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

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