Homeless Life
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Homeless Life
A collection of images and writing from Kendallishere on blipfoto.com featuring people who live on the street and those who support them.
Curated by Karen Cropper
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Sunday 25 August 2013: Nobody's slave

Sunday 25 August 2013: Nobody's slave | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

“In a book you can go anywhere. Nobody rules you. You can put the book down. You’re in control, but you can get swept away. It’s perfect.” 

Elden has been unhoused for twelve years. He’s an Iraq veteran, and in the beginning of his time on the street he suffered from PTSD, anger management problems, and alcoholism. But he quit drinking nearly three years ago because he felt he’d become a slave to alcohol, and he's nobody's slave. He’s been seriously looking for work for several years now, and so far, no luck. “If you have no address and no work record, they’re afraid to hire you,” he explains. “I’ve had people rip my application up right in front of me. ‘You’re homeless,’ one guy said. ‘Forget it.’ I left there thinking I’d like to kill that guy if I could get away with it.”

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Sharena Hamilton's curator insight, February 20, 2014 1:44 PM

I believe, that we are trying to stop poverty but still not giving the less fortunate a chance.  Elden a Iraq veteran has gotten his life together and is trying to find him a job to provide for him but no one wanted to give him a opportunity because he is homeless. I believe this is discrimination and everyone should have an opportunity to be able to provide and survive in this world.

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A mile in these shoes

A mile in these shoes | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

These shoes lay abandoned by the streetcar stop where I was waiting, and I gazed at them and immediately started imagining who they belonged to, why they were left on the street, what life had been lived in them, where they had walked. But I don't know. I will never know. I try to walk in other people's shoes, but I can only go as far as my imagination takes me, and sometimes I'm totally wrong. 

Today a friend posted on Facebook an article strongly critical of One Billion Rising, and I have felt sad and troubled by it all day. The gist of the article, written by a privileged white woman (scroll to the end of that article for a picture and bio of Natalie Gyte), is that the Rising was just one more instance of privileged white feminists telling survivors of violence what to do; the article says these privileged white people should stay home and deal with the patriarchy in their own countries and leave the rest of the world alone. There is truth in that. Many educated white people think their tastes are "universal" and love to find ways to "help" people in the developing world fix "their" problems. Without walking in other people's shoes, they think they can tell folks what kind of shoes they should be wearing. And then sell those shoes to them. They should take care of their own damn shoes. That is true. 

But the article is snarky. Natalie Gyte calls herself a grassroots activist and writes, "The primary problem with One Billion Rising is its refusal to name the root cause of women's inequality; its outright refusal to point the finger at a patriarchal system...." That is a strange criticism. Patriarchy, a system of power based on prejudice about women, is exactly what OBR has named as the problem. Gyte quotes some British politician who said violence is not a gender issue, but this politician does not speak for OBR. Then Gyte quotes an unidentified Congolese woman and an unidentified Iranian woman who (she says) said they were insulted by OBR and called it "neo-colonial." She claims that unnamed, unspecified women of color have these opinions. I don't know if these unnamed sources ever worked with people involved in OBR. I don't know their experience. I just know Gyte used them to make her point.

I have watched Eve Ensler work her way to prominence, slowly and with great effort and vision, against resistance of every kind. OBR was not a white women's thing. "Break the Chain" was written and performed by a woman of color, the dance was choreographed by a woman of color, and the idea of political dancing as an act of joyful resistance arises in many cultures, I could name the Igbo, Basotho, and Zulu cultures for example; and it was local women in each country who made the Rising happen. There was no Ensler corps of privileged white feminists who invaded developing countries and forced this upon them. 

Ever since Occupy was shut down violently by police all over the USA, I have worried for the non-conforming world: how can we protest against our government, if any protest is labeled terrorism? How can we speak out against injustice if a gathering of concerned citizens is met with a riot squad with tazers, shields, billy clubs, and guns? Peopletwitcher said this yesterday: "I worry about our right to protest being curtailed or abolished. Like free speech, it is something I value dearly and support whole-heartedly and this protest captures the imagination, which is so powerful. I mean, how ridiculous would any Government look should they object to dancing? It's a stroke of genius."

Ensler is a playwright and therefore in my field. She's a decade younger than I, so I was watching when she came onto the theatre scene. I have watched as she didn't just sit back and collect her Obies and Guggenheims and go home and plan her next outfit. She began to work with women in prison fifteen years ago. She raised money for safe houses for women. She used her growing NY theatre connections to give exposure to the work of poor women and women of color. I watched as she created V-Day and opened a center for the treatment of women survivors in Congo. I watched as she has consistently thrown her body, her mind, and her life against what harms and silences women. Secrecy and shame about sexual abuse serve the perpetrator, not the victim. OBR is a way to shine a light on rape, on the abuse of women and children, on patriarchy, and on domestic violence. It is an idea that gripped women all over the world who danced their defiance yesterday, wearing their own shoes. 

I agree that we need to address the patriarchy where we live. But there's no need to trash Eve Ensler and the Rising while we do that.

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Dorothy Retha Cook's curator insight, February 14, 8:24 AM

Lord God help us to have compassion on others which shows we would not dare ask you to place us in or even let us go thru what they have or currently may be. Lord lead and guide us in ways we can be of help to others for we do know and acknowledge its nothing we have done or are not doing that causes us to be not but your Lord God Almighty Grace and mercy looking beyond all our faults and seeing all their needs according to your riches and glory.Lord God we thank you thank you for and thru it all!

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Bus shelter still life

Bus shelter still life | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

People like Stuart--the lowest of the low on the streets, outcasts even among outcasts, the uneducated chaotic homeless, the real fuck-ups--people who've had their social and school training lopped off at twelve: they simply don't understand the way the big world works. They are as isolated from us normal, housed people as we are from them. If Stuart is a freak, then it is because he has had the superhuman strength not to be defeated by this isolation. It is because he has had the almost unbelievable social adroitness to be able to fit in smoothly with an educated, soft-skinned person like myself and not make me frightened half to death. If Stuart's a freak, I salute freaks.
--Alexander Masters, Stuart: A Life Backwards.

Finding this bus shelter still-life is the only light-hearted moment I had today. I hope the people who made these signs left them behind because they got enough money for a room.

Reading Masters' genius of a biography the second time, I remembered Dorothy. I spent five years working on a biography of her that I never finished. I met her in 1971 when I was working as a counselor in a methadone program in New York City. She was on my case load. In 1977, after I'd moved to New Orleans and had Seth, she asked me if I could write a book about her life. She wanted her story told and imagined we might both make some money off it. 

I was crazy enough to hope. I went up to Harlem and stayed in her squat on 116th Street with a tape recorder for a week. That was barely enough to get started, so I saved her drunken life and moved her to New Orleans and looked after her. I put her into rehab, loved her, shoved a tape recorder under her face and recorded hundreds of hours of her story on cassette tapes which I later transcribed. During the years it took me to come up with a rough draft, she got fed up and went back to New York, but we stayed in touch till she died in 1991. My biography was never anywhere near as brilliant as Masters', but thinking about Dorothy, about what a wreck her life was and how much I hoped we could salvage it, I'm not surprised I'd buried the memory so deeply it took a second reading of Stuart before I remembered why it all seemed so familiar. I never figured out how to tell the story in a way that wasn't so depressing nobody could bear to read it, even though she did end up in an apartment with a sense of peace and safety. Masters tells it with poetry, laughter, and a fury that is anything but depressing, and I salute him for that.

This afternoon I went to see a locally-made documentary, Alien Boy: the Life and Death of James Chasse. James was a schizophrenic white man beaten to death by police in Portland in 2006. The documentary, which is well-made and powerful, details the police cover-up, the three-year investigation that resulted in basically nothing but money paid to James's family. Since James's death there've been two Black men with mental illnesses killed by Portland Police, not to mention all I saw during Occupy Portland. The makers of the film are looking for distribution, and the issues are important and not just about one man in one place. If you or anybody you know would be interested in arranging a showing of it, send an email to Jen Winter jwinter@alienboy.org

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In-tents Collaboration

In-tents Collaboration | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Today I met in a tent with Ibrahim Mubarak, founder of Dignity Village and Right 2 Dream Too, two tented camps for unhoused people. Our goal was to develop a script for a four-minute video about the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign. We wanted something humorous but informative, a kind of movie trailer setting out the goals and ideals of the project. 

Ibrahim had the visuals already, and thirteen people had signed up to do the script-writing, but only the two of us showed up, which turned out to be great because in just two hours we had the job done. I've collaborated with hundreds, maybe thousands of people over the years, but today was a high point for me. Ibrahim and I both brought no ego-needs to the project; we respect each other, we wanted to do this, and we were in complete agreement about the concepts. Unrestricted capitalism, war, and the economic recession have led to cuts in social services. Police support of the business sector, along with stereotypes about homeless people, have led to violence against the poor. This is why we need the HBRC. 

Badabim, badabam, nailed it. High-five and a hug. Beautiful process.

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Feeding the hungry.

Feeding the hungry. | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Today is the Grand Floral Parade of the Rose Festival in Portland. The night before the parade, camping is allowed on city streets. Many of Portland's unhoused people have camped out along the parade route--both to call attention to the need for official space for unhoused people to sleep, eat, and live; and also to allow unhoused people to see the parade. An organization called Homeless Against Homelessness in America (HAHA) provides breakfast for anyone who wants it: cornbread, pineapple, strawberries, juice, coffee, cheese, and more.

In a rare change of rhythm, I had my blip for today in the bag before 8 a.m. 

Background article is here. 

A few more pictures are here.

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Walking and the Unhoused

Walking and the Unhoused | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

This man, tired but satisfied, with his head on his desk and his eyes closed at the end of a long day facilitating meetings and workshops on the subject of a Homeless Bill of Rights, is Michael Moore. (Fitter and healthier than the famous Michael Moore.) He's an advocate for unhoused people and works at Sisters of the Road. 

Moore explains that the real enemy of unhoused people is the class structure, and more specifically business owners who want poverty shoved out of sight and mind. Police are the front lines of that struggle, as they enforce laws that deny unhoused people the right to conduct their lives in the only space they have. A Homeless Bill of Rights would guarantee unhoused people the "right to sleep, stand, sit, possess personal property, and eat" on public property. It could also mandate health and hygiene centers including toilets and showers. 

I spent today learning about action plans for unhoused people, and I found the perfect niche for me. Of eight campaign goals, the third is "Change public perceptions of the unhoused," and the first item under that goal is "Story collection." I'm on it.

Another remarkable thing happened today. I received a gift copy of a beautiful book, Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways, sent to me by a Blipper in Essex whose work I very much admire. In gratitude, I'd like to share a paragraph from that book that fits right in with today's theme.

"Americans have long envied the British system of footpaths and the freedoms it offers, as I in turn envy the Scandinavian customary right of Allemansratten ('Everyman's right'). This convention--born of a region that did not pass through centuries of feudalism, and therefore has no inherited deference to a landowning class--allows a citizen to walk anywhere on uncultivated land provided that he or she cause no harm; to light fires; to sleep anywhere beyond the curtilage of a dwelling; to gather flowers, nuts, and berries; and to swim in any watercourse...." --Robert Macfarlane. 

When I was six years old I got rheumatic fever. It affected the cartilage in my knees, and I was told I would never walk again. I tried to kill myself when I was seven. I spent a year and a half in bed and in a wheel chair, and at the age of eight I began slowly and hesitantly to learn to walk again, and so far I haven't stopped. But I learned not to take walking for granted. 

I am deeply grateful to have been chosen a second time for a Staff Pick, and for your many congratulations, comments, and subscriptions. Some of you have scrolled all the way down a path of comments that seems as endless as corn fields in Kansas. I'm planning not to comment any more today, and not to blip tomorrow. I want to read Macfarlane's beautiful book and to walk, unplugged. I'm going to take a comment break for a day or two.

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Benjamin

Benjamin | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Benjamin gave me this interview a week ago. I took it back to him this morning, and he wants to edit it himself and make a few changes. So this is a working draft. The picture was made today, inside the office of Street Roots. --Kendall.

The single best thing I ever did was with my grand-nephew. I was living with my brother in Idaho Falls, taking care of him after his stroke. He could take care of himself, really, but he needed somebody there in the house with him. It's a frightening thing, having a stroke. You're out of control of your own body, and you get spooked. So I was living with my brother, and our six-year-old grand-nephew needed help. His parents couldn't deal with him. He has autism, and he has some speech problems. You can look at him and see how bright he is, but he has a real short fuse. I had a special connection with him from the start. 

We'll call the kid Ralph for this purpose. He hated going to school, but right away when he started staying with me, we saw a change. I think it was the personal attention. He started to take an interest in school. He worked forty pounds off me, but it was worth it. I love that kid, and taking care of him brought out the best in me. If he woke up in the night, I was there. When he woke up in the morning, I was there. And all day, whenever he was home, we just played. I'm kind of like a kid myself in some ways. Playing just came easy to me with Ralph. 

After five months, everything was going great, and he had one of his temper tantrums. Autistic kids do that. He threw himself around, I bumped him and put a tiny mark on him, a bruise. I was drinking, I'm not going to say I wasn't, but my drinking had nothing to do with what happened to Ralph, and it was really minor. The social worker came that day, she said she had to report it, and I got convicted of injury to a child. I was forbidden to be his primary caretaker, slapped with a fine and sent to a treatment program, and Ralph was shipped off to his mother, in Texas. This is what happens when you get the bureaucracy involved in your life. Soon after that my brother died, so I had no reason to stay in Idaho Falls. I lost my job as a taxi driver, my brother left me some money, and I just decided to come back to Portland. I've lived here off and on since 1986. My son, now twenty-five, was born here. So I thought, might as well go to Portland as anywhere and if worst came to worst, I could sleep in front of the rescue mission. 

Looking back, I think it was the fact that I had money that made it worse for me. All I heard all day long was, "Got a cigarette?" I had to use what money I'd gotten in my brother's Will to pay the fine and to pay for the treatment program that I didn't want to be in, so what was left I used to buy cigarettes. I have not quit drinking; I stopped. I like drinking, it suits me, and I mean to go back to it when I need to.

Since I ran through my brother's money I've been no better or worse off than any other unhoused person, financially, but I do have one difference. I'm going to college at Portland Community College, taking a heavy load. I was doing real well, too, making great grades. I had a professor in an ethics class who asked me if she could read my paper to one of her classes, so it's clear I can do the work. Now recently I had a situation. I lost my shelter, somebody took my backpack and all my books. So I'm out of school at the moment, but I'll be going back. I'm definitely going back.

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Home under the bridge

Home under the bridge | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

A child's bicycle, a child's jacket. A black lace robe. A sleeping bag. A bicycle helmet and some purple-and-white-silk hair clips. These and some plastic bags wrapped in tarpaulins are chained to a No Parking sign near a series of overpasses next to a church. 

The care with which it's all roped together and balanced on a small shopping cart says to me that this is someone's home. I made four morepictures of it as an illustration of the difference between homeless and houseless. This family has created a home on the road, though apparently they have no house to live in. No one was at home this afternoon. As I write this, it is 28 degrees F, -2 C. Some of the local churches allow houseless people to sleep in their recreation rooms at night. I hope this family is able to take refuge in the church near where they parked their home.

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Home Boys

Home Boys | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Man seated: "Can you put us on the internet, make us famous?"

I laughed and said it depends what you mean by famous, but yes, I could put them on the internet. "I'd like that," he said. "Get a closeup of me and my home boy, here."

 

His friend, standing beside him, was skeptical. "What's the use of being famous if you can't do nothin with it? What's the use of it?"

 

I asked them if they'd like to say anything to the people who might look at the picture. "Yeah," the seated man said. "Tell 'em this. This is me and my home boy, and we stick together. We don't know nothin' but bad times and worse times, but we hang together and it goes better if you ain't alone."

 

http://www.blipfoto.com/entry/2704727

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Just Joseph

Just Joseph | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

I am increasingly grateful to the sad young man whose face made me a Staff Pick this week. My thanks to all those who have left comments, hearts, and new subs: I may not get around to saying thank you to each person, but I'm moved by our tribe and its kindness. My search for the young man has turned into a quest, as much about the journey as the destination. This afternoon I went looking for him on my One Street (NW 21st Avenue in Portland), and I found three remarkable men. They all recognized him. It was hard for me to decide which of the three to Blip. Finally I chose Joseph, because he had the most to say:

"I'm just Joseph, and I love it here," he grinned, looking around us at the people walking by. "This is still a neighborhood. All I have to do is walk out on the street and I'll see people I know, and there's always a chess game going at the coffee place. I love to play chess. 

"You're close enough to Forest Park that if you're in the mood for salad, or mushrooms, or maybe even truffles, you can find them if you know how to look. I love those white truffles. I can smell 'em. They're not as good as the black ones, but they're easier to find. Soak 'em in grape-seed oil for a couple days and then cook 'em with eggs. I trade 'em sometimes to some of the cooks in these fine restaurants, trade 'em for a meal. I can clean up real nice for that.

"If you're eatin' mushrooms you gotta watch out for deathcaps, of course. One mistake and you've bought it. But I know what I'm doing. I could take you foraging if you want to learn. Most people don't want to learn. No, you don't need to explain, I know. Most people walk around half dead or tuned into their phones. Most people don't even know what kind of day it is. Me, I like to know something about whatever's around me. When you get done taking pictures I'll give you my email address. I'd like to see what you come up with." Color version of Joseph here. 

Joseph's response to my picture of the mystery man: "Yeah, I've seen him, but he doesn't stay around here."

That's the same thing Elton said. He's from a little town near Macon, Georgia. I told him I once lived near Macon, and we reminisced a bit. "I know all the drunks in town because I used to be one. Took me two years to get sober because I was so bad I'd get seizures if I didn't drink. But I've been clean two years now, and I won't go back. At Christmas I spent time with my family, and it was beautiful. It doesn't control me now. I'm in charge. But when I go looking for somebody to help me get a job, if you're not an ex-junkie or an ex-felon, they got nothing for you. There's no services for ex-drunks," he laughed. "It's hard when you've got no work record. But I'm going to find a job. I know I am."

Elton introduced me to his friend, who only wants to be known as "the Indian with the harmonica." He nodded, yes, he knows the young man in the photograph. But he changed the subject, waved his harmonica and said, "I'm still learning to play this thing, but man I love the sounds I can get out of it." He began to play complex and very beautiful blues harmonica. I stood there listening, amazed, while people walked on by and Elton and Joseph went on their way. The Indian didn't even put out a hat for change. He was just playing for the joy of the sound.

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Frederick

Frederick | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.
--Frederick Douglass.

"My name is Frederick. My daddy was Fred Brown, that's his whole name, Fred Brown. People thought I was named for him, and he was a good man. I would have been proud to be named for him, but my mama named me for Frederick Douglass. My full name is Frederick Douglass Brown. I was fifteen years old before I knew who Frederick Douglass was. My mama wouldn't tell me. She said I had to go to school to find out. It was one of the ways she kept me in school. Frederick Douglass was an educated man, a fine man, and he fought slavery and wrote poetry. Me? No, I don't write. I could. I write things in my head. But I don't see the point of it now.

"Sitting here under the cherry blossoms, watching people pass by on a sunny day, you wouldn't know I was homeless, would you? No, I didn't think you would. But there's two reasons why I'm on the streets right now. After a certain point the body starts to break down. I can't keep working like I always worked. Knees give out. I laid concrete, I did construction, I could do electricals too. I could wire up your whole house if you wanted me to. I learned it on the job from another black man. I was never afraid of work. But I'm sixty-nine years old, and my legs have started to give out, and I can't do like I used to. Can't work and can't chase women. I give it all up now. I used to love me some women, yes indeed. Love me some women, fine women. I never forgot a one of them. But I quit now. 

"The other thing is betrayal. I've been betrayed more times than I can count. Tell me one thing. What is wrong with white people? They're your people. Tell me. You put ten men on a work force, who's the first one to be fired? The black man. You fill up a building with people, who's the first people thrown out? The black ones. You got kids in line for scholarships to stay in school, who's the last ones to get money? The black ones. It was a black man invented the computer, it was black men that discovered medicine, it was black men and black women that built cities in Africa while white men were still running around in animal skins. We built everything this country is, but you look now, who got the credit for it? Who got the money for it? I don't have to tell you. 

"My daddy told me I was going to have to be strong, and he made me strong. We had a pig farm in southern Illinois, and I worked that farm. My daddy was a man of faith, a preacher man, and he had a whip, I mean a real whip, not some toy. He had a whip, and he kept me in line. He didn't want me falling in with bad company. I didn't drink, I didn't use marijuana. I use it now, if I can get it, and I'm not ashamed to say so. But back then, I didn't do anything but work that farm, and I'm telling you, you don't know work till you shovel a mountain of pig shit, hauling it one wheelbarrow at a time out to the garden, and digging it into the earth. That's what work is. I think that was the happiest time of my life, making my daddy proud of me. My daddy was a hard man, but he taught me work, and I was happy working."

Color version and other cherry blossom pictures here.

P.S. If you'd like to hear a half-hour radio conversation about Blip, featuring the voices of Katherine Ellis, Just Be and her nephew, and me too coming in about halfway through, it's here.

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The Dream Keeper

The Dream Keeper | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all of your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.
--Langston Hughes.

A bluebell-blossoming day. Bella in the morning. Writers group in the afternoon. Then a stroll through the sunny afternoon, a scoop of weird but wonderful ice cream (apricot wheat ale with candied Scotch Bonnet peppers). Ease of well being and a pang of sympathy for the person who left an old well-worn leather jacket, like an abandoned dream, lying by the curb.

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Creative Housing Option

Creative Housing Option | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Ibrahim Mubarak, here and here, says he is a "triple threat" to people who want to maintain the status quo: he's Black, he's a Muslim, and he's Houseless. Local people who do not have indoor places to stay sometimes call themselves "houseless," rather than "homeless," given that they create homes wherever they are--in tents, with shopping carts and cardboard, in cars or trucks, or however they can. Their housing situation does not dictate to others who and what they are. "I don't like the word 'homeless,'" Mubarak says. "We just don't, at the present time, have a house to live in. And there are as many reasons for that as there are people out here on the streets." Mubarak is a visionary leader who helped to create Right To Dream Too. (Link is to their blog, not updated since May.)

This morning I had business downtown, and I found myself in front ofRight to Dream Too. This last link is to an article about them in the newspaper sold by houseless people and is probably the most useful link to click on, if you're in a hurry. Right to Dream Too is affectionately known in the Portland Occupy community as R2D2 . Scroll down to the last picture in that last link so you can see better what you're looking at in this accordion-pleated row of wonderfully-painted recycled doors that form a fence around an empty lot where about sixty people have made their homes in tents. Some doors were painted by people in the houseless community; some were painted by college students, local citizens, and union members in solidarity with houseless people. Some doors have pictures, quotations, and proverbs painted on them such as the following:

"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are."--Maya Angelou.

"Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings." --Nelson Mandela. 

"Comfort the disturbed. Disturb the comfortable." 

"When we can't dream any longer, we die." --Emma Goldman.

R2D2 is a campground or "rest area" for houseless people. It is carefully patrolled and regulated by members of its own community. It's safe and at the moment, although Portland Police are demanding fees for permits and one stupid thing or another, it is a place where houseless people can sleep without being harassed by the cops. People pay a dollar a night to stay here, and I'm told there is a waiting list, although I wasn't able to find anyone to confirm that. It is one of the few places where heterosexual houseless people can stay together in couples (the other shelters are single-sex); and where houseless people with pets can stay with their animals. Some of the people in R2D2 self-identify as mentally ill. Others don't. Some have addictions but agree to a substance-free home base. Others have been evicted from their former houses and apartments. With local shelters overflowing, R2D2 is a creative option for some houseless people. But there are more people wanting in than there is space for.

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Hanging out with the eagles

Hanging out with the eagles | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

He grew up in Grant's Pass, Oregon. His parents were loggers, and around the 70s they got into playing the Ouija Board, seances, table moving, spirits. I asked if his parents were hippies.

"Hippies? Naw, they killed hippies. They were good people, and I miss 'em. But during that time, back when I was a midget, they showed me some things, which is why I know there's stuff out there that you can't account for. One time I was messing around in this empty house, and something followed me home. It was like this," he showed me with his hand, "this close to me, and moving with me, and followed me home. It was cold, I could feel it, and when I got home, a cast iron bookcase flew across the room at me. After that we had to get a woman called Natasika to come exorcize the house, get that thing out of there. She was a powerful woman, I can tell you that."

I asked if she was a Native American woman. He nodded. "That was a powerful name she had. You know what it means?"

I said no, thinking maybe he'd tell me, but he just stared quietly out toward the river. 

He's been living outside for a long time. He likes sitting in the sun watching the bald eagles by the river as shadows fall across Ross Island. He says the eagles are getting ready to nest. There was one sitting peacefully in a tree about a hundred yards from us. For about the past six years he's been selling Street Roots, the newspaper of the homeless community in Portland.

If you'd rather see him in color, I put a few more pictures here.

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She Listens

She Listens | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

This is Shasta, and listening to other women's stories is her mission in life. Shasta has been unhoused off and on since 2004, and she's an advocate for women on the street. Now she has housing, she has a caring partner who is involved in advocacy with her, and she's eight months pregnant. At the age of thirty-eight, she knows there are no guarantees about what's ahead. But she has a heart for women living in the street. 

"The whole world needs to change, and changing the whole world is beyond me. But I can listen to one person at a time, listen with all I've got, and I know that makes a difference. There have been times when I needed somebody to hear me, listen to me, be a witness to what I was going through and treat me like a human being. So now I do that for others." 

I interviewed her today for an article we hope will be published inStreet Roots, so I'm not going to give too much of it away here, but I do want to say she's one hell of an impressive woman. I took more flattering pictures of her today, and we'll probably use one of those for Street Roots, but I like this one because I think it catches some of her force, some of her determination and power. 

Shasta concludes our interview, "I've got a baby coming in a couple of months, and once that baby comes, I'll be walking the streets with a baby in my arms, still doing the same thing I'm doing now--talking to women, listening to what they have to say. I'll be right here. I'm not going anywhere."

P.S. I could have sworn I had the camera on Shutter Priority, which I keep at 100. But no. It was on Aperture. Hence the soft focus. 

P.P.S. Shasta will be reading your comments, so feel free to leave her a message if you wish.

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Bill of Rights for Unhoused People

Bill of Rights for Unhoused People | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

A great day! I met with the Core Committee for the Homeless Bill of Rights being crafted for Oregon. This is Art Rios, a member of the committee, an organizer and advocate for unhoused people. His job is outreach, and he and his team have conducted over five hundred interviews with unhoused people in Portland, documenting their struggles, their hopes, and their needs. I offered to take pictures and collect stories to help change the public perception of unhoused people, and I'm in! 

There is already a terrific project through Sisters of the Road, supporting unhoused people in telling their stories. It's called Empowered Voices Media, and there are about forty videos, some of which are available on Youtube, telling individual people's stories. A good example, a three-minute video incorporating photographs and narrative, is here. What I have in mind is much simpler--still photographs and stories, in a format not unlike that I've been using on Blip, and it looks like we can work together. I'm very excited about the possibilities.

Then tonight I went to meet a stray cat a friend has been caring for. She's a beautiful little long-haired dilute calico somebody declawed and spayed and then abandoned. My friend hadn't realized till I got there that he and the little cat are seriously bonded. He has been feeding her for nearly a year now, and she clung to him and wanted nothing to do with me. He has never owned a cat and was surprised to discover that he really didn't want to part with her. I think I persuaded him to keep her and move her from the porch into his apartment. I'll keep looking.

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Lucky to be alive

Lucky to be alive | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Quick update on yesterday. My neighbor was sent home from the hospital at midnight last night, but the hospital staff called a cab for him (and paid for it). His heart is OK, he was given some powerful pain medication that has helped temporarily, and he felt he was treated well, though he still cannot get an appointment to see his primary doctor, who is the only person who can authorize the treatment he needs. I'll take him to a pharmacy later today to get additional pain medication.

Today was my first day as an official story-collector in support of the Homeless Bill of Rights. I went to Street Roots this morning to meet with several people who wanted to tell me their stories, and I listened and took pages of notes and a few pictures. 

This is Dennis, who has a hair-raising story that includes praise for the health care system, which seems only fair, to balance my rant yesterday. 

Last Friday, Dennis was hit by a car at about 2 p.m. while he was in a legal crosswalk. He was thrown to the pavement but not run over by the car, and while he was trying to get up off the ground, the car sped away and ran through a traffic light at the next intersection. He wasn't able to see the license plate on the car. No one stopped to help him, and no one came forward as a witness.

He made his way to a nearby bicycle shop, where they allowed him to wash his hands and get some paper towels to stanch the blood on his hands and knees. He explains, 

"I was shook up. I was like, what happened? Did that just happen? I couldn't stop shaking. So I thanked them and made my way to the Mission for dinner. I told my friends, and one of them said I should call 911, so I used the pay phone at the Mission. About forty-five minutes later, the cops showed up and took notes and told me they would file a report. But they didn't give me anything to sign, so I was feeling like it was a waste of time. They didn't say a thing about me getting any medical treatment. I was still bleeding, but they didn't care. Saturday I went to the police office to check on the incident, and there was no report at all. They just blew me off, like, 'He's homeless, he's worthless. Forget it.' So I was shaken up all weekend, couldn't seem to get my head around what happened. I tried to get a bus ride to the hospital, but the bus driver said no, not without a ticket. 

"I didn't get to the hospital till Monday, when I got a bus ticket from a friend of mine at the Mission. I went to the Emergency at Providence Hospital. I told them I'm homeless, I don't have any health care or anything, and they took real good care of me, treated me like a real person. They took some of the green-painted cross-walk stones out of my hand where they were embedded in my skin, and they put ointment and bandages on me and gave me a scan, where they put you in a tube and check you out. CAT scan I guess they call it. They said I didn't have any broken bones. I was lucky. Then they gave me some antibiotics to take there, and some antibiotics to take home and swallow every eight hours, and they called the Mission to get me a bed for the night. Then they called a cab and sent me to the Mission. I'm just coming from there right now."

I think it's fair to say our health care system is inconsistent. Hearing Dennis's story, and contrasting it with the story of my neighbor's experience, I can only conclude that there are systems in place to cover the cost of Dennis's medical expenses, while my neighbor's coverage only extends to the insurance he signed up for. At least my neighbor got a ride home last night and he's feeling better. I'm glad Dennis survived to tell the story, though I'm not sure he's especially lucky.

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Clean and sober, reassembling their lives

Clean and sober, reassembling their lives | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Left to right, that's Sheri's friend Jacque, who just got a job today; then Sheri holding her baby, and seated to the right is another Sherry, pregnant and due last week--expecting any moment now. Sheri began living in the streets when she was twelve. Like most kids who choose the streets, she was running away from an unsafe home where addiction led to abuse. The streets were a safer place to be. In the streets she was taken in by other houseless people who made a home for her and protected her. 

"My street family believed in me. They saw strength in me and goodness. I never got abused in the streets. It was street elders who taught me values: you never take from people who have less than you, make sure nobody in the group goes hungry. You check on each other morning and night. That first year I met my boyfriend, and I stayed with him till I was nineteen. I still love him. He's my childhood sweetheart, my first child's father. He has seven more years to serve in jail. I'm married to someone else now, a good man, this baby's father. My husband lives in California, and I hope one day I can get my kids back and go live with him, but my first love will always be my first love."

Sheri became a meth addict in the streets and was ridden by that addiction for some years. She used dirty needles, she was careless, she spent six years in jail, and she says with some wonder, "It's only thanks to the grace of the Creator that I don't have AIDS or Hepatitis C." 

She's thirty-four now and has four children, but only the baby, born while she was in a treatment center, lives with her. The other three are in foster care. Sheri and the baby live in housing for women who have been through drug treatment and are clean and sober. She works atCityteam Ministries in Women's Services. "I work there several days a week if I can get child care. At the Cityteam center women can get showers, a sandwich, some clothes, and a little kindness. I like to be there for them." 

"What I want for the future is to continue working with my people. I'd like to get a paid job in a non-profit. I don't ever want to forget where I came from. I've been clean for two years. My street family is still my main support. If I go without, they get on me, they're like, 'Why? why? Just tell us if you need something, we'll get it for you!' They keep people who are on drugs away from me because sometimes I'm tempted to take care of people, but that's when I have to back off. We have to decide to take care of ourselves first, and then if we're working on that, we can accept support, but not care-taking. 

"What would I like to change? I'd like to see more compassion. I'd like people not to judge us. I'd like them to know that every one of us has a story, and it's probably not the story they think it is. If people have compassion, maybe they can volunteer in programs for houseless people, or maybe they can give money, if they have it, to organizations that help us. They can donate to Outside In, or Sisters of the Road. Without these organizations we'd have no health care and we'd be hungry, and when we're sick and hungry, we can't make good decisions. These non-profits are doing so much good. There's a church calledStreet Church that does wonderful work with young people. If somebody's a Christian, they might give to them. But money is not the main thing. The main thing is not to judge us, and to have compassion."

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In freezing fog

In freezing fog | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

It's my first time to see freezing fog. It's not snow, not sleet, not an ice storm--but tiny granules freezing in the fog that blankets us, coating each branch, each blade of frozen grass, and (worse) the street and sidewalks with slickness. Cars and walkers are slip-sliding away, though a few intrepid bikers seem to be coping with it. I managed, using my best Tai Chi balance strategies, not to fall while out taking pictures. 

Here again, on my One Street this time, is evidence of another person sleeping in the street. Homeless or houseless? The distinction was requested by Ibrahim Mubarak, a man who describes himself as houseless and is an organizer of people in Portland who are without houses to live in. I met Mubarak when I was writing for the Portland Occupier, and he told me, "I'm not homeless. I have a home, and I carry it with me. The bankers took my house, but they can't take my home, even if I make it on my feet, in a shopping cart, or in a doorway. I take care of myself and my few possessions while living on the street, and I don't like it when people call me homeless, as if they think I'm without roots or dignity." Mubarak is a man of great dignity. He has organized several parts of town where houseless people can live together and support each other, and he calls one of them "Dignity Village." The other area is R2D2, or Right to Dream Too, blipped here last July. R2D2 is still fighting the City, which has given the camp a bill for $13,000 for some bureaucratic idiotic unreason. Tomorrow the MLK, Jr. Day Parade will make a stop at R2D2, and that's where I hope my old friendFrank and I will join the parade.

This person's shopping cart filled with sleeping bags coated with freezing fog is much less well-organized than the arrangement I blipped a few days ago with a child's bike on it. But this appears to be somebody's stuff, and maybe it's their home. If I had seen the owner, I could have asked him whether he prefers to be called homeless or houseless. Perhaps he would tell me he doesn't give a shit what anybody calls him. Or perhaps he has a preference. Perhaps it would be nosey or intrusive for me to ask him. Or perhaps it would be respectful. I'd have to play it by ear.

Edit: The MLK Jr Day parade, which I thought was taking place on MLK Jr Day, in fact happened Saturday and I totally missed it. Hilarious. I don't know what Frank and I will do, but we will figure that out when he gets here.

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"I should have lived at another time."

"I should have lived at another time." | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

This morning I woke to sunbeams breaking through fog. I threw on some jeans and a jacket and raced out, hoping to get some cityscapes with fog and light. And I did. Then I met this young man with his grocery cart full of bottles, on his way to the recycling center where he could get a few cents for each bottle. We smiled shyly at each other, and I said, "Beautiful morning. Fog and sun at the same time."

"Yeah. I like this part of town. It used to be industrial. I think there must have been lots of jobs here at one time. Now it's just rich people's condos, shit like that. There's no jobs."

I asked him what he'd like to do, if he could find a job. 

"I'd like to be an artist's model. But not in our time. Those old artists, Michelangelo and people like him. I'd like to be one of their models. I should have lived at another time."

I looked at him, really looked, and realized how incredibly beautiful he is. He's right. He'd look right at home in a Michelangelo painting. I asked if he'd mind being my model, if it would be OK if I took a picture with the foggy city in the background. He laughed, sure. 

Last week Ceridwen sent me a link to Recovery College, a free university for street people in the UK. It turns out there's a program that sounds similar right here in Portland: Dorothy Day School, associated with Sisters of the Road. When my old friend Frank was here last week, he was reading a biography of Dorothy Day, so it sort of felt like an omen. I've signed up for a volunteer training this afternoon at Sisters of the Road. Maybe I'll run into this beautiful young man again. We didn't exchange names, but this is a face I won't soon forget.

Edit later in the day: The volunteer workshop was cancelled. A death in the family of the presenter. Next one scheduled is March 11. I'll try again. I posted a few more pictures of this young man here.

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A year and a half on the street...so far.

A year and a half on the street...so far. | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Suzanne has a Master's degree in social work and is a certified teacher of English as a Second Language. When she returned to Portland after teaching English to high school students in Hungary for four months, she wasn't able to find another job, was unable to pay rent, and joined the ranks of the unhoused--a population she served as a social worker just a few years ago. 

"I know I can survive without housing. I learned the system as a social worker. I know how to get free clothing, enough food to stay alive, a place to shower and clean up. I can hang out in Powell's Bookstore in the daytime. I cycle through the various shelters--most of them only offer housing for a short time, and you have to move to another one. I can manage. But the hardest thing for me is never being alone. I miss privacy. The only time I can ever be alone is when I go to a restroom in a coffee house. I sleep with others, I eat with others, and I'm always surrounded by others. It's hard for me to sleep, and I long for quiet."

Suzanne is still hoping to find a job and doesn't want to be publicly identified as "homeless," which is why she prefers not to be photographed. She has recently started working with others at Sisters of the Road and Street Roots, hoping to contribute to systemic change. "It's economic," she explains; "capitalism only works for those who are already rich. It has been in a state of collapse since 2008. Those of us at the bottom are the first ones to see that. I want to be part of telling that story, I want to be part of making that change, but much of my energy now is absorbed by survival." 

Suzanne would like to return to Hungary. She found it "beautiful and enchanting," and she felt strangely at home there. Her ancestors were Russian Jews, and she says many older Hungarians hate Russians, and hate Jews, but there is something about the villages and the young people she met there that calls to her. She says if she can just find a job, and some relatively inexpensive housing, she'll save up till she can go back.

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Sami and the Homeless Bill of Rights

Sami and the Homeless Bill of Rights | Homeless Life | Scoop.it

Sami is from the island of Nevis, in the Caribbean. Currently he's unhoused and living in Portland, and he has been volunteering as a dishwasher at Sisters of the Road since 2010. He says he started sleeping outside as a child in Nevis, and he has camping skills, good health, and good friends, so he considers himself wealthy and loves his life. "I'm young enough and healthy enough that I can still enjoy living with this kind of freedom," he told me. "I worked very hard for some years, till I started to lose my health and happiness. So here, I work a little, I help other people a little, and life is in balance for me. I know some people have a much harder time. Health is everything, safety is everything. Here I'm healthy, and nobody harasses me, so for me it's pretty good. For others, not so good." 

Today we had an all-day meeting to work on the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign for Oregon. I'm continuing to work for the campaign by documenting unhoused people's stories. Sami and I sat together for a delicious lunch donated by a Cuban restaurant. I asked Sami about Nevis. 

"Oh, Nevis is a great place. We don't have guns there, so there's hardly any violence. The weather is perfect, so people don't get sick till they're old. We have very good schools, so everyone is literate. You can really live off the land--everybody has a little garden, but you can pick mangoes off the trees, you can catch fish. We have about fifty different kinds of mangoes, every day there's another kind of mango ripening. Then there are guavas, beautiful food, healthy food that makes you feel good. Nobody is too fat, nobody is too skinny."

So I asked him, "Why did you leave? Don't you want to go back?"

"There are people I miss, but I don't want to go back, not yet. I guess I have the wander-lust," he explained. "Even as a small child, as soon as I read books about other parts of the world, I wanted to go there. I'm still that way, and I have good friends here. I'm happy here. It's surprising to me, being here. I know what to expect there, because it's my culture. But here, I am always surprised. I like that. It keeps me thinking, keeps me young. Maybe when I get old, I'll go back."

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