OPB Journalist Alex Zielinski writes about Portland’s daytime bans on homeless camping.
The Portland City Council is set to adopt stricter rules on homeless camping on public property. The ban would prohibit camping on public land between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and impose limitations on camping locations and activities during the remaining 12 hours. The policy would also prohibit camping in parks, riverbanks, busy streets, and within 250 feet of schools, among other areas.
The policy is influenced by a 2021 state law that requires cities to establish “objectively reasonable” rules regarding sitting and lying outdoors on public property. This law is based on a federal ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Martin v. Boise, which prohibits arresting people for sleeping on public property unless adequate shelter is available. Portland’s proposed policy aims to meet the “objectively reasonable” standards outlined in the state law but has faced criticism from the ACLU of Oregon for not adequately considering the impact on people experiencing homelessness.
The new policy would enforce written warnings and potential penalties for violating the camping rules, including fines and possible jail time.
Rose Haven’s Director, Katie O’Brien, feels frustrated that the city never contacted her to alert her to this new proposal, let alone ask for her perspective.
“The challenge is that there is no communication with people on the ground level who understand this issue in ways that [the city doesn’t],” O’Brien said. “They’ve never asked or supported us in any way.”
O’Brien said she’s particularly worried how this ban will impact homeless women, a population that is disproportionately vulnerable to abuse while living outside. She said it’s common for women experiencing homelessness to sleep during the day and stay up at night to protect themselves from potential nighttime attacks.
“We have people who come to [Rose Haven] in the morning and immediately fall asleep on a couch since they’ve been up all night,” O’Brien said. “The [daytime camping] ban will make it harder for women to feel safe living outside.”
The proposed policy is expected to be approved by the Portland City Council, with several commissioners expressing support for the change. The policy is set to go into effect on July 1, 2023, the same day the state law takes effect.
https://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/camping-ban.jpg6301200Dena Baharhttps://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.pngDena Bahar2023-05-30 09:58:132023-05-30 10:10:06Portland to consider tighter rules on homeless camping, including outright ban from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Journalist Oscar Ponteri writes about community members experiences with homelessness and unaffordable housing. The article features images of Rose Haven guests. Read the article below or click on the link!
Sophie Ross left in her van. “I heard the roommate with his group of neighbors talking about me when I got out of the shower. And the window was open and I could hear them calling me a freak. I was like ‘I just can’t, I just can’t listen to them do that;’ it was intolerable and I decided to go,” she says. Ross, a trans woman, has been looking for stable housing ever since the incident in 2021.
After raising her son, Josephine was evicted from the apartment she had lived in for 20 years. “I didn’t plan on being homeless; I just got caught up in the rise of rent. One day it changed to $1400; I couldn’t afford it, and in 2010, I was homeless and on the streets,” she says. After contracting pneumonia while homeless, Josephine spent months in a hospital and then an assisted living facility before she was displaced again. “They sent me across the street. They sent me to the tent,” she says. That’s where she found David.
Kelli McBride was ‘outside’ for what she would consider six years. “The streets call you because it’s what you know. It’s where, 24 hours a day, there’s somebody, and that is your world,” she says. McBride now lives in stable housing, but has found leaving the camaraderie she found on the streets an incredible challenge. “Housed people don’t live in a community like we did,” she says.
The number of homeless individuals exploded in Oregon during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. After minor fluctuations in the mid-2010s, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County increased 30% from 2019 to 2022 to a total of 5228 people, according to a study by the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “We’re in dire need; the city I grew up in is very different than the city I live in today,” says Stephanie Rogers, a wellness program coordinator at Rose Haven, a Portland day shelter.
Rogers is not alone in her view towards the housing crisis. In a poll conducted in February 2023, 94% of Portlanders called homelessness a “very big problem,” calling on the state, county, and city governments to take quick action. Since then, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has unveiled a controversial plan to create six large city-approved camping sites and allow Portland leaders to prohibit unsanctioned camping on city streets. The plan has been under scrutiny, as Multnomah County and state leaders say they will not allocate money for the mass camps. “That [plan] just seems like we’re shuffling people around,” says Rogers. “If we don’t help them be part of change, starting within themselves, it’s just going to be a continuation.”
As housed residents, local leaders, policy experts, and others air out grievances and debate solutions, one group of key stakeholders have consistently been locked out of the conversation: homeless individuals. Personal stories from those who have experienced Portland’s crisis firsthand reveal a much more horrific and complex issue than popular coverage would suggest.
Sophie Ross experienced homelessness before beginning her gender-affirming care, but not in the same way. “For trans women, it’s quite remarkable, to see different reactions from people and learn more about social dynamics at play that I never knew about before,” she says, adding, “It’s more scary and complex.” According to reports by the University of California Los Angeles’ Williams Institute, 8.3% of transgender adults across all sexual orientations had recent experiences with homelessness, compared to just 1.4% of cisgender straight adults; they are also four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime regardless of housing status.
In addition to safety concerns, navigating identity and various supports has been difficult without housing. “I’ve had to learn to improvise things like where I’m going to maintain gender affirming personal care,” she says. “It’s hard to explore human relationships, especially intimacy … because those feelings do happen, even when you’re homeless.” Portland does offer some culturally appropriate care for queer citizens facing housing insecurity. Downtown day shelter Rose Haven holds weekly LGBTQ+ support meetings and nurse visits while providing showers, clothing, hygiene products, and emotional support. “You can give people homes, you can give people cars, you can give people things, but if they don’t have the mental health capacity to work with the tools they have it’s going to be a continual problem,” says Rose Haven coordinator Stephanie Rogers.
While the challenges have been abundant and constant for Ross, embracing her identity has also helped her persevere. “On a more personal note, I’m a childhood sex abuse survivor, and I’ve lived with suicidal ideation, but when I came out that ideation stopped,” says Ross. “The urgency to have permanent housing is so much greater, because I have a greater sense of value for my life now.”
Ross and her partner originally found community at the Q Center on N Mississippi Avenue, the largest LGBTQ+ community center in the Pacific Northwest, according to its website. As part of working and volunteering for the organization, they allowed Ross to sleep in her van in the parking lot. After a breakup with her partner, Ross stayed in various shelters and temporary housing, and transitional motels.
Currently, Ross believes “rapid housing placement” is the most important thing for the government to focus on. “Put people in a room. Give them somewhere to sleep and take a bath and wash up and regain their sense of dignity on their own,” she recommends. Governor Tina Kotek recently established a statewide goal of building 36,000 new homes per year, a 60% increase from prior years. Meanwhile, the state legislature recently passed a $200 million homelessness package targeted to fund transitional and permanent housing. “Given the mighty accumulation of resources that our country wields, it really is like ‘come on,’ we know, we know we can solve this problem by now,” says Ross. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of potential and it sounds like it appears as if there’s the right people in the right places to utilize our potential, so I would like to see Oregon leading the way, building the model for how this goes across the country and possibly around the world,” she added.
“I’m waiting on my ring now,” Josephine says, looking up at David. “I’d rather be by him, with him, married to him than alone; he’s all I have.” The two have been together ever since that night Josephine was sent to the tent, but they haven’t been able to find much stability when it comes to housing. “Shelters, assisted living, hospitals, I’ve done it all… I’m a long ways away from where I used to be,” says Josephine. She is one of many Oregonians who fell victim to skyrocketing rent prices. According to a Willamette Week story from December 2022, the number of Portland evictions have skyrocketed to over 700 per month, significantly higher than before the pandemic. In 2012, KGW reported that the average Portland rent was $848 per month; now it’s more than $1800 per month, according to data from Zillow. High eviction numbers will likely continue as 2023 rent hikes were capped at 14.6%, which is the highest it’s been since Oregon’s rent control law took effect five years ago. “Anybody could become homeless at this rate … if you don’t be careful your kids will be on the ground with you,” says Josephine.
On the street, the couple describes a perpetual state of suffering; “This homelessness is one of the worst things I’ve witnessed in my life … it’s like living on the edge everyday,” says Josephine. In the first six months of 2022, 207 Oregonians experiencing homelessness died, with 35% of those deaths occurring in Multnomah County. 32 people died from unintended injuries, eight died by suicide, and seven died by homicide. The overwhelming majority of deaths were labeled as “natural causes.” “It hurts my heart, it’s like I’m dying trying to get out,” says Josephine.
She suggests education as a key to avoiding life on the street. “Education is the tool, never get enough of education. Stay plugged in,” she says. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, “Youth with less than a high school diploma or GED have a 346% higher risk of experiencing homelessness than youth with at least a high school degree,” and “the unemployment rate for someone with less than a high school diploma is almost three times that of someone with a bachelor’s degree.” Josephine’s son received a master’s degree and now has a daughter of his own.
Josephine and David have been on waitlists for housing, but have not received much sign of support. As time goes on, hope dwindles; “How do you come out of homelessness? There’s no way out, that’s what I still believe,” Josephine remarks. For now, she dreams of David proposing and a day when she can be “making ends meet, getting bills paid, going to parties and movies, and sending the kids money … that’s living life,” she says.
Kelli McBride had been placed in housing several times, but returned to the street. “That loss of community makes you want to come back and that is the cycle of homelessness,” she says. Finally, after a harsh winter, she made the hard choice to settle down, simply for the sake of survival. “I got to a place [where] I didn’t know if I was going to make it through summer,” she says. She entered the shelter system and was transferred all over town, before entering a transitional motel. “It was a great transitional step to practice having my own space,” McBride remarked. She also completed a course through Rent Well that taught her rights and responsibilities as a renter. Rent Well, a transition program, is a 15-hour tenant education program based in Oregon and Washington that prepares people to be “responsible, successful, and stable tenant[s],” according to its website.
However, even with a good deal of preparation to reenter a permanent living situation, the transition was difficult. “They don’t prepare somebody for it … it creates even more isolation because once you have housing you can’t talk to your friends,” McBride says. She wished those helping her had told her where the library or community was so that she could start building connections before she even arrived. A study published in 2021 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that nearly 50% of homeless people already feel loneliness on the street; however, McBride described feeling more intense isolation when entering housing, something that is often not acknowledged.
“They don’t talk about it … If the homeless were honest and you asked them ‘what keeps you from getting housing,’ the words will come out: ‘I don’t want to be alone,’” says McBride. While there are lots of plans to build more housing, there is little concern about transitioning homeless individuals into new dwellings. Under a draft of Mayor Wheeler’s plan to convince Portland’s homeless population to reside in mass camps or alternative housing, the city could give out criminal citations for public camping resulting in a fine of $100 or 30 days in jail. McBride rebukes the idea, saying, “Putting them in housing before they’re ready is clearly a waste of money.”
Her plan would entail “community reintegration centers” where people who are recently housed and homeless can come together. In her vision, “there’s laundry, a pool table, and you can sit and talk with people that are going through it.” It would be a safe space to talk where people could discuss their common struggles: “The biggest step—and it won’t cost a dime—is you start talking about how hard [the transition] is,” she says.
Unfortunately, McBride rarely feels like people listen to her ideas. “They speak about ‘lived experience’ meaning ‘we’re talking to the people,’ but they don’t. They’re deciding on what’s best for them and how to spend the money, not what’s best for us,” she says.
Despite decisive plans and big dreams, the solution to Oregon’s housing crisis may actually rely on communal, ground-up work. “We are all in positions of power, because I think power comes from within, and power is centered in our heart and soul,” says Rogers. “And I think when we start looking at the world from that perspective, we start caring about ourselves, and then we care about each other,” she adds. As someone whose brother passed away on the streets due to addiction, Rogers, who spends many of her days around those in need, has a uniquely hopeful outlook: “There’s so much about what is wrong, and that’s one of the beautiful things about being part of something as wonderful as Rose Haven; every day people are showing up to help each other … I think the more we focus on what is happening and how people are showing up, I think we would be surprised at the good that’s happening every day.”
An international fashion designer is helping homeless people on the streets of Portland. Bas Timmer is from the Netherlands. He created The Sheltersuit Foundation after a friend’s father, who was homeless, died from hypothermia. “So, it is a very comfortable mattress with an opening, so you can add extra layering,” Timmer said. “It has a big hood that’s waterproof and, of course, a waterproof layer on top, with ventilation at bottom and if you need to move (you) zip open, roll up easily, and are ready to move.“
On Wednesday November 9th Rose Haven distributed Sheltersuits to our houseless neighbors. In a partnership with Greater Good Northwest and TPI, we are able to bring these critical products to the Western United States, all the way from where they were produced in South Africa.
Sheltersuitis an organization based in the Netherlands that sustainably creates wearable shelters with recycled materials. These “Sheltersuits” can be unzipped to wear as a heavy duty jacket, re-assembled into a large sleeping bag, and rolled up to wear as a backpack. The material itself is surprisingly lightweight; something that often cannot be said for tents or sleeping bags. With all of the barriers that our houseless neighbors face, creating ease with lightweight materials and portability can provide some relief to those without shelter.
“For the folks who are living outside in Oregon this is so critical,” said Liz Starke, development director at Rose Haven. “If you’re sleeping outside and your sleeping bag gets wet and you don’t have a tent, it basically becomes disposable, it becomes really heavy, soaking wet.”
On Thursday, August 18th, Rose Haven participated in the sustainable apparel runway at Portland Fashion Week. We showcased 10 up-cycled garments made of entirely donated materials and created by guests and volunteers in our sewing class.
We also took this opportunity to give a sneak peak into a very exciting new partnership: we teamed up with Sheltersuitto present donated sheltersuits and shelterbags on the runway.
https://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/PORTLAND_SHELTERSUIT-opt.jpg567850Liz Starkehttps://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.pngLiz Starke2023-03-06 11:25:072023-04-04 01:12:33Rose Haven and Sheltersuit: A Global Partnership
Rose Haven Guest, GG is interviewed by The Portland Tribune
Check out this article written by Joseph Gallivan featuring GG, our beloved Rose Haven Guest! GG provides valuable insight into her life living on the streets of Portland. She discusses barriers to receiving her emergency COVID unemployment checks, SNAP benefits, and affordable housing.
GG (it stands for Gangsta Geisha) was rearranging her stuff under the I-405 overpass on a Friday afternoon, a few days before the winter solstice. The temperature was in the 30s, and she was lightly dressed and wore a blonde wig that sparkled in the wintry sunset. The Christmas tree outside her tent was a little tousled, its lone streamer coming loose. She’d had lights, but now she hasn’t.
“They steal my artwork, they’ll watch you work then steal what you’re making. It’s no hustle to steal someone else’s muscle,” she said.
She showed off an abstract painting done in acrylics. GG had finished it the day before by painting a large “G” on top of the design, then left it outside her tent with some of her other belongings: a beaver pelt stretched on a frame, some metal shelving, a shopping cart that acts as a pantry, a bike with a kid’s trailer, and driftwood.
GG has been living outside for four years. She used to be in an apartment over Next Adventure on Southeast Grand Avenue, then things unraveled, and she lived in her Chevy Trailblazer for a while. That was impounded at Northwest 19th Avenue and Thurman with several other vehicles that were green tagged, although hers, she said, was the only legal one.
“The beautiful ladies at Rose Haven have been a wonderful help for me,” she said.
Then she moved into a tent at Northwest 16th and Overton Street.
Would she move to one of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s proposed full-service camps that will house hundreds of tents?
“No, absolutely not. I didn’t come out here to be rounded up and silenced. I came out here to live out loud,” GG said.
This sheltered strip of Northwest 16th Avenue was swept of tents in January 2022, but recently has been repopulated with about two dozen tents.
She came with baggage. “This is stuff that we build because we’re constantly having to move and then tear down. With the rain and the elements and whatever, we are always constantly having to rebuild.”
GG sees herself as an artist and an activist.
“Gangsta Geisha is my superhero I developed few years back,” she explained. “Art is my life, it’s my warfare and my religion. Art saved my life. When I’ve had nothing else, I’ve had art.”
Living on the street is a form of protest.
“I do it for my heroes. Gangsta Geisha I developed to help disenfranchised people, but I do it for my heroes Malcolm X., Martin Luther King, Jr. Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Colin Kaepernick, and my son, Marlon James Wilson. He’s my hero, he’s 10 years old.”
The boy lives in Troutdale with his father, who has remarried. “It’s very hard to get ahold of him,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.
GG said she is awaiting $16,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits which she has been too busy to track down. She would, however, move to an apartment if one was available. “I’m ready. I don’t know how many of my nine lives that have left.”
GG recounts recent assaults, just in 2021, include being maced in the face on her 49th birthday for rummaging in someone’s recycling at 1.30 a.m.; being punched in the eye on Valentine’s Day, such that her left retina is now more sensitive to light than is comfortable; and being abducted by a taxi driver who pulled a Glock pistol from his glovebox when she said she wanted to get out. Two weeks ago, says, she was hospitalized with pneumonia. “I’m going to be half a century on Jan. 26,” GG said.
She calls herself a “lone wolf” on the street, because she has not partnered up for security. However, she feels she can count on her neighbors in the tents to either side. Watching from a few yards to the south is Chris, a big white man in a Seahawks jersey. To the north is Vampire Apache.
“He’s Apache, and he says he’s a vampire, but yeah, he looks out for me,” GG says. “And my good friend, Chris. But other than that, I’m out there alone. I stand alone, but that’s OK. I knew I was going to be alone. Even before I moved out of my apartment.”
As she talks, there are interruptions. A man crosses the street to bum a smoke, but GG was about to ask him the same thing. An African American woman, maybe early 20s, stops to ask where she can get bottled water. GG offers her a drink from her plastic water bottle, which has her afternoon cocktail, coconut water and vodka. “I like to hydrate while I dehydrate,” GG quipped.
A white guy in his 40s comes by stapling flyers to trees in search of his lost bike. It was stolen from his apartment building garage. They chat amiably and socially distanced. He asks GG if she’s seen a certain man who might know more about the bike, but she has not.
Drugs, to her, are making street dwellers into zombies. “There’s a lot of people that are hooked on heroin and blues (fentanyl), or whatever, and it’s making them do things that I don’t even know if they’re human anymore. It’s a zombie apocalypse.”
She speaks rapidly and jumps from subject to subject, rarely completing a thought.
“People know me as GG, but I was born Amy Jo Wilson. I was born in Detroit, Michigan. I moved to Portland 20 years ago. I’ve been to three universities, I’m really, truly a blessed woman,” she said.
They were Baptist Bible College, which is now Clarks Summit University (dual major psychology and theology), Rutgers University Camden campus (English major) and Concordia University (teaching English as a second language).
What does she like about Portland?
“The fact that I found my son’s father and had my son here. I love the trees. I love our parks and our forest.”
She just finished reading Seth Godin’s motivational book “Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?” She writes poetry and is working on a musical.
“Four years ago, I put my stuff in storage to come and do research on housing assistance and social injustice. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about classism, racism and the war machine as the trifecta keeping us from our spiritual growth as a nation and in humanity. I’m trying to build bridges and connections where there were none.”
Her SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) card ran out last year and she has had trouble getting it reinstated, especially since she does not have a phone. But food is usually at hand. Strangers left a flat of bell peppers by the side of the road near her tent, and a pineapple in her shopping cart. “People have been very generous, they’ve been dropping off boxes of food with a lot of Trader Joe’s stuff in it, and a lot of salad stuff,” GG said.
She’ll definitely be here for Christmas. Talking of connecting with her son brings tears to her eyes, again. But GG likes this spot under the bridge.
“It’s a decent spot. I mean, really, it’s about what we bring to it.”
https://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.png00Liz Starkehttps://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.pngLiz Starke2023-01-30 12:05:512023-01-30 12:05:51STREET LIVES: GG’s Home for the Holidays
https://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/katie_2_opt.jpg600400webguyhttps://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.pngwebguy2023-01-09 20:29:082023-01-09 20:29:08Portland to Offer Housing for Frontline Social Workers
Blanchet House, Rose Haven and the Union Gospel Mission all have need of coats this year and have seen donations slow down.
PORTLAND, Ore. — As temperatures start to get colder, nonprofits across Portland are calling on the community’s help for donations of warm winter clothes that they can distribute to people who are struggling, many of them homeless.
Scott Kerman with Blanchet House said they serve 1,400 to 1,500 meals each day to clients that live on the streets. He said they really need donations of winter jackets that are in good condition. People can drop the jackets off at their location on Northwest Glisan Street, and people in need can pick coats up from there as well. [Read the full article here.]
https://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.png00webguyhttps://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.pngwebguy2022-12-23 19:28:262022-12-23 19:28:26Portland nonprofits that serve homeless people are desperate for winter coat donations
Community members donated many of the special raffles and gift bags that were distributed at Thursday’s party.
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Rose Haven community center has treated its guests to a can’t-miss holiday party annually since 1997, rain or shine. And that was no different this year.
“We are the only day shelter and community center in Portland serving people marginalized by their gender,” Rose Haven Development Director Liz Starke said. “So 25 years ago, we were founded as a place for women and children. And now, we welcome anybody who is trans or nonbinary as well. And today, we had our holiday party for 190 of our guests, most of which are experiencing homelessness.”
Our trauma-informed facility is an award-winning design!
The Gensler Design Firm has won the 2022 Design Excellence Awards from the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) for their interior design work here at Rose Haven.
Our interior design was selected for the People’s Choice Award, the Impact Award (Social), and as an Honorable Mention in the Public & Civic design category. Everything from the lighting and furniture to the flow and color palette were carefully selected with trauma-informed design in mind.
Gensler Portland generously provided their services pro-bono to design our shelter with a trauma informed lens, but it was our guests’ input that played a vital role in shaping the space into a welcoming, safe, and uplifting environment for all.
These design awards recognize the collaborative effort of our guests, volunteers, staff, and the Gensler team. We could not have opened the space without them and the generous contributions from the Portland community.
Executive Directors of Four Grassroots Organizations Came Together to Collectively Ask for Help from our Community
Executive directors of four major nonprofit organizations in Portland collaborated to publish an op-ed in The Oregonian regarding our citywide homeless crisis. This piece was put together by Scott Kerman at Blanchet House,Katie O’Brien at Rose Haven, Carrie Hoops at William Temple House, and Michelle Meyer at Maybelle Center for Community.
Read the full story below and on The Oregonian’s website here. You can help us help Portland by sharing this op-ed far and wide on Facebook and Twitter!
Scott Kerman, Katie O’Brien, Carrie Hoops and Michelle Meyer
Kerman is executive director of Blanchet House. O’Brien is executive director of Rose Haven. Hoops is executive director of William Temple House. Meyer is executive director of Maybelle Center for Community.
This is hard to write because it might sound like we’re giving up. We’re not – but we need help.
As the executive directors of Blanchet House, Rose Haven, William Temple House and Maybelle Center for Community, we are committed to serving vulnerable people living on the margins – the disconnected, discounted and often forgotten. With collectively 180-plus years of service in Portland, our nonprofit organizations are the ones that people in need turn to for help, whether it’s food, clothing, mental health counseling, showers, health care, shelter, housing or simply to find community with others.
We are not government agencies, but we provide public benefits and services. We are privately funded by generous individuals, businesses, foundations and grants – not government contracts – and have successfullyoperated with lean budgets and staff. But in the past two years, our costs have skyrocketed as the toll of the community’s mental health and addiction crisis has fallen on us to manage, along with the growing need to protect the safety of our clients, staff and volunteers. We need our local government to confront today’s unprecedented circumstances, help shoulder the load in meeting these needs and summon the creativity and urgency to change the on-the-ground reality right now.
In the Old Town and Northwest Portland neighborhoods where we work, we serve amidst elevated levels of daily violence – violence that victimizes our clients and the people trying to help them. A man was brutally stabbed outside one of our organizations this summer. A man in mental health crisis smashed a bystander’s head with a rock, severely injuring him. A woman in a wheelchair was left at the doorstep of one of our organizations. We spent all day trying to find an agency willing to help her. None were.
We are not giving up, but we must be realistic about our ability to continue in this environment, which makes it harder to recruit volunteers and burns out staff members, without whom there are no services.
Make no mistake. Our volunteers and staff members are made of strong stuff. After all, we’ve never exactly served in a comfortable, easy environment. Compassionate, mission-driven and dedicated, they come downtown and stick with us through hardship and tragedy. But it feels like we’re approaching a breaking point. If the services we provide disappeared, the impact on our city would be immediate and glaring. Our organizations could disappear, but the people who need us will not.
What can the city and county do to help? First, they can free up funding to help us provide these public benefits during this incredibly precarious time. Clear bureaucratic hurdles and help us pay these irreplaceable workers. If the city can spend millions on private security for city-owned properties, it can help defray the costs of employing and protecting nonprofit workers providing meals and support to those in need.
It also is time to abandon pre-pandemic ways of assessing need and how we should respond. For example, right now because they are not deemed “a danger to themselves or others,” too many truly vulnerable, defenseless people are simply left to play out the rest of their lives in madness or addiction, victimized and brutalized until they die or are jailed. This is unacceptable and requires legislative attention to our civil commitment laws.
We need a cohesive plan for what to do with sick, injured, or traumatized people. Right now, too many people are dropped at our doors because our hospitals and emergency services don’t know what else to do with them. We aren’t designed to care for everyone.
We also need our civic agencies to reassess what serving with urgency and to scale means in this crisis. This will take returning city and county employees to their offices because how can you know what we’re dealing with if you’re not living it every day like we are?
And when we have new ideas and programs to meet the moment, let’s streamline the process of getting them started. The city and county should recognize that independent agencies can do remarkable things for our community faster and often more efficiently. Provide funding, and we will innovate, collaborate and lead.
In fact, we’ve already proven what we can do together. Recently, Multnomah County agreed to fund peer support specialists who visit our organizations daily. These mentors, who have lived experience with addiction and homelessness, help deescalate situations and provide resources to our clients.
The new and innovative Old Town InReach Program, – which we designed and advocated for – is helping. But it is not enough. It is not a substitute for public safety, so we are left to provide for our own security – some of us with 24/7 safety staff wearing bulletproof vests.
Yes, it will take time to repair a broken mental health system, build affordable housing, and expand programs like Portland Street Response. But time is not on our side. We need the city and county to respond like their hair is on fire. Because it is. What might happen months or years from now won’t help today.
We’re ready to collaborate and do our part, something we and our colleague nonprofit agencies have proven during this crisis. We are not giving up and we don’t want to give up.
But we need to see substantive, meaningful and urgent responses that show us the city and county haven’t given up themselves.
https://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Screenshot-2022-09-06-121954.png400597Liz Starkehttps://rosehaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/header_logo.pngLiz Starke2022-09-06 13:11:472022-09-06 15:12:01Pushed to our limits, our organizations need city’s, county’s help