Too bad. There’s nowhere else to go.
Traffic was snarled again the other day, and everyone on the highway was angry about it. There was a lane closed that, once again, served as a real-life, tangible metaphor for the challenges people face when working together. Merging? We don’t know her. But as we all sat in our air-conditioned bullets, upset with everyone but ourselves, not many of us stopped to consider the grotesque human tragedy that led to our tardiness.
The lane closure was due to a fire. The fire was due to a spark in a tent encampment, perched in the crispy, summer-bleached grass along the side of a shadeless road. And the tent encampment was due to the fact that a lot of people are unable to get the help they need because that help does not exist.
Homelessness, in general, impacts everyone in specific ways. The impact on some people is obvious — they’re the ones you walk by as they try to find respite under an awning. But just because the impact on everyone else is smaller and less visible doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We just don’t always precisely connect the dots. But we should, because the fact is that it is in literally everyone’s best interest to provide the appropriate, effective and culturally-competent solutions to actually end homelessness, not just brush it further into the shadows.
Which is maybe the most frustrating part. Because we do know what to do to douse these flames.
In Portland, the extremely popular and exceedingly necessary Street Response program is in jeopardy because rather than allowing people to learn and grow and fix problems, both internally and externally, it’s easier to close down the entire thing and replace it with the simplest solution: doing nothing.
But doing nothing has, unsurprisingly, done nothing. And while there are many, many people working every single day to actively help those in need, there seem to be just as many who just want “the problem” erased. They believe this crisis can be treated with the same structures that have fed it. They want to extinguish an inferno by blowing on it.
There is nowhere left to go that isn’t impacted by this humanitarian disaster.
Homelessness bungles traffic. Homelessness pollutes the groundwater. Homelessness weakens the economy. Homelessness withers our empathy. Homelessness exhausts our brains and floods us with cortisol. Homelessness has changed our cities and our towns and our understanding of ourselves and human beings. It’s a climate change problem and it’s a public health problem. Homelessness is not an Other People Problem — it’s an Everybody Problem. And it’s a problem that is not without a solution.
Read more of the July 5-11, 2023 issue.