Our Shared Fate

Neighborhood Partnerships and the Housing Alliance know that everyone deserves a safe place to call home. Unfortunately today, too many of our neighbors and families are sleeping in cars, on couches or outdoors.

The Oregonian recently published two articles about homelessness in our community—first, Monday’s editorial, which calls for community actions around homelessness in the wake of the Occupy Portland movement being evicted from their downtown camp; and second, a story in Sunday’s Oregonian about a local teen who has been surviving on the streets for several years while also battling addiction. These stories echo our own experiences and messages as housing advocates.

Monday’s editorial asks the people of Portland to “put our arms” around those experiencing homelessness. It sounds a lot like what we (and many others) have been saying for years—that everyone deserves a safe, stable, affordable place to call home. We know that our communities are better and stronger when everyone has a place to call home. We also know that homelessness is a solvable problem. We’re not saying it will be easy, but we are saying we know how to do it—if we make the right choices and find the political will, we can end homelessness together.

We were pleased to see this response from the Editorial Board, as well as an understanding that what we really need are permanent solutions. While shelters are an important way to help people come in out of the cold and stay safe, they simply manage the problem. We don’t begrudge dollars spent on shelter—we know it’s critical to have people inside where they can be warm and safe, especially during winter months. However we also know that permanent housing, plus the supports people need to address barriers and create pathways out of poverty is the only way to end homelessness. All too often, it seems as if we’re forced to take one avenue at the expense of the other.

Sunday’s portrait in the Oregonian of Alec Bates is a great example of what should be happening. While the Oregonian’s portrait of Bates only showed glimpses of the people that helped him along the way, it is clear that Bates met many organizations and individuals that made a difference in his journey. He highlights one—Outside In—that helped him find housing and the supportive services he needed to maintain his housing. His story also highlights the need for more addictions and mental health treatment, so that as people are ready to make changes, the right doors are open to them.

Then came this morning’s article by Steve Duin, and this quote from Candidate for Portland City Council Steve Novick: “The occupation movement is helping some of us unlearn our learned helplessness.” We, not just people in Portland, but across the US have for far too long been helpless in the face of homelessness. We’ve seen it as a problem only affecting a few, without recognizing that far too many of us are one economic disaster from sleeping in our cars. We’ve seen it as a problem affecting “those people,” without recognizing that people in this country rise and fall as one. It’s time to unlearn our helplessness and understand that not only can we solve homelessness, but it does affect and impact us all. Our struggles and fate are tied together as one in this city and state.

Today, organizations and people all across the city, the state and the country are working hard to end homelessness. Every day we call on our elected officials to help us in our work. Now is the time to put our arms around the problem of homelessness, to declare it unacceptable, and to commit to solving this problem. We can do better. We can recognize that our fate is connected to the fate of our neighbors, especially those neighbors without a roof over their heads.