Street Roots editorial
Imagine a village that, due to circumstances beyond its borders, had several thousand people living without housing.
In response, the village established an array of services and shelter for its citizens. Over time it became clear that the services offered were simply not enough to maintain individuals and families needs. Those who could not take care of themselves began to fall through the cracks. Many of the disabled and elderly scrambled to obtain services. People dealing with mental health problems were left out in the cold. Families trying to stay together did everything in their power to maintain a dignified life despite their circumstances. In one year, 47 people without shelter died.
In response to the crisis a group of citizens created their own makeshift refuge. Installing tents and canopies on a plot of land to better serve those without shelter, the small group created a safe place for people to exist until services became available.
Many people in the village who had no resources and cared for the poor believed the group’s actions were justified and held them up as heroes. Others believed the group to be rogue and an eyesore for the community.
Villagers were conflicted. On one hand, the group was creating a safe place for people to be. The group was orderly and maintained basic principles and standards that held people accountable. On the other hand, the group was unconventional, and viewed as an obstruction to progress and new development that would help increase the livability for the rest of the village.
To make matters more complicated, the owner of the plot of land where the refuge was set up was seen as a villain by the village’s leaders and many in the public eye.
In the end, the refuge was deemed illegal and fined for existing. The group responded by suing the village through a democratic process to be allowed to exist. Those who believed the group should be disbanded or moved out of the public’s eye began to organize against the group, putting public pressure on the village leaders to take care of the situation.
Village leaders sent mixed messages. Some believed the group was doing good work. Some exalted its work during local elections as being a solution, while others either ignored or worked to disband the group by demanding the one thing it didn’t have: money. There were no clear outcomes or leadership toward a compromise, splitting public opinion and giving people on all sides of the issue anxiety over what the solution might actually be.
Over time people grew tired and weary, especially during the cold, hard winter months — both at the refuge and in the village. Some took it as a sign of hope for the people without shelter, while others grew cynical and believed that nothing good would come of the situation.
The village is Portland, Oregon, and the refuge is Right 2 Dream Too, a tent city created to serve people experiencing homelessness. The City of Portland should work to find a solution.