Pacific Northwest Style Homelessness

Greetings from Oregon!

My last blog post ended with a statement that I was tasked with interviewing a variety of people that have a stake in addressing homelessness here in Gresham. Since then I have had conversations, meetings, and planning sessions with over fifty people.

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My Meeting Tracker…I know it’s not the sexiest picture, but at least it’s colorful!

This group of interviewees ranges from local government officials (representing the cities of Gresham, Portland, and Salem), police officers, non-profit service providers, church run day shelters, Multnomah County leaders, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, bio-diversity coordinators; and, ­of course, individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Throughout this process of speaking with everyone in the Portland Metro Area (at least it feels like it), I have learned a great deal about homelessness in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve encountered three considerations here that I had not in my previous work with homeless communities in Michigan and Massachusetts.

1. The transient nature of homeless– in my previous work homelessness was considered a transient issue, because the lack of a stable living situation (even if it was under a particular bridge or in a certain shelter) made it difficult to provide services. Here in Oregon many people are concerned about homeless people coming to the state from other places due to the climate. Though this idea can be overstated, it is true that there is a migration so to speak of homeless communities up and down the West Coast and varying times of the year.

2. Lifestyle homeless- in Boston I would often hear people call homeless people bums who don’t want to work or leaches on society that just want to drink and do drugs. Here in Oregon people say that “some people just want to be homeless”.  I had never encountered the idea that some people choose homelessness as a lifestyle choice. Again, this is overstated to the point that some people believe all homeless people “choose” to be homeless. There is an element of truth to the existence of people that want to live an alternative lifestyle. These are typically thought to be either “young toughs” (groups of late teens-mid twenty year olds) in downtown Portland or chronically homeless single adults who camp.

3. Camping- my previous homeless work has been in cities where the only green spaces are parks with benches that homeless people sometimes sleep on. Here in Oregon there is so much vast green space that homelessness isn’t just people sleeping in the streets, shelters, or couch surfing. A new element of homelessness that I was introduced to here is the existence of homeless camps along trails and other forested areas.

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A Homeless Camp at the Sandy River Delta. This is a few miles east of Gresham.

These new considerations have been very important to my policy analysis. Now that I am armed with this knowledge I am able to begin the process of seeking out applicable best practices and developing some recommendations for the city of Gresham.

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