Even during the Christmas Holiday, people who are already houseless and sleeping on the ground are being threatened with sweeps.
Saturday, the day after Christmas, two members of the Tenants Priced Out Emergency Task Force Team : Nathan Starr and myself (with help from his GPS) wound our way around the SE Holgate area searching diligently until we located the Pardee Homeless Camp, tucked away in a quiet neighborhood and grassy area between a long-reaching fence on one side and the 205 Freeway on the other, near SE 94th and Pardee.
Luckily the weather was dry, giving these campers a break from the flooding rains just days before. It is unimaginable how anyone could withstand the wet and bitter cold nights, sleeping on the ground and hovering by day beneath mounds of plastic tarp enclosures.
We approached tentatively as Nathan called out, announcing our presence and intention. “We’re here to help…we just found out yesterday that you were out here so we’ve come to bring you something to eat.” A man and a woman appeared from inside the makeshift tent and immediately came out to meet us. We introduced ourselves as I handed the man a large grocery bag filled with containers of hot clam chowder, saltine crackers, and club sandwiches — all donated by the friendly management at the Safeway on SE King Road, just 20 minutes before our arrival.
Looking worn and exhausted, they happily accepted our offerings and expressed how hungry they were and in need of warm food. Gina, a 60-year-old woman, stated “I’ve lost so much weight, I’m down to ninety pounds.”
Given that it was so cold out, I felt badly that our presence pulled them out of their protective semi-warm make-shift homes. I wanted to hurry up and gather information about their needs and levels of support in preparation for the upcoming sweep.
I spoke with several occupants of the camp whose ages ranged from 30-something to 60s. Several spoke of job loss as being the primary cause of their houseless living condition.
An elderly man and woman stated that they both had health insurance and were receiving medical care. The woman, Gina, said she had an appointment on Wednesday December 31st with JOIN to interview for her shelter needs. The man, however, stated that JOIN had not been helpful for him finding temporary shelter or permanent housing. He had been told he needed to have a source of income in order to qualify for housing through their program.
All 4 occupants that I spoke with said they would accept housing if it were made available to them. The older man said that his earlier incarceration and criminal history had led to his homelessness, but his current mental health issues interfere with his ability to find housing. Both men expressed wanting to work.
A 30-something youthful-appearing homeless man who lost his housing after losing his job stated, “If I could get a job doing maintenance, I could work my way back into a place to stay.” I felt a deep sense of his longing for a future that, for the time being, seems all too illusive to him.
A valued donation from our neighborhood Safeway
Both Nathan and I were delighted by the willingness and ease with which the Safeway store manager (a very friendly woman) listened to Nathan relay the impending fate of the Pardee Homeless Camp, which is scheduled for a sweep by Oregon Department of Transportation on Monday December 28th. They would dismantle their camp, toss out all of their belongings, and leave them with nothing and nowhere to go.
I found out about their situation on Christmas day, just before I was about to sit down for my holiday meal. Vahid Brown shared a video interview of 60-year-old Gina sleeping on the ground in freezing cold weather, who was about to be forced out of the only meager home she has. It really broke my heart.
(Click here to see his video.)
I am so disheartened and outraged that the city of Portland (the place where I was born) has become so callous — allowing defenseless, already homeless seniors struggling with serious medical, financial, and other personal crises to be threatened with a SWEEP from the very ground beneath their worn feet.
This is the same ground we are all born onto…the same ground that was here BEFORE ALL OF US were ever conceived….the same ground we will all one day leave behind. I am deeply perturbed that ODOT has the audacity to disallow this woman and all of her camp community members — who represent all of our mothers, our parents, our grandparents, our children and future generations — even one square foot of God’s earth on which to lay their weary heads and ravaged bodies.
This is an egregious assault on our collective humanity. It is a disgrace upon our leadership and citizenry for the entire state of Oregon.
This is Intolerable.
This is Unacceptable.
We will NOT allow this to continue!
Mayor Hales promised the city of portland in the Housing Emergency Plan that he would get the homeless women of Portland off the street and into shelters by the end of 2015. Gina and other homeless women sleeping out in the cold winter weather, wet, hungry and in dire need, are awaiting Mayor Hales to make good on his promise.
Mr. Mayor, you have 4 more days to honor your commitment to the homeless community.
I urge members of our community to contact our city and state officials demanding that they do what is right and humane for our houseless brothers and sisters.
Be Part of the Solution
Contact Your State and City Officials:
State Capitol Building
900 Court Street NE, 160
Salem, OR 97301
Phone: (503) 378-4582
Phone: (503) 823-4120
1221 SW 4th Avenue, Room 340, Portland, OR 97204
Oregon Department of Transportation
Phone: (888) 275-6368
Support Jessie Sponberg’s Garage Project providing supplies, sleeping bags, warm clothing and food items to economic refugees.