By Erin Fenner, Contributing Writer
Chris Kunzler, 33, and Mirna Abraham, 43, met each other at Sisters of the Road when both were new to Portland. Chris had just moved down from Alaska and Mirna had recently escaped an abusive relationship. Mirna didn’t know anything about the city and her English was still not perfect. While she was successful in Mexico, looking for work and adapting to Portland on her own was not easy.
“When I come here, I come blind,” Mirna said.
“My first present to Mirna was a map,” Chris said.
Chris offered help. Their first conversation was about food because she had gone four days without eating. But, quickly they became friends and began talking about shared political beliefs and cultural interests. Chris had worked in politics and Mirna had a master’s degree in political science. And, they were both in similar situations – looking for work.
“I put all my hope in Portland. The big city. But it is hard. Everything (is) in my car and (I’m) looking for a job every day,” Mirna said. “My financial situation is hard for me. Because I don’t have income. I don’t have a house. I need to pay my phone bill, my gas, my insurance.”
Chris likes to help his community – likes to reach out.
“I like activism, I do a lot of volunteering,” Chris said.
Chris pointed Mirna toward Street Roots which helped both of them get on their feet. Now she makes enough to pay some of her bills and they both have time to look for work and other resources. And Mirna said it also gives her a sense of dignity.
“I moved here because Portland is a metropolitan city and many galleries, culture, people are friendly and there’s lots of activism,” Mirna said.
Chris came down to Portland looking for work. He likes the people and the city – but he didn’t have a job before he came down here or a place to stay.
“I haven’t slept inside for a while; since I came down from Alaska,” Chris said, “No I did. I slept in a hostel for two nights. It was like 20 bucks a night, but I did that for my birthday.”
Chris says he doesn’t mind sleeping outside, but logistically it’s a challenge. While going to job interviews he has to find a place to keep all of his belongings. And the cold doesn’t bother him as much as the moisture. He never had frostbite even while living in Alaska, but now he has frostbite on his feet.
Despite the challenges, both of them love living in the city. They check out local art and music.
“Any cultural events that are free; we go,” Mirna said.
Mirna said she was frustrated with her situation – that she’s so educated but it means very little without a license in the U.S.
“It’s part of life: fluid,” Mirna said. “Everything is inside me; fluid.”
Now Mirna is in the process of getting housing and Chris has a job.