Thursday, August 13, 2015

A day of homelessness

“You can spend the money on new housing for poor people and the homeless, or you can spend it on a football stadium or a golf course.” — Jello Biafra, former lead singer and songwriter for San Francisco punk rock band, the Dead Kennedys

TODAY, this Hey Look post comes to you via my special friend, Oregon resident Dale Case who had shared a Facebook post written by his friend, Renee Spears.

I spent Friday on the streets of Portland and learned so much. Here it is:

1. It's not a big deal to hold a sign asking for money because everyone ignores you. I found an unoccupied corner right off 405 and stood there for an hour holding a sign saying "Local business owner trying to understand our homeless problem. All funds to be donated." Nobody made eye contact with me. They fiddled with the radio, texted, looked everywhere else. I did make $25.52 in that hour thanks mostly to one woman that gave me $20. All the people that gave me money were women. I plan to donate $250 to Sisters Of The Road in honor of this experience.

2. Right after holding the sign, I met an 82-year-old woman sitting on her walker, holding a cup for money in front of Whole Foods. I asked if she sat out every day, and she said, "Only when my social security runs out and I need to eat." She wasn't interested in talking. I touched her arm when saying good bye and she teared up and said, "I can't remember the last time someone touched me." People just walked by ignoring her too.

3. I saw a man washing his clothes in the Saturday Market fountains. He then laid them out to dry in the sun. They looked great! I was impressed.

4. I had some wonderful conversations with complete strangers. I wore my Kindness Matters t-shirt. A woman commented that kindness is often mistaken for weakness, and we had a deep five-minute conversation on the philosophy of kindness as we stood on a street corner. I now also know everything about poodles, the breakdown of society in Somalia and the different types of immigrants (economic and political). These were deep, smart conversations. People are very lonely and just wanted someone to listen.

5. It's exhausting being homeless. My body hurts from walking and carrying a backpack. There's nowhere comfy to just relax. By 4:00 pm I was exhausted and took a nap on a park bench. All these years I thought people sleeping on the sidewalk in the daytime were just totally strung out druggies. I'm sure some are, but the people I met told me that they sleep during the day because it's safer. They can't rest as deeply at night, and they are tired! After one day out there, I was grumpy, tired and dehydrated. It sucks! I can't imagine the toll that a week out there would take on a body and spirit.

6. I only saw one policeman the entire time. He was harassing an old man in a wheel chair who was trying to sell some of his homemade stuff on the sidewalk. He told the man to move because he didn't have a permit.

7. Nobody tried to sell me drugs,  but three people asked me if I had some for sale.

8. I fell in love with Portland in a whole new way. This city is alive, and I felt alive in it. I saw a TV show taping, dancing in Directors Park, a dude playing a flute beautifully in front of Powell's, three different music acts at The Bite of Oregon, a miniature Stonehenge made out of bananas, numerous history plaques, another band and the movie "Grease" on Pioneer Square. I walked by hundreds of people on their phones missing the whole thing.

9. The line between the haves and have nots was very apparent. I was on the outside of the fence at The Bite while watching people pigging out on the inside of the fence. I was two feet away through a window from a delicious steak at Ruth Chris Steak House.

10. There are different groups of homeless. There are those interested in drugs down on the waterfront, there are those with mental illness wondering around everywhere, but most of those I met were having a crisis of spirit and trying to find themselves. There was an executive from Seattle whose life fell apart when his wife left him, and he is trying to pick up the pieces. There were many people here from other cities because Portland is a great place to be homeless. I understand this after spending a day falling in love with the city, too.

11. What can we as a city do? Clearly we need to address the bigger issues of poverty, mental illness and addiction but we can do better right now. We need more public restrooms. There aren't enough and they are too far apart. We need more water fountains. We need a public laundromat and bathing facility. We need a public place for people to come in from the elements and relax in safety. We need a place for people to store their belongings so they don't have to carry them around all day.

12. What can YOU do? Remember they are people! Talk to them. Listen to them. Acknowledge they exist. Show some fucking compassion! They are tired, sore, thirsty, malnourished, ignored, and being out there takes a huge toll on your spirit. Put down your phone and pay attention to what is going on outside of yourself.

13. I ended up going home in the early morning hours. My intention was to learn from the people there and I did that. I didn't feel unsafe for one minute. I found the people kind and friendly. I wondered what would change if we all just opened our eyes to what is happening instead of ignoring it.

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