By Israel Bayer, Staff Writer
Homelessness in our community and cities throughout the country has become the new normal. That’s a problem.
Three decades ago, the federal government began slashing housing and mental health programs. The bleeding has never stopped. The rise of modern-day homelessness in the 1980s came with a response of anger and concern by many people living in urban environments who believe that no human being should be without shelter and housing.
During that time we’ve seen many progressive local communities work to backfill the loss of federal and state dollars. We now stand on a dangerous and blurry line that has local communities fatigued and questioning how many resources it will actually take to tackle the problem.
Entire generations are now born into a time when homelessness is built into the fabric of urban living. It’s no longer abnormal to see a homeless person in a doorway on your way to work or school. Individuals and families may have different responses to homelessness itself, but ultimately the idea of actually ending homelessness on a massive scale feels like a long shot to many.
When I started this work 15 years ago, I was astounded at the reality of poverty. I’m an optimist, but I couldn’t understand why people didn’t recognize the inhumane treatment of people experiencing homelessness. People were sick, the elderly uncared for, the mentally ill ignored. People died, and society and people in power didn’t seem to care. At least that’s how I internalized it. I protested. I got arrested. I swam against the current and raged against the machine for not offering enough resources to combat poverty in our community.
Those turbulent emotions continue to this day. But so does the optimism. Working on the front lines of poverty you become a shell of your former self and realize that if you’re working for long-term change that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You have to find a way to work with others and find ways to inspire change in the community. For every tragedy that occurs on the streets, there’s someone who overcomes his or her circumstance, sometimes against all odds.
I believe that we as a community, and specifically our local and state government, are at a crossroads. The one thing we know is that real relief from the feds isn’t coming to solve this problem. As we move forward with new leadership and a changing economy — it’s imperative that we don’t lose any more ground on the poverty front.
With new legislative leadership in Oregon and a new mayor and council in Portland, with the shifting of local resources to and from different government bodies — we ask all of our elected representatives to prioritize poverty in not only the upcoming budget, but in the next decade. We look to our leaders to go above and beyond the normal speak and to do great things on the poverty front. This is no time to give up.