I love cities. All are unique. All have their distinctive cultures, locations, and feels. Whenever I travel, I really try to experience the city or place I am in to the best of my ability. I try to make friends, I walk around and explore, I eat the food, see the music.
This summer, I have done plenty of all those things, and I have seen many sides of Portland. It’s been a mixed experience. On the one hand, I have met many nice people, eaten wonderful food, learned a thing or two, and had some great times. On the other hand, living in Portland has forced me to experience Portland’s problems. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is homelessness.
Portland’s housing crisis is a big deal. It’s impossible to ignore. Rent is going way up in this city as people influx from all around the country and the world at high rates. Displacement and gentrification are words I hear all the time here. At once, Portland is both a wealthy, tourist-attracting, culture-inspiring haven and a center for poverty and homelessness. It’s bizarre and upsetting.
In Portland, the problem of homelessness is not hidden. The space that the homeless occupy is not limited to the “bad neighborhoods,” as it often is in cities. On any given block in the downtown area, whether there is a four-star hotel, a gym, a store, you name it, homeless people almost always occupy some space extremely near. In the greater city area, they are always somewhere within a couple of blocks. So, homeless people play a part in the everyday life of almost everyone in the city, not just people who live in or travel through specific areas. How strange to be a Portlander.
So why is it like this here? Why aren’t there massive interventions (that are effective) to help the homeless by now? Why can’t these people get the help they need? Portland has been in a declared state of emergency for some years now, but the number of homeless has only gone up. This is a very unfortunate fact, but it’s is not to say that work isn’t being done.
Local government has been implementing and discontinuing programs, trying to find a solution that works. NGOs such as the Oregon Food Bank, the organization where I am working this summer, do plenty of good work to help the homeless be fed and to help some of them find shelter. Large camps have been established in which people are doing quite well. But for the thousands not lucky enough to be helped to the greatest extent, not enough is being done. For many, the root problems still haven’t been fixed. For example, much of the homeless population will spend their entire days traveling across the city to the locations that serve food and the locations that offer shelter. This leaves them no time to do anything else and forces them to become trapped in a cycle of dependence. Additionally, a large amount of the homeless population needs mental health care. Without that, no system can help them. In general, this population needs support and they need stability.
In my time in Portland, I have met many compassionate people. Specifically, at the Food Bank, I have met people that are extremely passionate about these issues. With hard work and some time, I believe the problem of homelessness in this city can be greatly deflated. I just hope that time comes soon.