A battle is being waged over a homeless rest area near the iconic entrance to Old Town Chinatown with its towering gate and protective Foo Dogs. 

The city is concerned about the use of such a visible location and has previously run off an adult bookstore and a popular food truck from the same site. A group called Right 2 Survive rented the lot and provides shelter and services to about 90 people each night. The city hopes to force them away from popular attractions such as Voodoo Doughnuts and the sign depicting the unofficial slogan “Keep Portland Weird” by issuing a monthly fine for unpermitted camping. After two years, the fines totaled more than $25,000. The management of the shelter, Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2), argues that this is a homeless rest area, not a campsite, and has petitioned the courts to dismiss the fines and allow them to stay. A decision is pending. In the meantime, R2D2 continues its work to help unhoused people with their daily needs for food, shelter and safety and to transition to a more stable home. They offer computers with internet access to search for jobs and maintain contact with family and friends. Bicycles are available on loan for transportation and the residents grow vegetables and herbs and run a kitchen from a tent to feed themselves. They provide their own security for the area which is surrounded by a low fence and a series of re-purposed doors. 

The vulnerability of Portland's homeless people was highlighted recently when a police sergeant witnessed Terrence Jones of the Houston Rockets, 6’9” and 252 pounds, stomp on the legs of a 46-year old man who was sleeping in a doorway. The Portland native was only charged with misdemeanor harassment  and many feel this is a prime example of the callousness the city has towards its unhoused residents. In a city so vibrant and beautiful, and developed with such careful planning for efficient use, one would expect to find a more holistic, thoughtful approach. Not a war against its poorest residents.

Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter as well as a student at Georgia State University majoring in Sociology. She can be contacted at

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Be Well Nelson Mandela

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ATLANTA, GA – A few weeks back as a media frenzy predicted Nelson Mandela’s impending death, I stumbled upon Free Nelson Mandela in Piedmont Park. I had no idea it existed. But it’s certainly hard to miss because the seven ton sculpture has a set of imposing iron prison bars and padlock gate rising up 12 feet from a large granite rock with the carved words “Free Nelson Mandela”. The top of the prison bars are covered with barbed wire. The work was created by famed artist David Hammon in 1987 with the assistance of faculty and students at Georgia State University in the University’s sculpture studio. The original purpose of the piece was to make a statement demanding Mandela’s freedom from prison to lead his people through Apartheid’s end. When Mandela was freed in 1990, the sculpture’s padlock was opened and three of the prison bars painted -- one green, one black, and one yellow -- representing the South African flag. With the ailing 95 year-old Mandela, hospitalized since June, perhaps the sculpture now takes on a new meaning: “Get well”. The most recent media reports indicate that Mandela’s condition is improving. So let’s hope he can be released from the hospital and go home soon. Be well Nelson Mandela.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an associate professor in Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Roller Derby

Posted by Debby Yoder, ATLANTA, GA -- Roller derby is an exciting sport played on old fashion roller skates (the four wheelers). No ball is involved; it’s all about a skater trying to pass the other skaters for points. Both teams are playing offense and defense at every moment. There is hitting, blocking, and very physical play as one team tries to stop their opponent while clearing the path for their own skater to jump ahead. Roller derby incorporates the speed and physicality of hockey with the team playing of basketball, as well as the defensive strategies of football. Yet it resembles none of them in any way. 

The Atlanta Women’s Roller Derby League has sold out every match since it began in 2008. No other Atlanta sport has such a loyal following. Additional leagues have formed in nearby Marietta and Athens. A subculture has emerged. Outside the arena there is always a homegrown carnival-like atmosphere with local artists and vendors selling their creations, groups tailgating before and after the bouts and everyone ready to have fun.

Roller derby players come all walks of life – local teachers, executives, software developers – and many more.  They run the leagues themselves, bring their families to the games, and take community involvement seriously.  Many derby leagues have partner kid’s leagues such as Atlanta’s Derby Brats where young girls can learn to recognize their own abilities and work as a team.

Atlanta’s league has several individual teams that complete against each other and an all-star team that competes against other leagues. The teams feature great names like the Sake Tuyas and Apocalypstix. Individual skaters adopt personas with special derby names such as Queen Loseyateefa, Bruze Orman, Hate Ashbury and Juggs Judy. The all-star team is ranked in the top 10 teams in the world. Fans are extremely loyal to their favorite skaters and when Ice Sickle, a league favorite, announced her plans to return to her native Iceland, fans turned out to offer gifts and say goodbye. 

Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter and a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Lost and Found Trees of Galveston’s Hurricane Ike

Posted by Demetra Pappas, GALVESTON, TX -- As a Native New Yorker I know we tend to think we have seen it all. Last fall, Hurricane Sandy proved just how wrong we all were. The New York Tristate area was devastated.  It wasn’t only the flooding though, it seemed like everywhere trees were down, some falling on homes and others across roads and highways making them impassable. One of my friends in New Jersey counted some 17 downed trees on her own property alone. Then not too long ago I found myself in Galveston, Texas, a city devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008. It's a small beautiful city that appears to be in recovery although like New York, where work has just started on the subway tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, there are still lingering issues. But what struck me most touring around city was how many of the destroyed trees had taken on a new life.

Indeed, what Galveston did with it fallen trees was amazing, innovative, and hopeful. Instead of hauling them away and grinding them into pulp, many of the 35 destroyed have been turned into sculptures by local artists. I saw the sculptures on my tour of city's East End Historical District -- and I can only hope like more sculptures are being created out of fallen tree in other areas of the city. This not only told me a story of survival but of making something beautiful from remnants of a devastating natural disaster as well.

The carvings, some of which are in this post, range from birds to animals to whimsical maids and angels to a guitar to the Tin Man and Toto from The Wizard of Oz.  I write and show these out of solidarity among the hurricane-hit and with admiration to Galveston's spirited recovery and artistry. To see all Galveston’s tree sculptures click on this slideshow.
Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD currently teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named the 2012 SGA Faculty Member of the Year.  She successfully nominated her students Valia Haskopoulos and Kelsey Papanicolaou for Student Recognition Awards at SFC (where their non-student friend Leah Vanden Bosch received an Honorable Mention Certificate) for their work on a visual sociology midterm option on Hurricane Sandy, which they turned into a publication for Social Shutter in Spring 2013. Dr. Pappas’ book, The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate (Greenwood Press, 2012) was nominated and short listed for the 2013 British Society of Criminology Book Prize